The Royals have had a quiet spring training thus far with no major roster battles to speak of. However, they don't have their entire 25-man roster set already, there is still a battle for the spot at the end of the bench. The Royals have opted not to go with an eight-man bullpen over concerns that Alex Gordon will need to take it slow recovering from a wrist injury. Accordingly, the team is inclined to hand the last spot on the roster to a right-handed hitting outfielder, who would be fifth on the depth chart behind starter Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, and Alex Rios as well as reserve outfielder Jarrod Dyson.
Here are your three candidates for the final bench spot on the roster.
Merrifield is a 26-year old taken in the ninth-round of the 2010 draft out of the University of South Carolina. He had never really had a very good season in his professional career until last year, when he hit .319/.371/.470 with 8 HR 49 RBI across AA and AAA and was named Royals Minor League Player of the Year. His season was fueled by a .394 BABIP, suggesting he is likely to regress quite a bit this year. Whit does a lot of things okay, but nothing great. He has modest power and a modest walk rate. His career line is .276/.338/.404, although he has seemed to improve as he has advanced to higher levels.
Whit has some positional versatility, playing all three outfield positions, in addition to 164 games at second base.
"He can play anywhere," Yost said. "His best infield position is second base. His best outfield position is probably left field. But he can play anywhere, right field. He can actually play a little center field, in a bind. He can play third. I mean, shortstop is his worst position, obviously. But he can play first, he can play second, he can play third."
He has some speed, swiping double-digit bases in each of his full minor league seasons, although he has just a 68% success rate. He has had a good spring, albeit in limited action, hitting .333/.368/.500 in just 19 plate appearances. ZIPS projects him to be a .240/.285/.337 hitter, just below replacement level at -0.2 WAR.
Merrifield is not on the 40-man roster, so he would need to be added to make the Opening Day roster. He does have options remaining, should the club want to send him to the minor leagues. Whit's full name is "Whitley" - there has never been a "Whitley" in Major League history.
Orlando is already 29 years old, but like Merrifield, has put up stronger numbers in the upper level of the minors. The native Brazilian was acquired from the White Sox in a trade for pitcher Horacio Ramirez in 2008, but he has slowly crept up the Royals farm system since then. Like Merrifield, Orlando does not excel in any one skill other than perhaps speed. The Royals consider him a bit of a late-bloomer who is continuing to improve.
"Aside from from what his birth date says, he’s still a very young baseball player," [Assistant General Manager J.J.] Picollo said. "He’s our type of player: plays defense first. Not necessarily because we don’t think he’s got hitting ability, he does. He’s shown improvement in putting the ball in play, he’s got occasional power, he can steal a base. If the ball’s in the gap, he’s going to score from first."
Like Merrifield, Orlando had a career year last year, hitting .301/.355/.415 with 6 HR 63 RBI for Omaha, but that too was BABIP-fueled with a batting average on balls in play of .351. Orlando has more speed than Merrifield, with 200 career stolen bases at a 74% success rate. Orlando is also considered a better defensive outfielder with a strong arm that can play all three outfield positions. ZIPS projects Orlando to hit .244/.281/.323, good enough for 0.3 WAR.
Orlando has had the best spring training out of the three candidates, hitting .359/.405/.564 with a home run against former Royals pitcher Nate Adcock. Orlando was curiously added to the 40 man roster over the winter, and he also has options remaining should the club send him down. Orlando would be just the third Brazilian-born player in Major League history, joining Indians catcher Yan Gomes and White Sox pitcher Andre Rienzo.
Moises is the only of these three candidates that has Major League experience, appearing in 180 games over three seasons with the Blue Jays and White Sox. The Royals claimed the right-handed hitter off waivers from Chicago during the post-season after he hit .230/.265/.342 in 170 plate appearances. In 449 career Major League plate appearances, he has hit just .243/.296/.383 with 9 HR 37 RBI.
Sierra was originally signed by the Blue Jays out of the Dominican Republic but struggled at the plate until 2011 when he began hitting for some power. Sierra flashes the most power potential out of all these three, but is not a a particularly good defender. Sierra's plate discipline has disappeared at the upper levels of the minors, and he had a dreadful strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2013 with 107 whiffs to just 17 walks. The 26-year old Sierra has played almost exclusively right-field in his career.
ZIPS projects Sierra to hit .251/.298/.387 for 0.5 WAR. He has hit .281/.378/.406 this spring with four doubles in 37 plate appearances. The Royals designated Sierra for assignment a few weeks after claiming him off waivers, so he is no longer on the 40-man roster and would need to be added to be on the roster. He is also out of options, and would have to clear waivers if the Royals brought him up, then sent him back down. Moises was a bit of a fan favorite among White Sox fans for being a hilarious presence in the dugout.
Ultimately the final roster spot could go to none of these players. The Royals say they will not finalize their roster until Sunday, which may suggest they want to see if any players are cut from other camps that might be worth picking up. Regardless of who it is, expect the winner to be in the big leagues only a short time, with very little playing time to show for it.