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Mitch Maier Hoping for a Return to KC

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Mitch Maier Hoping for a Return to KC
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Photo: Minda Haas

When the Kansas City Royals designated outfielder Mitch Maier for assignment July 4, the move was viewed as if the Royals were cutting ties with Maier.

The Royals already have seven outfielders on the 40-man roster. Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Jeff Francoeur and Jarrod Dyson are holding down the fort in the big leagues. Wil Myers, who is not on the 40-man, is knocking on the door. And the Storm Chasers have Jason Bourgeois, Derrick Robinson and David Lough, all of whom are on the 40-man.

And Maier, 30, has already been given a chance to play for the Royals. He played in 127 games for the team in 2009, hitting .243 with 3 HR with 31 RBIs. He played in 117 games in 2010, hitting .263 with 5 HR and 39 RBIs. Apparently those numbers were not impressive enough for the Royals because they began signing other free agent outfielders and Maier's playing time dwindled to 32 games this season.

He accepted the assignment to Omaha on July 14, which guarantees he'll see the rest of the $865,000 salary the Royals owe him. So, is he just playing out the season in Omaha, or does he have a shot to return to Kansas City?

"Is it going to be tough [for him to get back to Kansas City] and are the odds stacked against him?" said Omaha radio broadcaster Mark Nasser. "Yes, but you just keep playing the way he's playing. If it's not with Kansas City, then maybe one of the other 29 teams would be interested."

The 2003 first-round sandwich pick knows he might be showcasing his talent for other clubs for 2013, but he has not given up hope of returning to Kansas City.

"I'm definitely not convinced I don't have another shot," Maier told me in the Storm Chasers' club house recently. "Who knows what will happen when our season is done? I feel like I've played pretty well here -- done what I needed to do to get my feet back under me and maybe they could feel like they could use me now that I've got consistent at-bats and that I'll be able to contribute more up there.

"But as long as I'm in this organization, I'm going to continue to play for a chance to be in Kansas City. That's where I want to be. We'll take our strides in the off-season if I don't get called up this September. I would go into the off-season as a free agent and I would see what else is out there. But for now -- that's the crazy thing about this game -- you never know what's going to happen."

Omaha manager Mike Jirschele likes what he is seeing from Maier.

"When he first came down here, he looked a little rough around the edges," Jirschele told me. "But you could see that the more he got out there and played, he settled in and he's swinging the bat real well right now."

Maier is seeing regular playing time in right field (21 games) for Omaha. He has also played first base eight times and center field once. And he even had a chance to pitch once.

He has been red hot at the plate in August, hitting .360 with 4 HR and 16 RBIs in 25 games. And he earned Pacific Coast League (PCL) Player of the Week honors for hitting .389 (7-for-18) with three home runs, a double, a triple and he led the league with a 1.056 slugging percentage from August 6-12.

Maier said he has been working with Omaha hitting coach Tommy Gregg in the cage and they have talked about approach and swinging at good pitches. But more than anything, he attributes the numbers he has put up in August to consistent at-bats.

"The last year and a half, I didn't really get to play much," Maier told me. "It's hard to stay consistent with your approach and your swing when you're not getting consistent at-bats. So it was nice to come down and get consistent at-bats."

Nasser added more about Maier's approach in a Storm Chasers' uniform.

"The thing about Mitch is, he has professional at-bats," Nasser said. "He doesn't give at-bats away. Probably since he's been here, he grinds out more at-bats than any player we've had. We've got some guys who grind out at-bats, but he's had more 10-11 pitch at-bats than any player we've had in the last two months. It just goes to show you the type of grinder he is.

"We expected him to struggle early on when he first got here, and he did. His numbers were ugly in July [he hit .156 in 32 at-bats], but he's turned it around and he's been the type of player that we've seen before here."

So, does he feel vindicated by the numbers he is putting up in Omaha?

"I don't know if there's vindication," Maier said. "I never had doubt, honestly. I played here for a year and a half back in 2007 and '08. I know I can play at this level. I know I can play at the big league level. And in 2009 and '10, when I played consistently, I did fine. I felt like I was continually getting better. Then, obviously, in the last two years my playing time was limited and my numbers showed that. But there's never been a doubt for me."

For now, he sees himself as a Royal who isn't willing to consider putting on another uniform just yet.

"I'm still here," Maier said. "I still have a Royals uniform on. I'm still going to play for this organization and I want to be there. I have a lot of ties to this organization, so until the day we part ways, I'm going to continue to bust my tail for this organization and be thankful for everything they've done for me.

"Not only did they draft me, but they gave me an opportunity to play in the big leagues. They've done a lot for me and my family. This is all I know and I'll play here as long as I'm wanted."

This is Lee Warren's fourth season covering the Omaha Storm Chasers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. Follow him on Twitter @OmahaBaseball for updates about the Storm Chasers.

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