Look, we’re at the beginning of the offseason. There is no baseball, everything is terrible and getting colder, and everyone is sick of political ads for at least the next 37,000 years. Baseball teams haven’t fully embraced the wheeling and dealing of the offseason yet. The MLB Winter Meetings are next month. And, worst of all, the Royals are likely to have a very boring offseason compared to the last few years.
As a result, we might as well start looking forward to 2019, because why not. Besides, there’s something really interesting about 2019, and that is what on earth the Royals are going to do with all their outfielders.
At the beginning of last year, this was not an issue. It definitely is now. Between Jorge Bonifacio and the acquisitions of Brett Phillips, Brian Goodwin, and Rosell Herrera, however, the Royals gained four outfielders they did not have at the beginning of the season. Add to that the return of Jorge Soler, the existence of Alex Gordon and his humongous contract, and players like Ryan O’Hearn, Whit Merrifield, and Hunter Dozier who can also play outfield if need be, and you’ve got yourself a proper conundrum.
So how’s this going to work out? Here’s my best guess. Of course, injuries have a way of deciding things for you, and the Royals could go out and do something that nobody expects anyways, but it is what it is.
- Alex Gordon, left field
- Brett Phillips, center field
Ah, Gordon. The perennial Gold Glove candidate hasn’t slowed down defensively in left field, is a reliable veteran presence and franchise legend, and has an immovable contract attached to him like the world’s most luxurious ankle monitor. He isn’t getting traded, and he’s too expensive (and too important for clubhouse and historical reasons) to just cut loose. Unlike in years past, it is possible Gordon is benched more often or does something weird like playing third or first base (both have happened) more often, but most days you can be sure his name will be scribbled onto the lineup card as the left fielder.
Phillips is the youngest of the Royals’ group of outfielders, and is also the most promising. He’s a defensive wizard with an arm that would make the USS Missouri proud, and he possesses intriguing speed an infectious personality. His ceiling is probably Lorenzo Cain but with Joey Gallo’s strikeout problems. His floor is probably 2016 Byron Buxton but with less power. Either way, both outcomes are tantalizing enough that he should start most days in center field or right field.
PROBABLY, BUT NOT NECESSARILY
- Brian Goodwin, center/right field
- Jorge Bonifacio
- Jorge Soler
Hip hip...JORGE! (JORge...JOrge...jorge...) Sure seems like the Royals are in a canyon and someone said the name ‘Jorge’ once and fourteen popped out, but some didn’t play baseball and one was a pitcher, not an outfielder. Both outfielder Jorges enter 2019 with the same profile, that profile being a corner position with defense that’s not going to be a positive factor and severe questions about their offensive usefulness (they’re both Symmetra, is what I’m saying).
After horsing around and regressing mightily in 2018, Bonifacio must prove that his bat is actually good, when there has been no real evidence that it will be. And after missing a huge chunk of 2018 due to injury—just as he missed a huge chunk of most seasons of ihis career to injury, to be honest—Soler is searching to prove that he can be a healthy, impact player when there has been no real evidence thus far that he can be.
As for Brian Goodwin, he’s a guy. A former first round guy! But a guy. He’s gonna be 28 next year, which is not exactly young, and his production has been more or less meh so far.
All three are worth playing. Bonifacio still has only one full season or so under his belt, Soler is extremely talented and has shown to be effective when healthy (don’t laugh), and it won’t take much for Goodwin to become a league average player. Furthermore, all three are cheap and under team control for multiple years. These are guys who will end up with roster spots, but whose roster spots will be the first to go if someone else interesting is available.
THE ODD MEN OUT
- Bubba Starling
- Donnie Dewees
- Paulo Orlando
- Billy Burns
- Elier Hernandez
In other years, one or more of these guys would compete for an outfield position. Yes, even Starling. In fact, it really wouldn’t at all be surprisng if this was the year he debuts with Kansas City, because 2018 was a 104-loss team and, well, why the hell not, you know? But with the exception of Hernandez, whose Triple-A performance was not exactly inspiring, all are on the older side of prospectville. These guys are probably your outfielders for the 2019 Omaha Storm Chasers, but if somebody gets hurt, one of these guys might get a call. But also maybe not, because of...
INFIELDERS WHO CAN ALSO PLAY OUTFIELD
- Hunter Dozier
- Ryan O’Hearn
- Whit Merrifield
- Rosell Herrera
Barring a weird trade or injury, all four figure to be on the 2019 Royals opening day roster. However, they are all going to do so as infielders. Dozier probably won the third base gig with a strong end to 2018, O’Hearn’s extensive home run collection puts him as the natural fit at first base, Merrifield is simply one of the league’s best second basemen, and Herrera is the kind of scrappy, useful utility guy that tends to make rosters. And while all four are primarily infielders, all four spent time last year roaming the Royals outfield.
So if there’s a DL trip for one of the primary outfielders, these guys can help fill the gap for a while. The Royals probably won’t need to make many outfield call-ups this year.
DARK HORSE CANDIDATES FOR MIDSEASON OR SEPTEMBER
- Nick Heath
- Khalil Lee
- Kort Peterson
These three guys aren’t going to begin the year with the Royals. They might not even be up by the trade deadline. But dark horse candidates aren’t dark horse candidates because they’re obvious. In that situation, they’d be bright horse candidates. Duh.
Anyway, all three of these guys ended 2018 in Double-A Northwest Arkansas. That’s just two jumps to the big leagues, and an extended hot bat could tempt the Royals to call them up, a la Nicky Lopez this year. Now, Lopez didn’t get called up, but he easily could have. That’s where Heath, Lee, and Peterson will be. Injuries happen. Maybe the Royals end up trading someone. Who knows. That’s what the beginning of the offseason is for—wild ramblings and speculation.