It is very early in Spring Training and talk from anyone (be it a basement dweller, weathered student of the game, player, manager or general manager) is just mostly speculation and thinking outloud. All that said, the Royals have already started Danny Valencia at second base in a game, fueling speculation that they will indeed consider opening the regular season with two outfielders, a third baseman and catcher on their bench.
There has not been one tidbit of breaking camp with a - gasp! - eleven man pitching rotation and I doubt that there will be much consideration given to the issue. That fact leaves the Royals carrying a four man bench.
The backup catcher is a no brainer. You have to have one, even with ironman Sal Perez. When push comes to shove, you can put anyone at an infield or outfield position and have them stand there. Hell, the Royals did that for a whole season once with Esteban German (the damn ball kept finding him, but still). You cannot put just anyone behind the dish, even for an inning, because - you know - the ball sort of ends up there a lot.
In a vacuum, Danny Valencia makes perfect sense as a bench player. The biggest position player question mark is Mike Moustakas and Valencia, while a below average in the field, is a third baseman. He also bats right, providing the perfect compliment to the left-handed Moustakas: be it as a platoon partner or late inning pinch hitter for Mike. Yes, I know, Ned Yost actually using Valencia to pinch hit for Moustakas in the 8th inning is probably a long-shot, but the logic is there.
If we stay in our comfortable little vacuum, the outfield makes sense as well. Justin Maxwell is a right handed power hitter who is a handy guy to have hanging around. All the minor league reports of when Maxwell was coming up indicate he is a better defender than what we say last summer (he wasn't horrible, but has some moments we would all like to forget). The almost inevitability of Lorenzo Cain missing between 30 and 60 games in 2014 makes having Maxwell around to platoon with Jarrod Dyson a nice idea.
Oh yes, what about Jarrod Dyson? He brings mega-speed, super defense and decent hitting against right-handed pitching - basically more than anyone could hope for from a 50th round draft pick. While we joke about it - and rightfully so - having Dyson on the bench to pinch run for Billy Butler or (gasp! again) Salvador Perez late in a close game is extremely beneficial.
Dyson can also be used to spell Cain in center, as the Royals will certainly do once if not twice per week. Depending on what the Royals decide on Norachi Aoki's defense, he could also be a late inning defensive replacement of elite caliber as well.
Hey, let's not kid ourselves, Dyson, Maxwell and Valencia all have value coming off the Royals' bench. However, none of them can play shortstop or second base for any measurable period of time.
Injury concerns are what they are, but believe it or not you can fly from Omaha, Nebraska to anywhere in the world in less than a day (I do it a lot, make sure and grab a cinnamon roll before you board). The Royals might have to deal with a few innings of Infante at short and Velancia at second, for example, but they could have Christian Colon or Pedro Ciriaco in the lineup the next afternoon.
No, the rub is that if Mike Moutaskas is not the biggest offensive question mark, then Alcides Escobar is and the four man bench above allows Ned Yost zero ability to pinch hit for his worst hitter. When your option is to play someone out of position IN THE MIDDLE OF YOUR DEFENSE, Ned is definitely not going to pinch hit for Escobar with the game tied 3-3 in the bottom of the 8th with runners on second and third and two out.
I am going to go on record here: I would like to pinch hit for Escobar in that situation......almost every single time.
That option may well not exist for the 2014 Royals. Of course, if everyone does improve.......