The truth of the matter is, there hasn’t been a lot to look for in Spring Training the last few years. That’s usually a good sign. If you have a good roster then there aren’t going to be a lot of questions about who will play in what positions. It also makes for a very boring Spring Training.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but this year’s team doesn’t have the promise of the teams of the past few seasons. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we’ll get to have a much more interesting Spring Training with plenty of drama and lots of questions for us to have opinions about.
For starters between Adalberto Mondesí (née Raúl) and Jorge Soler, the Royals have a couple highly talented players who will be the core of the team if it’s going to be good in the near future. It will be worth it to keep an eye on their progress and see how they might be progressing. As usual, it’s worth keeping a look out for diamonds in the rough and surprise performances, as well.
While there were very nearly as many guys in camp last year, there was a lot less reason to pay attention to most of them with so many position battles locked up before the season even started. Only a couple low-end bullpen spots, the fifth starter, and second base jobs had any real kind of competition. In contrast, this year only three roster spots seem completely set with maybe half a dozen more that could be marked as likely.
Salvador Perez is a lock as the starter for this position, barring injury. Drew Butera is nearly as good a certainty to be the backup but Cam Gallagher will do his best to unseat the incumbent hair-flipper for the role. Nick Dini, Chase Vallot, Meibrys Viloria and Parker Morin figure to just be around to make sure the multitude of pitchers always have someone to throw at.
Hunter Dozier is currently penciled in as the starter at first despite only having played 12 games there, professionally, in his career. He’ll be challenged by natural first basemen Samir Duenez, Ryan O’Hearn, and Frank Schwindel. Other names that have been mentioned for this position are Cheslor Cuthbert and Whit Merrifield.
According to FanGraphs, Whit Merrifield had the best season at second base that the Royals have seen since Jose Offerman manned the position in 1998, nearly 20 years ago. Even so, he’s not guaranteed the spot as the Royals have indicated that Mondesí could win it with an exceptional spring. You may recognize this as the same plan that backfired spectacularly, last season.
Cheslor Cuthbert gets his first opportunity to take the third base job out of Spring Training but figures to ultimately compete with Hunter Dozier for the position. Whichever of them doesn’t get this job will probably end up at first. If you believe Shaun, third should belong to Dozier.
Alcides Escobar. Death. Taxes. Escobar.
Ryan Goins, Nicky Lopez, and Ramon Torres will compete for backup infield opportunities. Humberto Arteaga, Jack Lopez, and Erick Mejia are likely just getting a taste of the big leagues but might try to force their way into the roster conversation.
Alex Gordon, Jorge Bonifacio, and Jorge Soler likely have three of these spots locked down. Which three will determine which of the other outfielders in camp also make the roster. Gordon got the first start in center field this spring which might indicate that that’s where Manager Ned Yost sees him spending most of his time. If that’s the case the outfield can do almost anything. Other candidates for center include Billy Burns, Terrance Gore, Bubba Starling, Tyler Collins, and Paulo Orlando. Donnie Dewees is unlikely to make the roster but is definitely a name to keep on eye on for the near future. Michael Saunders could make the team as a backup outfielder or even a starter if Gordon plays in center.
Danny Duffy is a lock to be the opening day starter, barring injury or trade, while Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel seem likely to fill in the next two spots. But the remaining two spots haven’t been assigned and after the trades over the winter, there are plenty of candidates. Nate Karns and Jake Junis might have the inside tracks but they’ll see plenty of competition from Trevor Oaks, Jesse Hahn, Sam Gaviglio, Brad Keller, Burch Smith, and Foster Griffin. Anyone who doesn’t become a starter will naturally have a shot at the bullpen, too.
The only locks in the ‘pen would seem to be Kelvin Herrera, Brandon Maurer, and Wily Peralta. Herrera and Maurer will probably take the eighth and ninth in some order. Without a lot of other established pitchers, Brian Flynn seems likely to be able to leverage his lack of options into a roster spot, as well. Kevin McCarthy, Miguel Almonte, Scott Barlow, Tim Hill, Heath Fillmyer, Andres Machado, Eric Skoglund, Eric Stout, and Kyle Zimmer round out the relievers who wouldn’t need to be added to the 40-man to make the active roster. That means Scott Blewett, Blaine Boyer, Mike Broadway, Kevin Lenik, Richard Lovelady, Seth Maness, Glenn Sparkman, and Josh Staumont would really have to dazzle if they wanted to break camp with the major league team.
If it all seems a bit overwhelming now try not to fret too much. You can start by checking out Max’s excellent article to help you familiarize yourself with the non-roster invitees. Also, the Royals will start trimming the roster in a week-and-a-half to two weeks and there will be far fewer names to keep track of. For now, just pick out your favorites and keep your eyes on the box scores to see if you can figure out who might be playing their way into a job.
Which position battle are you the most interested in?
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