Gordon or Teahen: Who's on third?
Answer will be rookie if he proves up to the task this spring
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Royals are so eager to unveil their premier prospect that they're creating an opening for him this spring by moving one of their top young players to another position.The result could be a dynamic duo for years to come. If all goes according to plan during Spring Training, the Royals will open the regular season against the Red Sox at Kauffman Stadium on April 2 with 23-year-old Alex Gordon playing third base and 25-year-old Mark Teahen, who started 109 games at third base last season, in right field. "They are winners and we need them in the lineup at some point," general manager Dayton Moore said. "We'd love to be able to have two guys of that caliber in the middle of the lineup producing for us on a daily basis. "It's hard to say right now if that will happen [this season], but we'd love to see it happen. That would be the best-case scenario." The Royals are confident that the left-handed-hitting Gordon can bypass the Triple-A level and become a lineup fixture in Kansas City as early as this season, and Teahen can make a smooth transition to the outfield. But at the same time, the organization has a backup plan that would send Gordon back to the Minors for some seasoning and Teahen back to third base. The outcome rests on Gordon and how well he performs this spring. After only 130 Minor League games and 486 at-bats, club officials believe the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder, drafted second overall in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Nebraska, is on the verge of becoming a Major Leaguer. "This kid is going to be [an amazing] player at some point, and we're hopeful that it's fairly soon," manager Buddy Bell said. "We don't want to rush him because if we do, it will take longer for him to get here than it should." All indications point to Gordon being in the Royals' Opening Day lineup, something he says, "Would be awesome." Among other accolades, Gordon the first player selected by Baseball America as College Player of the Year one season (2005) and Minor League Player of the Year the next ('06). He batted .325 with 29 home runs and 101 RBIs for Double-A Wichita last season in his first full Minor League season, and on the eve of the Royals' first full-scale workout earlier in the week, Gordon said he was eager to get camp started.
"I have a chance to make the team, and hopefully I'll take advantage of it," he said. "I've always been a believer that if you work hard, it will pay off. I think I'm ready to compete at this level."Gordon will get the bulk of the work at third base during the Cactus League season while Teahen continues his recovery from offseason surgery on his right shoulder. He won't play every inning of every game but probably will lead the team in at-bats. "I expect Alex to have a good spring," Bell said. "We're not going to measure it by batting average or by defensive percentage. I want to see how he reacts to good and the bad. I want to look at him on a daily basis over the next three or four weeks.
"How he reacts to adversity will be very important, but I don't think that will be a problem. Physically, he's strong enough, and he's as tough mentally as anyone we have out there. We just want to make sure he has had enough time in the Minor Leagues."If we handle it right, we'll all benefit." About the only benefit of leading the American League in losses is landing one of the first two draft choices the following season. The Royals selected Gordon, who pulled off an NCAA first in 2005, being named the College Player of the Year and Golden Spikes Award winner, plus winning the Dick Howser Award , the Brooks Wallace Award and ABCSA Rawlings Player of the Year. When Gordon advanced quickly through the Minor League system, and Teahen having made a home for himself at the hot corner last season -- batting .290 with 18 home runs, 69 RBIs and 14 errors in 330 chances -- the Royals faced somewhat of a dilemma. Who's on third? After considerable deliberation, general manager Dayton Moore said the organization decided that Teahen's athleticism would make it easier for him to switch positions than it would be for Gordon, who is two inches shorter and a little stockier. "It's tough giving up the position you've been playing pretty much your whole career," Teahen said, "but if it's best for the team, then that's what I want to do. I can make the adjustment." The fact he has longer legs and is more of a glider-type runner, which is important for an outfielder, helped persuade the Royals to have Teahen change positions. "When they first mentioned it, I was taken aback," he said. "But I realized they were doing what's best for the team, so I took it as a compliment. I haven't seen [Gordon] in the field that much, but I know he can definitely hit.
"He can put on a show during batting practice."If he needs some advice down the road, Teahen could always go to teammate Reggie Sanders. Drafted as a shortstop out of high school, Sanders was moved to the outfield early in his career by the Reds. "Mark's a good athlete and I think the adjustment will be easy for him," Sanders said. "But it could be a little scary at times because he's making the transition in the Major Leagues. I made my transition in the Minors. It's a lot different." The best advice Sanders can offer? "Practice, practice, practice."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.