Lorenzo Cain spent the winter learning how to run.
That seems strange, doesn’t it?
Cain is the Royals’ center fielder and typically draws high marks for his ability to cover ground and make plays. He drew a plus-14 enhanced rating last season from Baseball Info Solutions for The Fielding Bible.
That means Cain saved 14 bases last season when gauged against the MLB average, i.e., made a catch on a ball that normally drops for a single or held a batter to a single on a ball that normally goes for a double.
Let’s put that in perspective:
Plus-14 is the same rating left fielder Alex Gordon got last year in his second Gold Glove season and far better than Baltimore’s Adam Jones received in winning the Gold Glove for American League center fielders.
So what gives? Cain did all that while running improperly?
Well … yes, it seems.
“I worked with sprint coaches in the offseason,” Cain said. “I came to Kansas City once a month to work with two guys (Al Hobson and Rodney Christensen) there. I’d stay there for a week.
“I also did a little yoga this offseason. I focused on areas where my legs were weak last year. I’m trying to find ways to keep them strong, just get them to the point where I need them to be.”
Those aren’t just any two guys.
Hobson is the coach for track and field and cross country at Kansas City Kansas Community College. He is better known to some as the coach for former Olympic gold medalist Maurice Greene.
Christensen is the trainer at KCKCC.
“He was upright with a long stride,” Royals trainer Nick Kenney said. “They wanted him to turn and get more of a forward lean. That allows you to become a power runner.”
Cain said the priority was shortening his stride.
“I’m a long strider because I have very long legs,” he said. “So instead of clawing my way with long strides, I now focus on bringing my legs straight up like a sprinter.”
It remains a work in progress.
“I still find myself slipping back to my old way,” he said. “I’ve just got to always remind myself to focus on that running form and not try to overstride. That’s the main thing.”
Cain’s overriding priority this season is simply to stay on the field. A strained left groin, a torn left hip flexor and a strained right hamstring limited him last season to just 61 games.
At this point, he passes the eye test.
“He’s in great shape,” manager Ned Yost said. “He worked really hard on his legs. He refined his gait and worked on his running. He worked with track coaches. He really went the whole distance.”
Cain said his legs often felt heavy and fatigued even when healthy in previous years.
“It’s still early but, right now, my legs feel really good,” he said. “It’s probably the best they’ve ever felt. But it’s like I say … we’ve got a long season. My main focus is to keep them this way throughout the season.
“I need to be able to go out there and play every day. That’s my main focus.”
If the new approach keeps Cain on the field, that’s the biggest plus in any plus/minus system.
“I feel like I can move and get to everything I got to before,” he said. “I am feeling good out there right now, but the most important part is feeling that way for the whole season.
“Down here, everything has been great. I’ve just got to keep it that way. Down here, it doesn’t mean anything. We get into the season, that’s what matters.”