2/16/2014 3:40 P.M. ET
Young Pena welcomes return to Kansas City
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- When last seen in a Royals uniform, Frank Pena was a chunky kid running around the clubhouse while his father, Tony Pena, was the team's manager. Everybody called him "Frankie."
Some of the front-office and clubhouse folks from those days are still around.
"It's pretty neat to come back and see some people from when I was 10, 11, 12 years old," Pena said. "They used to mess around with me -- 'You're going to be a Royal, you're going to be a Royal' -- and it's certainly happening. It's a pleasure and an honor to be here."
Pena, 24 now and no longer chunky, signed with the Royals and is a candidate to be backup catcher after seven years in the Mets' Minor League system. He was in big league camp twice with the Mets, but never made the roster.
"I can't complain, though. They gave me a lot of opportunity. I'm very appreciative of it," Pena said. "I think it wasn't my time with them and, hopefully here, they'll give me an opportunity and it'll be my time and I'll get up there and help the team."
His older brother, Tony Jr. or T.J., was a Royals shortstop from 2007-09 and is now a pitcher in the White Sox organization, but Francisco followed his father's lead as a catcher.
"Best teacher in the world. My dad has always been there since Day 1, and when I need him, I just need to dial a number and ask him what's wrong," Pena said. "But we've got plenty of guys here that can help me as well and they know what they're doing and I have to take advantage of that as well."
Pena is a potential backup for All-Star Salvador Perez, but he has stiff competition for the job from veterans such as Brett Hayes, Ramon Hernandez and Adam Moore.
"I know Salvy's there and that's his spot. I know what we're here for is trying to get that second spot. Salvy's a great teammate. He's trying to help the most he can, and I'm trying to pick his brain. Since the first day I got here, he's asked me if I needed any help and he's there for me," Pena said.
"But, absolutely, there's some competition. Some veteran guys that have played a lot of years in the big leagues and some guys who have played here with the team and know the pitching staff, and they have a pretty good idea of what they're doing behind the plate. But I know I'm young, I have a pretty good idea what I'm doing behind the plate as well."
Pena is a right-handed hitter who batted .236 in 593 Minor League games for the Mets with 40 homers and 243 RBIs.
"My first couple of years in the Minors I struggled a little bit, but I've been learning how to hit. I've learned how to hit the ball the other way and I've been a little more consistent. Winter ball helped me at lot, back in the Dominican Republic playing with the Aguilas, and I'm a line-drive hitter. I've got a two-strike approach, I don't strike out as much and I just try to hit the ball up the middle," he said.
Born Francisco, called Frankie as a kid and Frank in the Minors, Pena says take your pick for his first name.
"Whatever feels comfortable," he said. "My mom calls me Frank, my wife calls me Frank, my brother, everybody. Back home in the Dominican, the media calls me Francisco, but honestly, I don't mind how they call me. I'll leave it to you."
Royals GM Moore doesn't see Santana as a fit
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Chances of pitcher Ervin Santana returning to the Royals in 2014: Virtually zero.
That's the reality despite a recent CBS Sports report that linked the Royals, along with several other teams, to interest in Santana.
"We're very satisfied with our current rotation and the individuals we have competing for other open spots," general manager Dayton Moore said. "Erv did a terrific job for us last year and I'm confident that he's going to have a very successful year in 2014. But we're also very satisfied with the collection of the current starting pitchers that we have and I don't see where it's a fit at this particular time."
It's also not a fit for the Royals' budget, with the payroll already at a club-record $90 million or so.
They've signed left-handers Jason Vargas and Bruce Chen to go with James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie in their front four, and have an overflow of candidates competing for the fifth spot.
"We made a decision early on," Moore said. "In our early discussions, we had to make a determination on how we were going to put together our rotation in 2014 and we felt that probably we needed to move on. We signed Jason Vargas, who we're extremely excited about, and we also felt that we would have an opportunity to sign another pitcher. Unfortunately, Bruce took a little longer than we had hoped. But we were able to bring in two starting pitchers and with the group that we have and the group that we have coming, we feel we have strong depth."
That doesn't sound like much in the way of interest in Santana.
Aoki reports early to familiarize himself with new club
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Just as the Royals' pitchers and catchers were wrapping up the second day of their workouts Sunday morning, new right fielder Norichika Aoki arrived in camp.
Acquired from the Brewers in exchange for pitcher Will Smith, Aoki is expected to lead off and play right field.
Aoki checked in with his translator, Kosuke Inaji, and started to get acquainted with his new teammates. He doesn't know too much about the Royals.
"For me, I played in Kansas City in 2012 and I remember the stadium being a really nice field and that's my impression of the Royals so far," he said. "I feel like I could fit in real well with this team. It's a team that I'm happy to be on."
Aoki, 32, played two seasons for Milwaukee after a long career in Japan. Although his average dropped only from .288 to .286 last year, some other numbers dipped significantly. For example, his doubles dropped from 37 to 20, his RBIs from 50 to 37 and his stolen bases from 30 to 20. He played in 155 games, compared to 151 in his first Major League season.
"I know what I can do to get better and get back to where I was," Aoki said. "That's what I did in the offseason and will do in Spring Training as well."
Aoki's arrival enables Alex Gordon, last year's primary leadoff batter (119 games), to move down in the order.
"Just from what I heard, they loved him in Milwaukee -- the fans, the organization," manager Ned Yost said. "He's a player that really kind of fits our profile, very energetic, very athletic, a guy that's really going to open up the top of the order for us. We really haven't had that player the last couple of years. Alex Gordon profiles so much better in the middle of our lineup than at the top, so I think that's going to help us out a lot."
With Aoki in camp, the only everyday regular still missing is shortstop Alcides Escobar. He doesn't have to report until Wednesday, the day before the first full-squad workout.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.