Kila Ka'aihue having strong spring for Royals
SURPRISE, Ariz. — On a Kansas City Royals club starved for power and runs, Kila Ka'aihue would seem like a natural fit.
Ka'aihue, who hit 37 home runs in the minors in 2008 and played well in the majors after being called up last September, is hitting .378 with a team-high four home runs in 45 at-bats through Monday. He's among the American League Cactus League leaders in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, total bases, home runs, RBIs and walks.
But he's a first baseman, and his path to the Royals' roster is blocked by fellow first baseman Billy Butler, who led Kansas City with a .301 average, 51 doubles and 94 RBIs last season.
"Kila's having a heckuva spring and making a tremendous case for himself," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "I'm going to keep playing him. I never said he wasn't going to make the club. And I've never said he's on the club. I'm going to keep running him out, though."
The Royals cou ld use Ka'aihue as the designated hitter, but Jose Guillen, who is in the final season of a three-year $36 million contract, is scheduled to be the primary DH.
"It is a crowded spot," Hillman said. "We need to have some run producers."
The Royals finished 13th in the American League with 686 runs last year.
Ka'aihue, who turned 26 on Monday, was a 15th-round draft pick of the Royals in 2002 out of high school in Hawaii. He turned down a scholarship with Nebraska to sign with the Royals.
In 2005 he hit .304 with 20 home runs and 90 RBIs with Single-A High Desert in the California League, but he was set back in 2006 with a torn tendon in his right knee.
He spent last season with Triple-A Omaha, where he hit .252 with 17 home runs but had a .392 on-base percentage. He tied for the Pacific Coast League lead with 102 walks and has had more walks than strikeouts the past two years.
In a come-from-behind victory Thursday over Seattle, Ka'aihue dr ew a walkoff walk, taking first on a bases-loaded full count with two out in the ninth.
"It was a great at-bat," Hillman said.
The next two days Ka'aihue homered, including in the eighth inning Saturday to break a tie with Oakland.