KANSAS CITY -- The ever-present smile of first-base coach Rusty Kuntz must be even brighter this week.
When Boston Globe columnist Nick Cafardo rated coaches around the Major Leagues in various categories, Kuntz was ranked No. 1 for outfield/baserunning. Noted Cafardo: "Kuntz's outfielders are fundamentally sound and get good jumps on balls. Kuntz has been able to improve arm accuracy."
Kuntz is also the team's baserunning guru, and it should be noted that the Royals led the Major Leagues in stolen bases last season, with 153. Their success ratio was 82.7 percent, second only to Boston's 86.6.
Elsewhere on the coaching scene, some former Royals staffers have landed jobs this winter. Eddie Rodriguez, last season's third-base coach, is now the Padres' Minor League infield coordinator. The Padres also named Jamie Quirk, last year's bench coach for the Cubs, as manager for Class A Lake Elsinore in California.
Kevin Seitzer, who sat out 2013, was hired as the Blue Jays' hitting coach by manager John Gibbons, himself an ex-Royals coach. Former pitching coach Bob McClure, also idle last year, got the same job with the Phillies.
Ex-manager Trey Hillman, let go as the Dodgers' bench coach, landed in the Yankees' front office as a special assistant. Ex-Royals first baseman Wally Joyner has been hired as the Tigers' hitting coach.
Royals trio makes an impression in winter play
KANSAS CITY -- Look at the Winter League statistics for Royals players and not much jumps out, but there were some notable accomplishments.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas played for Venezuela's Cardenales de Lara, managed by the Royals' hitting coach, Pedro Grifol. Moustakas batted .288 with three homers, six doubles and 17 RBIs in 17 games.
Moustakas, a left-handed batter, got some needed time against left-handed pitchers, who held him to a .196 average last season.
"I think the biggest positive that came out of it was on a nightly basis, he was facing left-handed pitching," said assistant general manager J.J. Picollo. "Every time the lineup turns over in the back third of a winter ballgame, it's usually matchups, so he was getting the chance to face a lot of left-handers. Certainly, if there were guys on base, they were bringing in left-handers to face him, and I think that certainly helped him."
Moustakas got in a lot of extra cage time with Grifol as well.
"I think Moose is going to be prepared for this year, and he's already down in Arizona and is starting his workouts with Pedro and the staff that's down there now," Picollo said.
Catcher Salvador Perez was also active in Venezuela, playing in about half of Tiburones de la Guaira's games, but he didn't do much catching. He manned first base in 22 games.
"Salvy's going to catch the bulk of the games here, and it was more for the at-bats than anything," Picollo said. "It's something that Salvy takes a lot of pride in, and he wanted to help his team and play down there, so it was a way to get him at-bats and not have him get beat up behind the plate."
Perez had a .298 average in 31 games, with 10 extra-base hits and 17 RBIs.
On the pitching side, three of Kelvin Herrera's five appearances in the Dominican Republic were starts, but that's not his future; he'll stay in the bullpen. He pitched just 9 1/3 innings for Leones del Escogido and had a 1.93 ERA, with 14 strikeouts.
"The mind-set there is just to continue to develop his pitches and continue to build confidence in his breaking ball and, throwing multiple innings in each outing as opposed to one inning, it lends itself better to do that," Picollo said.
Another reliever, Francisley Bueno, made five starts for Tigres del Licey to get his work in and posted a 2.25 ERA.
Stealing the thunder among the winter pitchers, though, was Minor League right-hander Spencer Patton. Playing in Mexico, in 20 relief outings (25 innings), Patton had a 0.72 ERA, 10 saves, a 2-1 record and 32 strikeouts against six walks.
Patton's team, Caneros de los Mochis, begged him to stay when he left before Christmas. But after a busy summer of pitching for Wilmington, Northwest Arkansas and Omaha (in the playoffs), he'd thrown enough.
"He's kind of a sleeper in our system. He's been under the radar, but he's had solid years," Picollo said.
Especially this year when, between Class A and Double-A, he went 5-2 with a 1.86 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 82 1/3 innings. The 25-year-old will be a candidate for the Triple-A bullpen this year.
"He's got deception. His fastball is above average, and he's got a little slider to go with it and, at a higher level, his numbers have actually gotten better. I think he's just gaining confidence," Picollo said.
For all of the Royals' winter league statistics, click here .
Shields on board with new protective caps
KANSAS CITY -- James Shields has never been drilled in the head by a line drive, but he's had enough bruises elsewhere that he's going to give the new protective headgear for pitchers a try.
Shields was in the dugout last June 15, when his friend and ex-Rays teammate Alex Cobb took an Eric Hosmer liner to the ear. And, of course, Shields has seen videos of other incidents, including Brandon McCarthy's severe injury while with the A's in 2012.
"It's something that as a pitcher you never want to see; just thinking about it makes me cringe," Shields said. "Especially Alex Cobb, when I went to see him in the hospital in Tampa after the game. Luckily, he was OK, and everything turned out good, but you never want to see anybody get hurt like that."
Shields was hit by liners four times last season, twice in the thigh and twice in the right arm.
"I definitely commend Major League Baseball for trying to take care of the situation that could be harmful to a pitcher," he said. "For me, personally, just to have the option -- whether you want it or not -- is a great thing for baseball and for pitchers. I know it only protects you up to 90 mph, but sometimes the hitters will get it about 100 or 105 off the bat. It definitely will help out."
The protective cap -- it's not a helmet -- will be bulkier and heavier than the conventional cap.
"The only thing I'm interested in is whether or not it allows you to breathe. Because, as everyone knows, your body heat goes straight to the top of your head, and there's a lot of heat," Shields said. "So if you want to play in Baltimore in midsummer or the normal Kansas City in midsummer, that might be an issue just for the factor that it's going to be really hot. I want guys to be able to handle the heat, so that's my only real concern about it. Obviously, it's a little heavier, so that's something that you'll have to get used to."
Shields tried some experimental protective headgear last year in Spring Training, and he'll test the new caps this year.
"I can't really say if I'm going to wear it or not, but it's definitely a good thing, and something that we should take a look at it," he said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.