SURPRISE, Ariz. -- At last, the Royals can break out of practice mode and get their Cactus League season going on Sunday afternoon. Maybe.
Their 2:05 p.m. CT opener against the American League champion Texas Rangers at Surprise Stadium could be affected by heavy rain, which was forecast for Saturday night. However, late forecasts called for the wet stuff to dissipate by Sunday morning. It's likely to be a bit chilly, though, with a predicted high of 54 degrees.
The Royals are eager to get their 32-game Cactus schedule going, as they put together a 25-man roster for Opening Day on March 31 against the Los Angeles Angels in Kansas City.
Manager Ned Yost, in charge of winnowing his 65-man camp roster to the final 25, sounded a note of optimism for the Royals on the eve of the Cactus League season.
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"I don't ever count contending out this year," Yost said. "I think we're going to surprise a lot of people with our team. I think we're going to have a much better team than all the 'experts' think we're going to have."
That said, Yost doesn't put too much importance on actual victories during the Cactus season.
"I could care less about results in Spring Training," Yost said. "I'm looking for guys that are preparing themselves to win on March 31. Do we want to win Spring Training games? Yeah, because it keeps everybody happy. But there are certain things that we're working on and trying to get better."
Likewise, individual statistics really don't matter much to him, either. Those can be affected because a player might be working on something in a game that might cause him to fail.
"Especially now, we're doing a lot of early [morning] work. We're asking guys to try different things that we think will make 'em better," Yost said.
"Like, Tim Collins is working on both sides of the rubber. A lot of guys work on just one side. But we think it's going to increase his deception, increase the value of his pitches from a right-hander to a left-hander. But it's kind of foreign to him."
That was a factor in rookie Collins' rocky inning in an intrasquad game the other day, and it'll be ignored by Yost and his staff.
"Because we understand that he's trying something different," Yost said.
This carries over into the Cactus League games in hitting, baserunning and fielding, as well as pitching -- and factors in if a player experiences problems or failure.
"We're asking these guys to try to put all these things we're working on into effect in Spring Training. We want them to take advantage of a game that doesn't count to try to get better," Yost said.
"But, on the back end of it, we're asking them to compete, too. But right now, I'm looking to see which players are trying these things, trying to get better. Which guys are having good at-bats, which guys are having focused at-bats, which guys are having good plate discipline. All those things don't really count in a statistic. I'm looking for 25 guys that I can piece all together, and have a winning team."
If the weather permits, the home-team Rangers will start left-hander C.J. Wilson, who had a 15-8 record and 3.35 ERA last season in 33 starts. He's their Opening Day starter.
Yost plans to start what, at least at this distant point, might turn out to be his Opening Day lineup: Mike Aviles, 3B; Melky Cabrera, CF; Billy Butler, 1B; Kila Ka'aihue, DH; Jeff Francoeur, RF; Alex Gordon, LF; Brayan Pena, C; Chris Getz, 2B; Alcides Escobar, SS.
In the early stages of the Cactus League season, most players in the starting lineup will get two plate appearances in a game and be replaced.
"It's not the World Series, by any stretch of the imagination -- especially early," Yost said.
The Royals will start right-hander Kyle Davies, who'll work the first two innings, followed by another potential starter, Bruce Chen, who is also scheduled for two innings.
"It'll be fun. The first time back in the saddle, get out there and throw some strikes -- and get people out and call it a day," Davies said.
Scheduled to pitch one inning each for the Royals are Rule 5 pick Nate Adcock, Louis Coleman, Collins, Luis Mendoza and Kevin Pucetas.
If the game is rained out, the Royals will try to schedule a Monday morning "B" game against the Rangers to give the pitchers their work.
"They'll be in the same predicament because we're playing them," Yost noted.
The Royals are also scheduled to play the Rangers, their Surprise complex neighbors, again on Monday afternoon.
There was a short, two-hour workout for the Royals on Saturday, including a session on sliding.
"They're all ready to go and play games," Yost said. "We've covered all of our fundamentals, done all our baserunning drills -- and now we're ready to play. Now we start polishing."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.