Kansas City Royals

Kansas City not short on talent in outfield

KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Lorenzo Cain is talking plainly and honestly, each sentence laced with the southern twang he developed while growing up in rural Florida.

Now a 25-year-old center fielder for Class AAA Omaha, Cain says he's not sure of much these days. He's spent the entire season in Omaha focused on winning and putting up numbers — the kind of numbers that might help him escape down I-29 toward Kansas City.

But Cain is sure of one thing, and he says it with confidence:

"I think, for sure," he says, "I would have been the starting center fielder for the Milwaukee Brewers."

Nowadays, the smell of bratwurst and cheese curds at Milwaukee's Miller Park couldn't feel farther way. After batting .306 in 43 games during a solid first impression for the Brewers in 2010, Cain was dealt to the Royals in December, one of four pieces exchanged for former ace Zack Greinke and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt.

More than eight months later, Cain has produced one of his finest minor-league campaigns, batting .304 with a .374 on-base percentage, 15 homers and 26 doubles in 115 games for the Storm Chasers.

But as the Royals' wave of young building blocks made their great migration to Kansas City, Cain has stayed in Omaha.

His future now hinges on the futures of the three outfielders in front of him in Kansas City — and the looming decisions now faced by Royals general manager Dayton Moore.

"Personally, I don't know what's gonna happen," Cain said. "I'm just as confused as the next person. Like I said, we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

"If they don't want me up there, hopefully something will happen soon."

Last week, the Royals appeared to solidify two-thirds of their outfield for 2012.

They signed right fielder Jeff Francoeur to a two-year, $13.5 million extension that will keep him under contract through the 2013 season. And left fielder Alex Gordon, in the midst of a breakout season, will not be a free agent until after the 2013 season and figures to slot somewhere near the top of the lineup next year.

That leaves center fielder Melky Cabrera, another 27-year-old outfielder having a career year. Despite signing a one-year free-agent deal with the Royals in the offseason, Cabrera lacks the requisite service time to be a free agent, and the Royals control his rights for another season.

Cain says he knows what's in front of him. He watched as the Royals held onto Francoeur and Cabrera through the July 31 trading deadline, and he knows the Royals could begin the 2012 season with the exact same outfield they have now.

"I didn't think they would trade those guys from the start," Cain says. "That was my opinion going into it, and it obviously happened that way. Those guys are three good outfielders; they're three really good outfielders. Why would you trade them? But at the same time, I'm just trying to continue to do what I can to get up there as soon as possible."

Moore says the Royals will explore all options. The outfield pieces are there. Now they just have to see how they all fit. Cabrera could return next season, but the Royals do not appear inclined to explore a long-term deal with him at the moment.

And then there's Cain — and the possibility that the Royals could use Cain, Cabrera or both as trade chips.

"It's important for us to see what (Cain) can do at some point," Moore said. "As you know, our starting rotation has been inconsistent. It needs an upgrade; it will upgrade, and we're going to do everything that we can to make it a better rotation in 2012 and beyond. The more good players you add, the better opportunity you have to make a good deal to solidify your rotation."

For now, it appears almost certain Cain will get a September call-up, though the Storm Chasers' playoff run could potentially affect the timing.

Royals manager Ned Yost is short on specifics, but he appears willing to give Cain a September opportunity in an already crowded outfield.

"He's going to play," Yost said, adding that Cain can play all three outfield positions.

Still, Cain's most premium skill could be his defense in center field. Royals officials generally view him as a plus defender — and a potential upgrade over Cabrera.

"We're going to keep all our options open," Moore said. "I will say this: The center field position in (Kauffman Stadium) is a huge weapon and Lorenzo Cain can play center field."

Perhaps those last words can offer a little bit of hope for Cain as he finishes out the Class AAA season in Omaha. He says he was hopeful that he'd be in Kansas City by now, but at the moment his major-league career is still on hold.

"What can you do about it?" Cain says. "You just got to go out and continue to play the game. And just try to put up numbers and hopefully get a call-up soon."