Among the best parts of spring training are all the silly questions we get to ask ourselves about roster construction. Who could be healthy? Who could force their way onto the big league roster? Is Bubba Starling a big league player now that he’s hit 2 bombs in one spring training game?
Unfortunately, not all the news is good. Danny Duffy is already being held back with shoulder tightness. The team says it’s probably normal and they’re just being cautious, which is good. But he’s been hurt so many times you can’t but wonder how “normal” it is. And, even worse, it sounds like human smile machine Salvador Perez may be out for the season.
So if Sal is out, what should the Royals do? It sounds like they’re in contact with the only man to unseat Salvy, however temporarily, from his Gold Glove throne in 2017, Martin Maldonado. Martin was a well-below-average-hitting catcher for the Angels and Astros last year. Also on the market are better-defense-as-a-DH Evan Gattis and assault-with-a-deadly-weapon-no-that-is-not-a-joke-perpetrator Bruce Maxwell. So, ya know, the market is not exactly flooded with talent. And it’s not like the Royals are going to compete even if they sign one of those guys.
For my money, I’d like to see them have a competition among the minor league guys and give one of them a big league payday for a season. M.J. Melendez probably needs to stay in the minors to be the best he can be and Meibrys Viloria is in a similar position despite his September call-up last season. But Nick Dini played some at AAA and didn’t look especially overwhelmed there last year. I’d be quite happy to see the Royals give him a shot. Xavier Fernandez didn’t look too terrible in AA last year, either. Most of the catchers are still young enough that they could turn into something and it wouldn’t exactly be surprising. Dini, though, is already 25 and while that’s not old it does make it noticeably less likely he’ll ever be a big-time prospect, now. I’d probably rather see him get paid something this year just in case he never gets another shot.
Max had an article the other day about who should lead off, Adalberto Mondesi or Whit Merrifield when Ned raised the possibility that the speedy Mondesi might usurp the role from the veteran Merrifield. The reasoning seems to go, “Leadoff home runs are cool and Whit is more experienced at putting the ball in play in a way that advances runners. But, ya know, Whit was pretty good there last year so we’ll see.”
This isn’t hard for me, though. I want Whit in that leadoff spot. For one thing, if Mondesi is never on base, Whit won’t have anyone to advance. Also, two-run home runs are more fun than solo shots. In addition to that there is a school of thought that Whit could protect Mondesi in the lineup but theoretically whoever is batting third should also be able to protect Adalberto while, as Max pointed out, having a speedy runner on base might allow him to see more fastballs and his biggest flaw as a player appears to be his inability to identify pitches.
Max also pointed out that in some lineup construction plans your best hitter should bat second in the lineup to maximize appearances but still allow for runners on base. Whit was the Royals’ best hitter last year but Mondesi has the most potential. Why play it safe when you’re probably going to lose 90+ games anyway? Might as well take some chances.