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The first batter Jakob Junis faced was the only one to have anything resembling success against the Kansas City Royals right-hander. Even that was apparently somewhat disputable.

Junis struck out four and allowed one run and one hit in three innings in a 4-3 win against the San Diego Padres in Cactus League play on Sunday at Peoria Stadium in Arizona.

The lone run Junis allowed came on a Stitched Kansas City Royals Jerseys solo home run by Trent Grisham on a ball that wrapped around the right-field foul pole to start the bottom of the first.

Or did it?

“I thought it was a pretty good pitch,” Junis said. “… We tried going cutter in and it was in, but he‘s just a guy that can really keep his hands inside. He put a good swing on a good pitch, had a good at-bat. From what I heard, it was foul. During the season, we’d be challenging that. But nonetheless, great at-bat. Just have to tip your cap on that.”

Part of what impressed Junis about Grisham’s at-bats was his ability to fight off or lay off his slider.

Junis didn’t feel like his best pitch was at its best in his first start of the spring, but it was sharper on Sunday.

“I didn’t leave as many over the plate when I was trying to bury them with two strikes,” Junis said. “I threw some really good two-strike ones in the dirt. Even the ones to Grisham that were strike-to-ball but still a little up, I’ll take those all day because that’s all he could do with it was foul it off with a defensive swing.

“Yeah, it was a lot sharper today. I like where I was locating it, and it was good to see that sweeping action on it again.”

Trailing by two heading into the ninth, Royals infielder Emmanuel Rivera tripled and Seuly Matias hit an RBI single to make it a one-run game. Then third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez followed with a two-run homer that provided the margin of victory.

The Royals left 10 men on base in the victory.

“We had to wait for the pups to get it done,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “We left a small village on base with less than two outs, which is great. We end up winning the game. We end up having some guys able to get the job done late. But it initiates a conversation as early as tomorrow on the importance of (situational hitting).”

TAYLOR-MADE SWING
After he signed as a free agent this offseason, center fielder Michael A. Taylor detailed swing changes he’d made in an attempt for more consistency. In the second spring training since eliminating the leg-kick from his swing and going completely without a stride, he’s feeling a difference.

Taylor said this year is probably the earliest he has felt he had his timing down. He described the effect of his mechanical changes to have his swing “game ready” earlier than in the past.

Taylor homered in the sixth inning off Padres right-hander Dan Altavilla. Taylor now has at least one hit in each of the four Cactus League games he’s played this spring. He has gone 5 for 9 with a double, two homers, four RBIs and three runs scored.

The 29-year-old with seven big-league seasons under his belt, isn’t reading too much into his quick start.

“For me I try to take everything one at-bat at a time,” Taylor said. “If you’re going really good, you don’t want to kind of get too high. Then when you’re going bad, you don’t want to get too down in the dumps. For me, every at-bat I try to hit the reset button and go into my next at-bat with a clean slate.

“It’s always nice when you’re seeing the ball well and you go up there confident, but, like I said, you don’t want to get too high or too low. So the early success is nice, but for me it’s all about the process.”

MIGHTY MEJIA
Infielder/outfielder Erick Mejia hit his first home run of the spring in Saturday’s win against the San Francisco Giants. Mejia went 2 for 2 with a double, a homer and three RBIs. He entered Sunday having gone 3 for 6 in Cactus League play this year.

Mejia, 26, will likely force his way into bench consideration when the Royals finalize their roster at the end of camp.

After an outstanding spring camp in Arizona last year and a strong showing in spring training 2.0/summer camp last year, Mejia made the Opening Day roster. He appeared in just eight games last year.

“He’s always going to be in the mix,” Matheny said of Mejia. “This is the posterboy for versatility, a guy that can play anywhere on the infield, can play the outfield very well, then switch hits. What more could you ask for? He can run. I don’t know if he’s a pure base stealing threat.

“But if you just talk about those different components and the holes that he can fill, his versatility is always going to keep him in the conversation.”

Mejia also got a taste of catching last summer during camp in Kansas City in case he’d ever be called upon in an emergency situation.

FLASHBACKS
The Padres’ starting lineup included former Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer and right fielder Wil Myers.

Hosmer won four Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger and earned an All-Star selection as a member of the Royals. The third overall pick of the 2008 MLB Draft, Hosmer helped form the core of the 2014 AL champion and 2015 World Series champion teams.

Hosmer homered in the fourth inning against Carlos Hernández on Sunday.

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The talk of camp so far has been Bobby Witt, Jr., who has shown why he was the second overall pick of the 2019 draft, with three home runs in camp, including an awe-inspiring 484-foot blast. Just two years ago, Witt was still in high school, now he is hitting the reigning Cy Young winner, Shane Bieber. As teammate Brady Singer has attested, the kid seemingly has 15 tools.

It is not the first time a top Royals prospect has been invited to big league camp to show what he can do. Let’s look at how Witt’s spring training performance compares to some other top prospects in recent Royals history.

Alex Gordon, 2007
In 2005, Alex Gordon was named Baseball America College Player of the Year. in 2006, he was named Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year. Going into the 2007 season, he was ranked the #2 prospect in all of baseball and widely expected to become the team’s third baseman that year. Still, he wasn’t a lock, especially with incumbent third baseman Mark Teahen still on the roster. But Gordo had a terrific camp, hitting .317/.419/.556 with two home runs in 63 at-bats, despite a shoulder injury mid-way through camp.

