The Royals are counting down to final cuts and should have a 25-man roster done by Friday. Ten spots on the roster are set - Lorenzo Cain, Christian Colon, Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Omar Infante, Kendrys Morales, Mike Moustakas, Paulo Orlando, and Salvador Perez. The eleventh spot - backup catcher - will either be Drew Butera or Tony Cruz. Ned Yost has indicated that Reymond Fuentes likely has a spot on the team and could even start in right field.
The club is still debating whether or not to carry 12 pitchers. With all the off-days early in the season, the team is likely to skip Kris Medlen's turn in the rotation and use him as a reliever. That would mean they would only need 11 pitchers, and could carry as many as 14 hitters. That leaves one, maybe two spots left on the team with Cody Decker, Terrance Gore, Whit Merrifield, and Travis Snider all a possibility to break north with the club. Let's look at how the Royals might fill their roster.
The 29-year old right-hander signed with the Royals as a minor league free agent this past winter. While Decker may be the most interesting man in baseball off-the-field, the former Padre has shown some pop in his career. Decker hit 21 home runs for AAA El Paso last year, and has 154 career home runs in his seven seasons in the minors. Decker has the ability to draw free passes with a 10.1% walk rate in his career, although it remains to be seen what he can do against Major League pitching. Decker went hitless in eleven plate appearances in his Major League debut last fall for the Padres. However he has had an impressive spring with the Royals, tying for the team lead with three home runs.
He has gotten the attention of Ned Yost not only with his bat but with his positional versatility.
"He came in early with the catchers and caught. He could be a big-time emergency catcher. He's very proficient. He can play third. He is not as polished at all positions as Merrifield is, but he can play all positions."
Decker has played primarily first base in the minor leagues, but has played 50 games in left field, 47 games at third, 23 at catcher, and has even pitched in two games. He is not currently on the 40-man roster, so someone else would have to be removed to make room for Decker.
Gore would be on the team for one reason only - speed. He likely won't be allowed near a bat, and it is unlikely he will even need a glove. Ned Yost likes the idea of using Gore as a strategic pinch-running option to win ballgames early in the season.
"You like to have a guy that you can come off the bench with a bat and win a ballgame for you," Yost said. "(When you’re) in a tie game or you’re down one, and you want that big bat off the bench, well, Gore, with his legs, it’s like having a big bat come off the bench. You can pinch run, he can steal second. He can score on any base hit. He can steal third. He can score on a sacrifice fly."
Gore is an unbeliveably fast baserunner, and the Royals have used him as a strategic pinch-runner in each of the last two seasons. He has not disappointed, with 12 stolen bases in 13 tries, the only unsuccessful steal being when he popped off the bag for a milisecond in the 2015 ALDS. Gore is also already on the 40-man roster, and has options remaining, so keeping him on the Major League roster for two weeks while Jarrod Dyson is out would not require any roster maneuverings.
Whit has been one of the most impressive players in camp, although we can take spring training stats with a grain of salt. Merrifield brings speed and positional versatility, with an ability to play in the outfield and middle infield positions. As a hitter, Merrifield has been rather underwhelming in the minor leagues, and he is coming off one of his worst seasons as a professional, hitting .265/.317/.364 for Omaha last year. At age 27, Merrifield is not likely to have much upside left to improve with the bat.
Still, he has held his own defensively, and his ability to play capably all over the field may be all that is required from a 25th man on a roster. Under Ned Yost, the Royals are not likely to pinch-hit much, so a speedy utility man may have more value to this roster than a bat capable of producing power. Ned Yost captures what Merrifield brings to the table:
"You just kind of appreciate more his ability to be a super-utility guy. He can play all outfield positions, very solidly. (He can play) all infield positions."
Merrifield is not on the 40-man roster, so he would need to be added to make the club.
Snider has the most Major League experience out of all of these candidates, spending seven years with the Blue Jays, Orioles, and Pirates. The left-hander was signed as a minor league free agent, so he would have to be added to the 40-man roster if he were to make the club. Once one of the top prospects in the game, Snider has settled into the role of a power bat off the bench. He has always been a low-average hitter however, and has a career line of .244/.311/.399 in 630 career games.
Snider was a valuable reserve player for the playoff-bound 2014 Pirates. However he slumped last year and ended up being demoted to the minor leagues, ending the year hitting .232/.313/.350 in 265 big league plate appearances. He is an average defender, capable of playing both corner outfield positions. Snider does not have a big platoon split, so he is not too vulnerable against left-handed pitchers.
Here are the ZIPS 2016 projections for the bench options, according to Fangraphs.