The Royals have just over two weeks to go until the regular season kicks off March 28 against the White Sox, and some of the roster is beginning to take focus. The Royals assigned a few players to minor league camp, but there are still many more who have a chance to impress before the club pares the roster down to 25.
Spring training performance shouldn’t matter too much, but it probably doesn’t hurt to play well in Arizona. Let’s take a look at who’s up and who’s down so far in Royals’ camp.
A lot of the buzz in camp so far has been around former first-round pick Kyle Zimmer who has seemingly thrown more innings this month than he has in the rest of his career combined. We knew Zimmer had electric stuff, so we shouldn’t be too surprised he is firing bullets this spring, but you can’t help but be a bit amazed at his performance, which includes 7 2⁄3 shutout innings with five strikeouts. And it has come come against pretty good competition.
ZIMMER ALERT— Rob Hill (@Berticushill) March 12, 2019
Punching tickets baby!!!
Love seeing this guy out there. Fires me up!!!!! @kylezimmer11 pic.twitter.com/9R1iPnG95u
Zimmer has hit 96 on the radar gun this spring, with a big bender to boot. Yes, we’ve all been teased by his potential before, but this time just feels different. Perhaps his time at the Driveline Academy has paid off and he now has a chance to make his first Major League roster?
Starling is the other former first round pick in camp that we are used to being disappointed in, but is having a terrific camp so far. He hit a pair of home runs in his first few games and is hitting .417/.517/.750. Like Zimmer, the big development is that Starling is healthy, after he missed most of last year with an oblique injury and a dislocated finger. It is also encouraging that he is not whiffing in Arizona, with just three strikeouts in 24 at-bats.
It’s a pretty small sample size - all of these are - and Bubba is almost certainly headed to Omaha after all his missed time last year. But with right field still an unsettled situation and Billy Hamilton likely a stop gap in center, the opportunity is there for Bubba to be up in Kansas City before too long. And at age 26 he is running out of chances.
There is going to be a lot of focus on Adalberto Mondesi after his impressive performance in the second half of last year. And he has done nothing but increase the hype this spring by hitting .320 with a pair of home runs. He has also increased his walk rate, perhaps a result of his work with coach Pedro Grifol.
Counterpoint - he’s done this before. Remember how he hit .333/.345/.556 against a lot of AAA pitchers in camp in 2017 and won the starting second base job only to look completely overwhelmed when the season began? He’s much more ready now, but his performance is always a good reminder on how spring training stats can be misleading.
You should expect to see a lot from Owings this year, as the Royals seem ready to make him a super-utility player. But perhaps he can improve upon his dismal offensive performance from last year. Rustin Dodd detailed how injuries have really derailed his career, so for him to show up in Arizona healthy and hitting is a good sign. Owings has hit .323 in 31 at-bats with a pair of home runs and a steal. He has struck out eight times if you want to be a bit concerned, and he has always had a bit of a high strikeout rate (22% in his career) for someone that doesn’t have much power.
Ynoa was a minor league signing and non-roster invitee who has opened some eyes in camp. Ynoa was once a former top prospect baseball whose career was derailed by Tommy John surgery. He has given up just one run in 6 1⁄3 innings in camp with six strikeouts to boot.
As I mentioned in this week's Royals Inbox, right-hander Michael Ynoa has definitely caught Ned's eye this spring: "I really like his slider." Ynoa is an NRI but Ned said he is definitely in the mix for a bullpen spot.— Jeffrey Flanagan (@FlannyMLB) March 5, 2019
He’s not on the 40-man roster which will work against him in making the club, but the Royals will be looking for all the bullpen help they can find. The 27-year old may have something left in the tank, and it won’t cost the Royals much to find out if he does.
Lopez is in contention for a rotation spot and he seemed to put an exclamation point on his spring performance on Sunday with just one run allowed in 4 1⁄3 innings and five strikeouts against the Padres.
I asked Jorge Lopez if he feels like he has already shown enough to get a rotation spot. He is staying humble about it. I love the way he ends his quote here— Cody Tapp (@codybtapp) March 10, 2019
Overall, Lopez has a 1.93 ERA in 9 1⁄3 innings with seven strikeouts, with just one walk. He has given up a couple of unearned runs, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio is encouraging. Lopez had a mixed track-record last year after the Royals acquired him, but in a rebuild year, it seems like a good idea to see what the 26-year old can do in the rotation.
If spring training stats mattered, Humberto Arteaga and Erick Mejia would have a shot to make this team as utility infielders. Both are hitting .500 or better, but it has come late in games, against likely AAA pitchers. Neither player is on the 40-man roster, and with Owings already on the roster, there is likely isn’t any room to carry either. But perhaps both players - Arteaga in particular with his noted glove work - have put themselves on the radar to be up later this year.
Others: Alex Gordon has swung a hot bat lately, hitting .333 with his first home run on Monday. The Royals have given every indication that Richard Lovelady isn’t making this squad, but he has struck out seven in six innings of work with just two runs allowed. Jason Adam has tossed 4 1⁄3 shutout innings with five strikeouts although with three wealks.
Royals fans really just wanted to see a healthy Danny Duffy after he missed the last six weeks of last season with a shoulder injury, but that cranky shoulder has resurfaced this spring. Duffy has been experiencing shoulder tightess and now seems questionable for the start of the regular season. Royals fans will be keeping a close on that shoulder all season, especially after Duffy’s slow start last year.
Ned Yost has said that spring training performance doesn’t matter so much for veterans like Bailey, claiming the the “magical bell rings” and the veteran is ready. That is true of course, but the bell hasn’t rung yet for Bailey. And considering that Bailey really hasn’t put up a good season since 2014, there should probably be a bit more urgency with the 32-year old. Bailey has given up eight hits and four runs in 3 1/3 innings with a fastball hitting 93 mph.
Homer Bailey is burnt toast.— David Lesky (@DBLesky) March 12, 2019
Considering his injury past, perhaps the Royals are just looking at him to stay healthy, but if he is fighting for a rotation spot, he will need to improve over the last two weeks.
The 28-year old lefty was decent last year, but with all the relief options the Royals have brought in, he may not be a lock to make this team anymore. Flynn has been rocked this spring, giving up 11 runs in just three innings. He has been a versatile pitcher who is out of options, which could help him make the team if the Royals are concerned about losing inventory, but he may eventually force their hand if his spring does not improve.
Brian Goodwin came to camp in the best shape of his life, getting his body fat down to 9 percent, but it has been an otherwise rough camp for the 28-year old outfielder. Goodwin is just 1-for-21 with eight strikeouts so far. Goodwin hasn’t shown the Royals much since being acquired last summer, mostly due to injuries, but he did put up a strong 2017 season in limited action. He is not in any real danger of not making this club since he is out of options and his Cactus League performance shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but it would be nice if he would start hitting a bit and instilling a bit more confidence from Royals fans.
What a roller-coaster of emotions for Gallagher. Last week, he had to feel bad for Salvy and his team once we learned that the All-Star catcher was out for the year. But for Gallagher himself, it meant a huge opportunity to show what he could do. Then a few days later the club signs Martin Maldonado, which likely means Gallagher is back in a reserve role.
He has struggled this spring, going 3-for-20, but he did homer on Sunday. Gallagher’s value this year will come mostly from his solid pitch-framing, so any offense the Royals get from him is really icing on the cake.
Others: Brett Phillips is hitting just .158 and while he leads the team in walks, he hasn’t cut down on his strikeout rate at all. Neither Rule 5 pick Chris Ellis or Sam McWilliams has pitched particularly well, at least by the numbers.