“He’s been great,” manager Buddy Bell said. “I’ll say this: I don’t think he has to play any better to make the team.”

The Royals gave Gordo the Opening Day assignment at third base and he faced Boston All-Star pitcher Curt Schilling with the bases loaded in his very first at-bat. He struck out, and would struggle most of the first half, hovering under the Mendoza Line in mid-June. He would turn things around and finish at .247/.314/.411, but it would take a few years before Alex Gordon became the All-Star we would grow to love.

Billy Butler, 2007
Despite all the accolades, Gordon was not the prospect that was the talk of camp in 2007. it was a young 20-year old from Florida named Billy Ray Butler. He had hit .331/.388/.499 with 15 home runs in Double-A the previous season and was ranked the #25 prospect in the game by Baseball America. Everyone with the club said he had virtually no shot to make the roster – Mike Sweeney was occupying the DH spot and the consensus was that Butler still had to work on his defense. But it was hard to ignore his long home runs and a line of .419/.514/.774 in 31 at-bats.

“I really haven’t seen a lot of weaknesses at the plate,” manager Buddy Bell said. “Even though it’s spring training, and you’re not seeing the same pitchers that you’ll see in the regular season, he still has a really good clue of what he’s doing up there.”

Butler would be assigned to Triple-A Omaha, where he would dominate. By May 1, just past his 21st birthday, he would make his Major League debut, in left field no less. He struggled with the bat initially, earning a demotion, but was back in by the end of June, and finished with a solid line of .292/.347/.447.

Eric Hosmer, 2011
The Royals knew they had something special in camp even before Baseball America anointed their farm system as the best in baseball. Eric Hosmer brought a swagger to spring training that signaled that he would be in “The Show” before long. And he backed up his confidence with an amazing performance. He only had 20 at-bats Cheap Kansas City Royals Jerseys with the big league squad that spring, but he hit .450/.520/.950 with two home runs, impressing his veteran teammates.

“But how about Hosmer? Holy cow! That was amazing. I thought he hit it through the bullpen wall.”

-Outfielder Mitch Maier

The club still assigned him to minor league camp midway through camp, but Hosmer would only spend 26 games with Triple-A Omaha. After a torrid start, he was called up to replace Kila Ka’aihue at first base on May 6. He hit .293/.334/.465 with 19 home runs in 128 games and would become a fixture at first base for the Royals for years.

Mike Moustakas, 2011
Moose had been drafted one year before Hosmer, and by 2010 he was putting up a monster season. He smacked 36 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A, hitting .322/.369/.630 and earning Royals Minor League Player of the Year honors. With short-term options like Wilson Betimet and Mike Aviles competing for the third base job, it seemed as if Moustakas might have a shot to make the big league club. But Dayton Moore took a cautious approach.

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While the KC Royals may not be plentiful in the MLB Hall of Fame, one prior players says that if he got the chance, he would wear a Royals hat into history.
When thinking of past KC Royals players, there are likely many names that come to mind. George Brett, Bret Saberhagen, and Mike Sweeney, might be a few, along with many others. Another name that may come up, though not as much, is Johnny Damon.

While Damon might not be many fans first thought for a prior Royal, the fact remains that he was a Royal from the start. Kansas City drafted Damon in round 1 of the 1992 MLB Amateur Draft from Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Florida.

Damon spent a few years making his way through the Royals minor league system, and during the 1995 season, made the jump from AA ball to the majors, never looking back.

Damon found success with the Royals, putting up stats that may not have put him in the front of the MVP race, but were enough to keep him on the field as a productive player for multiple years.

Damon spent the first portion of his career in Kansas City, playing with the Royals until 2000 where he saw one of his best seasons. Damon led the league in runs (136) and stolen bases (46), while batting .327, his highest BA during his time with the Royals, allowing him to finish 19th in the MVP race.

In January of 2001, Damon saw his time with the Royals come to an end when he was traded with Mark Ellis to the Oakland A’s as part of a multi team trade. From here, Damon saw his career take him through many teams, including the A’s, Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers, Rays, and Indians.

Not long after leaving the Royals, Damon saw 2 All-Star games (2002 and 2005), finished with MVP votes in three more seasons (2004-2006), and won 2 World Series with Boston (2004) and New York (2009). Johnny Damon finished up his career after being released by the Indians in August of 2012.

In 2018, Damon was on the ballot for induction into the Hall of Fame, but unfortunately was not named on 5% of ballots and was removed from the ballot for future elections.

Recently, though, Damon discussed his career and the Hall of Fame voting in a recent interview over at Radio.com/610 sports radio. Though he wasn’t a Royal for his entire career, he made an interesting comment regarding if he ever made it into the Hall of Fame.

People ask me and I tell them that I’d like to wear the Kansas City Royals hat. It was my team, unfortunately I didn’t win a championship with them but I always wanted to come back, always wanted to put that Royals jersey back on but they had their young guys coming up and I was just getting older, they ended up doing a fantastic job.

Damon didn’t finish his career in Kansas City, but it is where he got his start. While some of his best days came with other teams, Damon always felt that the Royals were his team, and still remains a Royals to this day.