With just ten days before the Royals open up regular season games against the Chicago White Sox, we have a better idea which 25 players they will carry north. The Royals assigned catcher Cam Gallagher, infielder Ramon Torres, and pitchers Miguel Almonte, Sam Gaviglio, and Trevor Oaks to Omaha over the weekend. Torres and Almonte had been darkhorse candidates to make the squad, with the Almonte looking dominant so far this spring. But those moves bring the remaining roster battles into focus.
The bench battles
The Royals have eight set starters - Salvy at catcher, free agent Lucas Duda at first, Whit at second, “Death, Taxes, and Escobar” at shortstop, Moose at third, and some combination of Alex Gordon, Jon Jay, and Jorge Soler either all in the outfield or with Soler at DH. Two roster spots will belong to third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert - who could see time at DH with Soler moving to the outfielder to replace the suspended Jorge Bonifacio - and Paulo Orlando, who could play all three outfield positions.
Drew Butera will be the backup catcher, even with Cam Gallagher looking close to ready for MLB action. That is eleven position players, leaving just one, maybe two spots left on the roster for position players. The Royals will likely want to carry a reserve middle infielder, even though Ned Yost has said it is not absolutely necessary with Escobar’s durability and Merrifield’s versatility. However, Ryan Goins is a solid glove with five years of MLB experience and with Ramon Torres headed to Omaha, the left-handed hitting Goins should be a strong candidate to make the team as a reserve.
The Royals could very well decide not to carry a 13th position player, citing the versatility of their players - Goins can cover all infield positions, Orlando can cover all outfield positions, and Merrifield can cover everywhere if needed. That would allow them to carry an eighth reliever, which may be desirable with two potential Rule 5 draft picks - pitchers Burch Smith and Brad Keller - on the roster (they would need to stay on the roster all season or be offered to their original club).
If the Royals decide to carry a 13th player, it seems unlikely the promising Adalberto Mondesí would be that player. He has been suffering from a sore arm and the club would likely want to see him get regular playing time in the minors rather than sit the bench in Kansas City. Outfielder Bubba Starling, who was probably a long-shot to make the club, if that, will begin the year on the disabled list with an oblique injury that could cost him a few months.
Instead, it could open an opportunity for veteran outfielder Michael Saunders, who was an All-Star in 2016 but has been awful in the big leagues since then. First basemen Ryan O’Hearn and Frank Schwindel have destroyed Cactus League pitching, but it still seems unlikely the Royals would carry either one of them north. Veterans Cody Asche and Tyler Collins are also both still in camp, but seem unlikely to make the club at this point. Working against all of these players is the fact the Royals would have to open up a 40-man roster spot to add them (as well as Goins), although placing Starling on the 60-day disabled list could open one spot.
The bullpen battles
Ned Yost has announced Danny Duffy will be his Opening Day starter against the White Sox, with Ian Kennedy going in game number two. He has made no proclamations on the rest of the rotation, but it seems a very strong bet it will be Jason Hammel, Nate Karns, and Jakob Junis rounding things out.
The Royals signed reliever Justin Grimm over the weekend, making him a virtual lock for the Kansas City bullpen with Kelvin Herrera and Brandon Maurer. Grimm had been in Cubs camp before he was let go, so he should be ready for the regular season. Wily Peralta is probably a lock despite a rough (13 runs allowed in 5 2⁄3 innings) performance this spring, due to his $1.5 million guaranteed contract and lack of options remaining.
The Royals will likely be very tempted to keep Burch Smith and Brad Keller on the roster all year as they attempt to add assets to their rebuild. Smith has been very erratic this spring, but has struck out 14 (and walked 9) in 10 innings of work, and his high 90s fastball is tough to send back to the Rays. Keller is younger and probably has more upside as a starter than Smith, and the 22-year old has held his own in camp so far.
That would leave just two spots left on the roster. Brian Flynn is out of options, although the 27-year old lefty might clear waivers at this point due to his age and injury past. His performance has been tough to evaluate this spring - he has given up a lot of hits but was also the victim of some poor defense. Kevin McCarthy was decent for the Royals last year in limited actions. His strikeout numbers are quite low, but the groundball artist had a 3.20 ERA and 3.98 FIP in 45 innings. The fact he has options may force the Royals to send him down to keep other “inventory” in the system.
Right-hander Blaine Boyer has been a decent veteran the last few years and he has yet to give up a run this spring, making him a good bet to make the squad. The Royals would have to open up a 40-man roster spot for Boyer, Ricky Nolasco, or Seth Maness, the veterans looking to make the club. Nolasco has an opt-out if he’s not on the roster by March 24, but he has yet to get into a spring training game, so it seems likely the Royals will ask him to begin the year in Omaha.
Right-hander Kevin Lenik and lefties Tim Hill and Richard Lovelady are all very intriguing young pitchers, but seem unlikely to make the club out of spring training. Lenik and Lovelady would need to be added to the 40-man roster to make the squad, which hurts their chances of going north, but expect to see cameos from all three at some point this season.
Which 25 do you expect to see lined up at Kauffman Stadium on March 29?