Cain earns vote of confidence from Yost
Royals center fielder eliminates doubts with big spring numbers
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Somewhere out of the media coverage on the Royals' most recent trade floated a notion that Jason Bourgeois would have a chance to knock Lorenzo Cain out of the center-field job.
Manager Ned Yost swatted that as flat as a troublesome fly.
"Nobody's knockin' Cain out of center field," he said.
Bourgeois, who arrived on Thursday with catcher Humberto Quintero from the Astros, will be competing for a reserve outfielder role.
If there was any doubt that Cain would be the Royals' center fielder in 2012, the imposing athlete from Madison, Fla., has erased that by hitting .486 this spring, to rank second in the Majors. And Cain is hitting with power, as well as covering the outfield like a swift octopus.
"It definitely feels good to hit well right now. I'm going to continue my approach, but mostly I just want to make sure it carries over to the season," Cain said. "It feels good to hit good in Spring Training, but the most important part to me is the season, so we'll see what happens."
What has happened in Arizona has been startling. Cain pounded his fourth home run on Thursday and is tied for the MLB lead in slugging percentage at 1.000 and in doubles with seven. With 18 hits in 37 at-bats and four walks, he's second in on-base percentage at .537.
"I don't take anything for granted," he said just before the Cactus League schedule opened. "Everyone might say I'm a starter right now, but it's not guaranteed. And I'm going to continue to work hard and continue to do what I've done in the past to get me here."
Everything Cain has done makes him a worthy replacement for Melky Cabrera, traded to the Giants for pitcher Jonathan Sanchez. Make no mistake, Cabrera had a great year with 201 hits, a .305 average, 87 RBIs and 13 outfield assists.
With the Kansas City outfield of Cabrera, Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur all having terrific seasons and staying healthy, Cain never did break away from Triple-A Omaha. A year ago, Yost would have bet anything that Cain would surface with the Royals at some point in the 2011 season.
"It was unheard of where you have three outfielders -- especially with two bounceback players and a guy that's never proven himself in Alex Gordon -- have that kind of a year in terms of production and healthwise," Yost said. "Who could foresee it?"
So Cain kept playing for Omaha's Storm Chasers, whipping up a .312 average with 51 extra-base hits and 81 RBIs.
"All three of the outfielders played really well last season. What can you do?" Cain said. "I just continued to have fun with it and our Triple-A team had a blast down there. We ended up winning the championship, so it was definitely a good experience for me down there. I've got my shot now, so I'm just going to try to take advantage of it."
Cain can run, too. He had 16 stolen bases last season and 33 the year before in the Milwaukee system, including seven in 43 games with the Brewers. Despite his .306 average in 2010 for the Brew Crew, the Royals managed to get him sent their way as part of the famous Zack Greinke trade.
Royals running coach Doug Sisson is working on getting Cain to unleash himself on the bases.
"The biggest hurdle with him early on was getting him to buy into how fearlessly and how aggressively we like to play the game -- just understanding that it's OK to go for it," Sisson said.
The Royals don't mind well-calculated risk-taking in going for an extra base on a hit or racing from first to third. And when it comes to stealing bases, they also see Cain's potential.
"If he gets on base enough, I don't know why he can't steal 30 with a high success rate," Sisson said. "That's what we're going to push for."
Cain doesn't quite have the super speed of teammate Jarrod Dyson, but he can cover the vast green acres of Kauffman Stadium. Yost sees him as having a wider range than Cabrera.
"I think Cain's going to be a defensive upgrade, will catch more balls than Melky was able to get to. ... He's very athletic. He still has a ton of ceiling left where he can grow into his position," Yost said.
Cain's arm is on the average side, but Sisson, also the outfield coach, is seeing great progress.
"The throwing is improving every day, and I think he's on to something that's going to really improve his arm strength, his ability to get rid of the ball faster and with some extra carry on the ball," Sisson said. "I like him more now than I liked him four weeks ago."
Cain has gone far and wide for several catches this month in Arizona, but it's been his hitting that has made the headlines.
"He's been fun to watch, very athletic," hitting coach Kevin Seitzer said. "As long as his approach stays in the middle of the field. He can handle the bat, got good recognition. He's been impressive, handling offspeed pitches as well as fastballs and having really good at-bats. And he's got some fun pop."
All good stuff from a still young athlete -- Cain will turn 26 on April 13, the day of the Royals' home opener -- who didn't start playing baseball until he was a sophomore at Madison County High in Florida. That was just about 10 years ago.
"My mom was working two jobs at the time, so I didn't want to put any extra pressure on her about getting me to practice, picking me up and all that stuff," he said. "I just didn't worry about it."
So Cain and his brother did the chores around the house for mom. Finally that and playing video games got boring and he asked a buddy, Jeremy Haynes, who now pitches in the Braves' system, if he thought he could make the baseball team. He could and did. The coach gave him a ride home from practice and Cain finally cracked the high school starting lineup when he was a senior. The Brewers picked him in the 17th round of the 2004 Draft.
"I never thought I would be here right now," Cain said. "Working hard and dedication, and that's what it gets you. You get a good opportunity in life to do something you never thought you would and I'm going to try to take advantage of it and go from there."
Cain has come a long way in a relatively short time.
"It's mind-boggling to see where he is now," Sisson said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.