The bullpen, long a strength for the Royals, was perhaps the biggest question mark going into spring training this year. Kelvin Herrera and Brandon Maurer were locks, but the remaining spots were up for auditions by veterans and youngsters alike.
But with the Royals wrapping up camp in Arizona and heading to Omaha today for an exhibition game before they begin regular season play on Thursday, the bullpen looks like it is settled. Kelvin Herrera will be the closer, a job he lost at the end of last year when he struggled.
Dayton: Is there an unquestioned closer?— Josh Vernier (@JoshVernier610) March 25, 2018
“I think so. Kelvin’s pitched in a lot of high-leverage situations. It’s all in there. He’s capable of performing in whatever role Ned matches him up with. Whether it's 7th, 8th, 9th, multiple innings at times, I think he’ll perform well”
Brandon Maurer seems likely to get a late-inning role, although Ned Yost has not officially anointed him the “eighth-inning guy”, and you may see more flexibility in that role. Wily Peralta, signed to a $1.5 million guaranteed contract, looks to be a lock despite giving up 14 runs in eight innings of work in Arizona. Perhaps more concerning, however, is his 5.37 ERA in 293 2⁄3 innings over the last three seasons.
Wily Peralta has a 13.50 ERA in 8 IP this spring. He told me today he doesn't think he's fully shown what he can do. He has a history of poor springs, he said, and hopes the Royals take that into account when filling the bullpen.— Rustin Dodd (@rustindodd) March 25, 2018
Justin Grimm, signed to a deal in the middle of camp after being let go by the Cubs, will almost certainly be on the club. And it looks like Rule 5 draft pick Brad Keller, lefty submariner Tim Hill, and veteran reliever Blaine Boyer will be in the pen.
I have it in good standing that Brad Keller and Tim Hill have made the Opening Day bullpen for the Kansas City Royals. The Royals number 11 and 76 prospects will be making their big league debuts very soon.— Royals Farm Report (@RoyalsFarm) March 26, 2018
Blaine Boyer has also made the team. He seems like a great guy, but I’m less excited about that one.— Royals Farm Report (@RoyalsFarm) March 26, 2018
Keller, acquired in the Rule 5 draft, held his own in camp with 14 strikeouts in 10 innings of work with a 2.70 ERA. He’s 22 with good upside as a starter and is making the jump from AA - not a huge leap. Hill is the lefty submariner who didn’t put up eye-popping numbers in AA Northwest Arkansas last year - a 4.17 ERA but 75 strikeouts in 69 innings. He pitched well this spring and is already on the 40-man roster. Keller and Hill both had profiles written about them in the Star, usually a sign a pitcher is well-received by the coaches in camp. Boyer has been a useful reliever in the big leagues the last three seasons, but will have to be added to the 40-man roster.
Joining them will be two more lefties - Brian Flynn and Eric Skoglund.
MORE NEWS: Brian Flynn and Eric Skoglund will also be in the big league bullpen.— Royals Farm Report (@RoyalsFarm) March 26, 2018
Flynn is out of options, but he is 27, and hasn’t been good since he got hurt last year, so he could have been a candidate to slip through waivers. The Royals may like his versatility since he can be a spot starter or reliever, and they may prefer having a second lefty in the pen. Before his injury last year from falling through a barn roof, he was rather effective in 2016, with a 2.60 ERA (but 4.03 FIP) in 55 1⁄3 innings.
Eric Skoglund is scheduled to start the exhibition game tonight against Omaha. He has been a starter in the minors, and still has a bright future as a starter. My guess is he is emergency depth as a ninth reliever. Jakob Junis will likely be optioned down, and can be recalled by April 4, which is when the Royals would need a fifth starter, upon which he’ll switch places with Skoglund. There is also the possibility he is on hand in case Danny Duffy’s shoulder tightness is worse than expected and he has to miss a start or land on the disabled list. Otherwise, it seems silly to carry three lefties, and also sacrifice Skoglund’s development as a starter.
These moves haven’t been confirmed by the club or by any beat writers, but if true, that would be nine relievers in all, unless we see a reliever with a DL stint or a surprise release (Peralta?). Perhaps the most surprising player left off is Rule 5 pick Burch Smith, who must be on the Major League roster or be offered back to the Rays. Smith features a high-90s fastball but struggled with his command in Arizona, walking 12 in 14 innings, but he also struck out 21. He seems worth the gamble if he can figure out the strike zone this year, because his fastball is very intriguing and could be worth a lot eventually on the trade market. Perhaps the Royals work out a trade to keep him in the organization, but losing him may be a mistake.
The Royals made some more cuts to camp over the weekend.
Kevin McCarthy was optioned to Omaha. Bullpen intrigue continues.— Rustin Dodd (@rustindodd) March 24, 2018
The Royals assigned some more players to minor-league camp: pitchers Mike Broadway, Clay Buchholz and Seth Maness; infielders Humberto Arteaga and Frank Schwindel; and outfielders Billy Burns and Tyler Collins. There are 29 players still in "camp" as the club heads to Omaha.— Rustin Dodd (@rustindodd) March 25, 2018
The Royals will bring 29 players to their exhibition game against Omaha today, although expect some farmhands to represent the Royals in the affair. They will officially set their roster some time after that game.
Even as the Royals set their roster, expect to see a lot of movement on I-29 between Kansas City and Omaha in April. Most of these pitchers are pretty unproven and could have short leashes as Ned Yost tries to familiarize himself with new faces. Pitchers in the minors such as Clay Buchholz, Mike Broadway, Kevin McCarthy, Seth Maness, Miguel Almonte, Richard Lovelady, Kevin Lenik, Josh Staumont, Scott Barlow, Eric Stout, and even Kyle Zimmer could make appearances in the big league bullpen this summer.
Thoughts on how the bullpen shakes out?