SURPRISE, Ariz. — It’s not easy for Royals manager Ned Yost to wear down the concrete sidewalks of the team’s sprawling spring-training facility in Arizona these days.
He has spent the last three weeks zipping through the campus in a golf cart, playfully screeching to a halt on the gravel whenever he’s needed near the main building and gleefully accepting passengers on the Yostmobile’s journeys to and from the four outer fields.
By all appearances, Yost has enjoyed the vehicle he told reporters he didn’t want when pitchers and catchers held their first workout on Feb. 14.
“They gave me a cart,” Yost said then. “I’m gonna send it back. I think we’re wasting money.”
And alongside that change of heart, Yost has drawn a similar joy out of roaming the Royals’ grounds to watch young players take advantage of their time in big-league camp.
Having young players around is no new phenomenon, of course.
But for the first time since Yost began his first full season as manager in 2011, the Royals entered the spring with question marks riddling their depth chart. Who would take up the mantle at first base? What about the opposite infield corner? And center field?
One of those questions was answered by last week’s acquisition of veteran Lucas Duda, who signed a one-year contract to help the Royals bridge the gap at first base and give their prospects more time to develop.
Still, the lack of clarity during the first two weeks of camp gave Yost more liberty to evaluate the organization’s up-and-comers and to consider what, exactly, the Eric Hosmer-and-Mike Moustakas-less Royals of the future might look like.
Seventh-ranked prospect Nicky Lopez, for instance, has shown flair with his glove work up the middle in the five spring-training games he’s appeared in. Hunter Dozier, who was told to focus this spring on first base before Duda joined the Royals, has flaunted a new versatility, which he previously did when he began to play in the outfield in an effort to speed up his major-league arrival. And Erick Mejia, a gifted, switch-hitting infielder acquired from the Dodgers in the Scott Alexander trade, has further deepened the Royals’ infield stock.
In most cases, these players are at least a year away from playing in the major leagues. But unlike in years past, there might actually be an opening for them in Kansas City when the time comes.
There is, again, hope that these prospects will take center stage in the organization’s efforts to win a third World Series trophy.
And the opportunity to watch them grow under the tutelage of his coaching staff has left Yost feeling re-energized.
“It’s fun to watch them compete,” Yost said after a 3-2 win over the Reds in Surprise last week.
It’s not that Yost is bounding around the clubhouse -- he can’t. Despite declaring at FanFest that he could do 500 daily push-ups relatively soon in his recovery from a November fall from a tree stand on his property in Georgia, Yost’s pelvis, which fractured in the incident, wasn’t prepared to take on the burden of spring-training camp.
But even when relegated to a chair for days at a time, he never once considered leaving the Royals in the dust.
“We’ve been through this before, we understand how to do it, and it’s easier for me to take heat, if you will, than some new guy having to come in and go through all that,” Yost told The Star in January.
A while before the free-agent departures decimated his roster, Yost knew he would have to transition the major-league club, introduce young talents into the fold and guide wide-eyed prospects through a rebuilding process.
He didn’t want to miss it.
Yost’s new normal is managing a clubhouse infused with youth. No amount of time spent on a golf cart will deter him from wanting to be part of the new landscape.
“The things that all these kids are learning right now, I think, if you asked them, it might be a little mind blowing with all the information that they’re getting,” Yost said in his office last week. “But the cool thing about it is you see them really taking to it and really retaining it, which is important.
“These kids are some kind of fired up to be here.”