The Royals have come pretty close to finalizing their Opening Day roster with only two remaining questions. First, will Jorge Soler have to start the year on the disabled list, giving speedster Terrance Gore a spot on the roster? Second, who will get the last bench spot - World Series hero Christian Colón or utility heartthrob Whit Merrifield?
TALE OF THE TAPE
Pros: Can draw a walk, clutch hitter in the post-season, former first-round pick pedigree, positive defensive metrics, is out of options
Cons: No home run power at all, underwhelming offensive numbers last year, seems to have shaky defense at times
Josh Duggan made a strong case for Colón here. The Royals have arguably mishandled the development of the #4 overall pick in the 2010 draft, never quite giving him a chance to show what he can do in an extended audition. He has a demonstrated ability to draw a walk with a 7.9% walk rate in the minors and a similar rate in his limited big league action.
"He’ll give you a great at-bat. He had one of the biggest at-bats."
The Royals have always seemed skeptical of his defense, and by the eye test he doesn't exhibit tremendous defensive tools. However the defensive metrics have been favorable for him as an average defender who can play second base, shortstop, and third base.
The big factor is that Colón is out of options, meaning that the Royals will have to expose him to waivers if they want to send him to the minors. Ned has suggested that Colón could make the team initially, but could be swapped out for Merrifield in a few weeks when the club needs 13 pitchers and more positional versatility. That could be a better time to try to pass Colón through waivers, once all teams have their set rosters.
Pros: Positional versatility, outstanding baserunner, very good defensive metrics
Cons: No plate discipline, late-season swoon last year, has options remaining
Best known for: His grandfather's interview after driving his Volkswagen all over the country to see Whit
Merrifield was a sensation last year when he came on to hit .308 over his first 40 games. However the league figured him out after that, and he hit just .254 after that, including a demotion back to Omaha. Merrifield brings positional versatility, with an ability to play virtually anywhere on the field except catcher or pitcher. He brings a very good glove, and was seventh among all second basemen in baseball in Defensive Runs Above Average and eighth in Defensive Runs Saved.
"If we option Whit out; probably the first time we need 13 pitchers, here comes Whit. Because we’re one man short on the bench and we need that versatility."
Merrifield is a terrific baserunner, finishing behind only Jarrod Dyson on the Royals in Baserunning Runs, and stealing eight bases in eleven attempts. However he has very little plate discipline with a low 5.7% walk rate. Despite a reputation of being a high contact hitter, he had a high strikeout rate last year over 21%.
Merrifield has an option year, so he can be sent to Omaha as many times as the Royals need, which could means he is on the "I-29 shuttle" much of the year. If he can hit like he did in his first month in the big leagues, the Royals may have no choice but to keep him. But at age 28, there are doubts that his hitting was for real, and he may be stuck on the fringes of the roster all year.
The Royals say they will decide by Sunday on the final roster, but I suspect they may be exploring their options via a trade this week. With both Colón and Cheslor Cuthbert out of options, it creates a bit of a roster logjam, and the Royals may not need both on the roster, especially with Raúl Mondesí winning the second base starting job. Christian Colón has been a valuable member of two pennant-winning clubs and probably should have started long ago when the Royals were trotting out a broken down Omar Infante at second base. But his days as a Royal could be coming to an end.