TUCSON, Ariz. —The offseason unfolded for outfielder Mitch Maier in a series of disappointing news items.
The Royals signed free-agent outfielder Brian Anderson on Dec. 23, free-agent outfielder Scott Podsednik on Jan. 8 and then free-agent outfielder Rick Ankiel on Jan. 25.
And since the Royals still had outfielders David DeJesus and Jose Guillen, plus utilityman Willie Bloomquist ... well, it isn't hard to understand that Maier wondered just where he fit — indeed, whether he fit — going into the 2010 season.
"Obviously, you see them do that and... ," Maier said with no need to complete the thought. "I don't just want to be on the team, I want to be a starter. I saw that and just thought, 'That's out of my control. I'm still going to camp and try to earn a job and work my way into a starting role.'
"Whether it's out of spring training or later in the season, that's still my goal and my focus."
Perhaps the snub, intended or not, is spurring Maier through a strong spring camp. Or maybe he is simply following his professional career pattern by blossoming in a second season at a new level.
Either way, he is creating an impression. Maier is batting .423 this spring with 11 hits in 26 at-bats after going one for four with a walk in Friday's 24-9 victory against Arizona at Tucson Electric Park.
"He's having a heck of a spring," manager Trey Hillman said. "He gives us speed and versatility in the outfield and off the bench. Mitch is valuable for me. I just don't know how it's going to fit with the other guys we've got in the mix."
The situation hasn't really changed, although the injury to third baseman Alex Gordon might create a snowball effect through the roster that alleviates the squeeze on Maier. Then again, it might not.
"Of course, you wonder (where you fit)," Maier said. "After what happened, I might not be slotted as a starter as of day one or as of right now, but that doesn't mean things can't change or that I can't play myself into that role ."
Maier's professional resume suggests he could be poised for a breakthrough. He was generally unimpressive in his first year at each level of the minors before blossoming the following season.
"At every level," he said, "the pitching gets a little better. There are things you haven't necessarily seen before, whether it's better location or better stuff. It takes some getting used to."
Maier batted .264 in 51 games at Class A Wilmington in 2004 before surging to .336 in 50 games the following year at Class A High Desert. That earned him a promotion to Double-A Wichita, where he batted .255 in 80 games.
But Maier hiked his average to .306 at Wichita in 138 games in 2006. He went to Triple-A Omaha the next year and batted .279 in 140 games but returned in 2008 and batted .316 in 85 games.
So Maier figured his .243 average last season in 127 games for the Royals merely continued the pattern.
"I'm a firm believer that I've made adjustments at every other level," he said, "so why wouldn't I be able to do it here? It's just a matter of having the time and the ability to make those adjustments.
"Some people make it faster than others. Some guys come up right away and hit. Some guys, it takes a year. Some guys, it takes a couple of years."
The Royals risk losing Maier if they don't find a spot for him on their roster. He is out of options, which means he can't be sent back to the minors without clearing waivers — in short, not without all 29 other teams passing up the chance to put in a claim.
"If it came to that situation," he said, "then, hopefully, there would be another team out there. But as of right now, I want to be here. I want to play here. We'll see what happens. I try not to think about all that because there's nothing I can do about that.
"If you start wrapping yourself around what might happen or what (management) might do, you'll drive yourself up the wall. And whatever you think they're going to do, that almost never happens.
"That's how baseball is. It never ever goes the way it seems like it's going to go."