It has been a long, very cold winter in much of the Midwest, but you can begin to see spring around the corner with these exciting seven words today - “pitchers and catchers report to spring training.” The Royals will have 28 pitchers and seven catchers in camp today, with the rest of the squad to report in a few days.
The Royals will try to capitalize on the young core that finished with a strong end to the season to begin working towards building the next contender in Kansas City. Any improvement they make on their 104-season last year will depend in part on the work they put over the next seven weeks. So what do we need to know about spring training?
Where is spring training?
The Royals have trained in Arizona since 2002, sharing a facility with the Texas Rangers about 30 miles northwest of Phoenix in the city of Surprise. In all, fifteen clubs train in Arizona, giving the Royals plenty of opponents to match up against, including popular draws like the Cubs and Dodgers.
What is the schedule?
The Royals will play a 33-game exhibition schedule to prepare for the regular season, begining on February 23. They will finish off the pre-season with an exhibition game at Werner Park in Omaha, Nebraska, against their top minor league affiliate, the Storm Chasers. Fox Sports Kansas City will air ten games on television, and 610 KCSP in Kansas City will broadcast 20 games on the radio, with other games available for streaming online at royals.com.
February 12 - Pitchers and catchers report
February 13 - Pitchers and catchers first workout
February 17 - Full squad report
February 18 - Full squad first workout
February 23 - First spring training exhibition against the Texas Rangers
March 25 - Exhibition game at the Omaha Storm Chasers
March 28 - Opening Day against the White Sox at Kauffman Stadium
Who will be in camp?
The Royals will begin spring training with 33 position players and 28 pitchers, although with so many unsigned free agents still remaining, more players could be brought into camp. Here is the complete roster of players in camp with the Royals.
What’s at stake?
While most of the starting lineup should be fairly well set for the Royals, there are still many roster battles to be won in Arizona.
Jorge Soler, the oft-injured slugger the Royals got from the Cubs for Wade Davis, could see some time here, although it seems likely the club will want to save his legs (and his poor defense) by sticking him at designated hitter. Jorge Bonifacio was the starter in 2017, but he missed the first half of 2018 with a suspension for a performance-enhancing drug, and struggled upon his return. Brian Goodwin was acquired mid-season from the Nationals, but was hit with injuries and did not get much of an opportunity to show what he could do. Brett Phillips impressed with his stellar arm after he was acquired from the Brewers, but he struggled to make contact. Bonifacio and Phillips have an option year remaining while Goodwin does not, which could be a big factor on who starts on Opening Day and who gets sent to Omaha.
The Royals signed veteran Chris Owings to a $3 million deal, ensuring he will be one of the first options off the bench. He is versatile enough to play all over the infield as well as the outfield. Whoever does not win the right field job could make the team as a reserve outfielder if they are not sent to Omaha. Speedster Terrance Gore is out of options, making it more likely he makes the team as a pinch-running specialist.
*takes a long look around the room to make sure Alcides Escobar doesn’t burst through the door*
Humberto Arteaga, Nicky Lopez, and Jecksson Flores could be darkhorse candidates to make the roster as reserve players. Cam Gallagher seems likely to win the backup catcher job, but Meibrys Viloria has impressed many with his defense behind the plate.
The Back of the Rotation
Danny Duffy, Jake Junis, and Brad Keller are locks to make the rotation, barring injury. Ian Kennedy seems very likely to make the rotation due to his veteran status and high salary, but after back-to-back disappointing seasons and an oblique injury it is not out of the question that he gets moved to the bullpen.
The fifth spot is up for grabs, although the club is not likely to need a fifth starter until after the first week of the season. Jorge Lopez and Heath Fillmyer are the leading candidates to eventually land in the rotation, with Ben Lively, Trevor Oaks, Scott Barlow, and veteran Homer Bailey likely to get a look. Jesse Hahn could be a candidate if he can prove he is healthy after missing all of last season with a UCL injury. Eric Skoglund will be suspended the first 80 games for performance-enhancing drugs.
The bullpen, once a strength for this club, was the worst in the American League last year. So there will be a lot of turnover this year, with many new faces. Wily Peralta failed to make the club out of spring training last year, but ended up the closer by the end of the year, converting all 14 of his save opportunies. Brad Boxberger served as the Diamondbacks closer last year and will likely get a shot at the job in Kansas City. Tim Hill was a fine situational lefty, leading the team in relief appearances last year. Kevin McCarthy was a serviceable right-hander.
The remaining spots in the bullpen are anyone’s guess. Brian Flynn was pretty competent and versatile, and is out of options. There will be a preference to keep Rule 5 picks Chris Ellis and Sam McWilliams on the roster so they aren’t returned to their old clubs. Fireballers like Josh Staumont and Conner Greene could be intriguing if they learn how to throw strikes. Lefty Richard Lovelady is perhaps the top pitching prospect in the upper minors, but isn’t on the 40-man roster yet, which could work against him. Kyle Zimmer is an intriguing comeback story after a career ravaged by injuries. The pitchers that fail to make the rotation could also end up the bullpen.