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Position Battles: The Bullpen

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Three contenders for one spot. This is getting real.

Longshot.
Longshot.
USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, we looked at the backup catcher situation. Today, we turn our focus to the final spot in the bullpen. Yes, it's roster minutiae, but damnit it's spring training.

Here's how I see the current bullpen...

The Locks:
Greg Holland
Kelvin Herrera
Aaron Crow
Luke Hochevar
Bruce Chen
Tim Collins

This collection is different from what we envisioned at the start of camp, but the core guys in Holland and Herrera are fixtures. The surprise is Hochevar and Chen are both in this mix.

By the way, Hochevar's Meltdown Inning on Wednesday was breathtaking. Every pitch was up and even his outs were loud. Yep... This is going to work.

Collins has been rocked this spring. Thirteen hits (four home runs) and four walks in seven innings. Another way to look at it, he's retired just 54 percent of the batters he's faced. The strikeouts (nine total) are there, but when hitters are making contact, the ball is being blistered. He has options remaining so is no longer a "lock" in my opinion. However, he is left-handed. While Collins has always been more effective against right-handed batters, you know the Royals and Ned Yost are looking for a lefty specialist type of guy. While Chen is also a southpaw, I doubt the Royals would use him as a LOOGY or even in a situation where he's brought in in the middle of an inning to face a couple of tough lefties.

Considering:
Louis Coleman
Francisley Bueno
JC Gutierrez
Dan Wheeler

Coleman has had a strong camp but has the disadvantage of being right-handed and carrying options. Double whammy. With his whip-saw delivery leading to success against right-handed batters he profiles as the rare bird known as the ROOGY. (I may have just invented a term. At the very least, I bastardized the hell out of an existing term.) He's been a dark horse since the beginning in the same mold as Johnny Giavotella. He's in the mix, but not really. Still, he will be up at The K some point this summer.

I had Bueno in this mix, but he was optioned on Wednesday. He pitched well this spring and showed something in his brief audition in the majors last summer. I figured he would remain an option up to the end with Collins struggling. When Bueno was optioned on Wednesday, it moved Collins off the bubble and into the "locked" category.

Dutton's favorite for the final spot in the bullpen, Gutierrez is out of options. He's looking for his first major league action since undergoing Tommy John surgery in September of 2011. Gutierrez can strike out hitters, but struggles with his command at times, is a fly ball pitcher and has coughed up his share of the long ball. He struggled with walks in 2011 just prior to the surgery and that's the one thing that takes the longest to get back once a pitcher returns. I get Dutton's reasoning, but even if fully recovered, I don't think Gutierrez is good enough for a roster spot. It appears he's on a split contract where the Royals have him on the books at $750,000 if he's on the major league roster.

Wheeler has pitched well, but he's been closing games. Meaning, he's been pitching mostly against the scrubs at the end of the bench. He gave up his first run of the spring on Wednesday in the ninth inning against the Brewers. His 7.5 Quality of Opposition score is the lowest of the remaining candidates. He is in camp on a minor league contract and would have to be added to the 40-man roster. The Royals currently have 39 players on the roster and will have even more room once they put Danny Duffy on the 60-day DL.