The Royals finalized their 25-man roster today, electing to keep Terrance Gore over Whit Merrifield for the final bench spot. Merrifield had impressed by hitting .347/.389/.653 in spring training, and became a fan favorite with his hustle and dazzling plays. Merrifield also adds a lot of positional versatility, with an ability to competently play all over the baseball diamond.
Despite Whit's hot spring, the Royals made the right call in choosing Terrance Gore. For starters, Terrance Gore is already on the 40-man roster, while Merrifield was not, meaning the Royals won't have to risk sending anyone through waivers to make room for a new roster spot. However even as a baseball decision, Gore gives the Royals a better chance to win than Whit Merrifield
Gore may not be much with the bat, although he did show progress last year hitting .284/.367./311 for AA Northwest Arkansas last year. Gore is pretty much a one-tool player, but that one tool - speed - is outstanding. Gore has 207 career steals at the minor league level with an insane success rate of 91.5%. In his limited action as a Major League pinch-runner, he is 12-of-13 as a base-stealer with the only "caught stealing" coming in last year's American League Division Series when he beat the throw to third handily, but was called out on a technicality when he arguably popped off the bag for a microsecond.
Merrifield has speed of his own, but it is a far cry from what Gore can offer. Merrifield is a more well-rounded player, but the fact is the Royals don't need his other tools for the two weeks Jarrod Dyson is out with injury. The Royals have a pretty set lineup, and Ned Yost is not one to use his pinch-hitters much late in games. Is it unlikely that Gore, or Merrifield had he made the roster, would ever get a plate appearance in his time in Kansas City before being demoted upon Dyson's return.
You could argue that Merrifield "deserves" the spot more based on his spring training, but "deserve" takes a back seat to "who can help the Royals win the most games?" Gore, with his elite baserunning ability, can change a game just with his legs. As Ned Yost suggested:
"(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."
We should also be careful not to read too much into the 47 spring training plate appearance Merrifield excelled in, for there are a host of reasons spring training stats should not matter much. Merrifield was a very underwhelming hitter in a full season for Omaha last year, getting out-hit by guys like Dusty Coleman. Aside from a fluke season in 2014, Merrifield has been an average to below-average hitter for much of his professional career, and despite adding 20 pounds of muscle this past winter, it is not likely that at age 27 Merrifield has suddenly become a quality Major League bench player.
Still, having a utility player who can capable play and handle the bat should be a good use of a roster spot later in the season. By July, players will be nicked up, sore, and in need of off days. A guy like Merrifield will have much more use then if he shows up to Omaha and continues to hit like he did in Arizona. Admire Whit Merrifield's hustle and the spring he put up, but Terrance Gore is the player that can help win more games over the next two weeks.