The Royals aren’t a young team anymore, but they could be getting younger sooner than you think. With only one year left before many Royals players test free agency, many of us want to know,“what can the young guys do for the Royals this year?” Only one rookie seems likely to crack the opening day roster, but there is a reason teams stash players in the minors.
Some of the opening 25 will be hurt at some point, others will be ineffective requiring their demotion or release. And that’s when the rookies can step in. The Royals may not have any blue-chip prospects, but even now there are some guys who could potentially contribute to a winning club. Among the names you’ll want to keep your eyes on:
It would be very surprising not to see him break camp with the Royals and he’s still technically a rookie because he did not meet the requirements for Rookie of the Year last year, requiring at least 50 innings pitched or 45 days on the roster before September. There was talk early on of perhaps giving him an opportunity to win a spot in this year’s rotation, but the Royals’ preference was always for him to remain in the bullpen for 2017 with an eye on claiming a rotation spot for the 2018 team. They think they may have found a new development strategy after watching Danny Duffy pitch effectively from the pen and then show stretches ace-like pitching, last year. Out of the pen Strahm fires a high-90’s fastball with a physics-defying curveball that helped him strike out more than a batter an inning in his short big league stint, last season
If the Royals are out of it late in the year, look for Strahm to get stretched out a bit and maybe even throw a couple spot starts.
Mr. Staumont looked like a very solid bet for the bullpen before the Royals had their little shopping spree at the Off-Season Clearance Bin (All former Cubs pitchers must go!) Now that they’ve added all those arms it seems likely Joshy-boy will start the year in AAA, continuing to work on refining his command in hopes of becoming a dominant starter some day. Staumont features a fastball that can top three digits, an 11-5 curve, and a change-up that is still in development.
If he makes it to the big leagues this year it will probably be as a reliever because he walks a LOT of guys - like however many you’re thinking it’s almost certainly more. That kind of flaw is more easily hidden in the bullpen, where he can also shelve that change-up for the time being and unleash the heat before breaking backs with the curve. He might not be the first guy up if an injury or ineffectiveness strikes the ‘pen - that would seem likely to be a job for Seth Manness, Peter Moylan, or one of the other veterans with opt outs in May that may not make the Opening Day roster - but he’ll be in the top three candidates, at least.
I know, I know. Injury joke. Another injury joke. Third injury joke. Moving on. If Kyle Zimmer is healthy - a big if, even this early in spring training after his first start saw his velocity drop precipitously in the second inning - he could be a valuable piece in the bullpen. It seems unlikely, after having missed most of last year, the the Royals would plug him into their rotation and expect him to stick for any significant period of time. However, his stuff should be good enough to work out of the pen if they find a need for him even if it doesn’t play up much. For what it’s worth, Ned Yost even mentioned this possibility.
I would be a lot more confident in predicting playing time for him this year if we hadn’t heard from Flanny that he’s been battling a ‘minor’ issue with his left wrist since last August. At least that might explain why he hardly played in September. That being said, if it heals up, it will be between him and Burns if the Royals feel they need to promote an outfielder. Dozier would have an edge if flexibility becomes a consideration - he’s still a natural third baseman and is getting some opportunities this spring at first, as well. However, there seem likely to be no fewer than six guys on the Opening Day roster who can more or less play the outfield. That’s a lot of depth to weed through before promoting other guys.
Jake is an interesting guy in their minor league system, he doesn’t have a flashy ERA but still found himself in AAA to finish 2016. He’s still only 24 and while his fastball is only in the upper 80s, he has a potentially very good curveball and can mix in a solid change-up. Where he excels is in his command of his pitches, he struck out nearly a batter an innings across AA and AAA last year with a better than 4-1 strike out to walk ratio.
Ordinarily you probably wouldn’t be looking at him to contribute this year, but he might be the Royals’ best option to fill in as a starter if Nate Karns/Travis Wood/Chris Young all fail to hold on to the spot. Always assuming they don’t just give Joakim Soria an opportunity to earn his starting bonuses.
Ramon is a middle infielder who hasn’t hit a ton - he made his AAA debut last year with a dazzling 65 wRC+ (That’s offense equivalent to 35% below AAA league average if you’re unfamiliar with the stat) But the Royals are high on him, and if a terrible malady strikes the middle infield glut of Whit Merrifield, Christian Colon, and *cough* Cheslor Cuthbert - he might get the call. Especially if it’s to fill in as an emergency backup and they want to keep Mondesi getting at-bats in the minors and working on his development.
This one is a bit of a long shot, but if Eric Hosmer goes down for a long time with an injury and the Royals decide they can’t live with Brandon Moss at first, O’Hearn could get a call. O’Hearn has done nothing but hit ever since the Royals plucked him in the eighth round of the 2014 draft. He strikes out his fair share, but he also has shown an ability to take walks - at least at the minor league level - and plenty of power.
Others not previously mentioned
SS/2B Raúl Mondesí - Mondesí received 135 at-bats last year, exceeding the 130 at-bat threshold for Rookie of the Year eligibility. He showed little ability to hit big league pitching, but the Royals love him and they’re probably counting on him to take over at shortstop next season. He’s also having a very hot start to his spring. Expect him to return by September at the latest.
OF Peter O’Brien - He is showing a lot of power this spring and sparking a lot of imaginations, but he is also a man without a position and he has six strike outs at the time of this writing in fourteen at-bats to go with his three home runs.
OF Jorge Bonifacio - He hit very well last year, but couldn’t even get a cup of coffee with the big league club in September. There are just too many outfielders ahead of him, right now.
OF Bubba Starling - Has yet to show anything even remotely resembling a hint that he might be able to hit big league pitching. The only good news is that in nine at-bats he still hasn’t struck out, yet, this spring training. Strike out percentages are one of the few stats that can be a bit predictive in spring training, so keep an eye on that as March continues.
2B Corey Toups - Corey is one of the more interesting position player prospects in the Royals’ system. He plays a premium defensive position and holds his own, he hits for power (.172 ISO in A+ and AA, last season), and he appears to be a legitimate stolen base threat (60 SB with only 9 CS in 3 professional seasons). He’s also only 23, only made his AA debut last season, and hasn’t been rated highly as a prospect - at least not yet. Even coming in to this year MLB has him as only the 29th best prospect in a weak Royals farm system. But if the Royals find they still need second base help, and they can find him, maybe they can play Corey Toups.
P Erik Skoglund, Andrew Edwards, Eric Stout - Skoglund is still a starting pitcher prospect, but if any of these guys make it to the big leagues they will have either had a breakout minor league season for all time or the losses - in games or personnel - at the major league level will be unbearable.
So what do you think? How many of these guys will we see wearing a Royals uniform, this year? How many will actually be good? Did I miss someone you think will see the show in 2017?