The Royals made a number of demotions this week, assigning outfielders Brett Phillips, Jorge Bonifacio, and Bubba Starling to minor league camp, among others. The moves give us a better idea who will be on the roster for the season opener on March 28 against the White Sox.
Ned Yost says he is leaning towards keeping 12 pitchers, which would give him room for 13 position players. Most of these spots are secure - Martin Maldonado and Cam Gallagher will be behind the plate, Ryan O’Hearn, Whit Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi, and Hunter Dozier will man the infield, and Alex Gordon, Billy Hamilton, Brian Goodwin, and Jorge Soler will be in the outfield. We will see Chris Owings play a bit of everywhere, and it seems likely Terrance Gore will make this team as a pinch-runner extraordinaire.
That leaves room for one more bench spot. Let’s take a look at the remaining candidates.
If spring training mattered a lot, Arteaga would be making this team. He leads all Major League hitters with at least 20 at-bats in spring training in batting average, and is hitting .486/.500/.600 in Cactus League play. But spring training performance doesn’t mean that much. Arteaga has been noted for his glove, but has never been much with the bat until last year, when he hit .292/.322/.386 in Omaha. He continued to hit in winter ball in Venezela, batting .328, so perhaps he has figured something out.
Yost seems to like Arteaga and his situational hitting, even comparing him to Whit Merrifield. However according to this piece by MLB.com reporter Jeffrey Flanagan a week ago, the right-handed hitter “isn’t a candidate to crack the 25-man roster any time soon.” Yost admits that things can change, and perhaps the Royals may see a need to keep another infielder capable of backing up shorstop with better defense than Chris Owings can provide. The 25-year old infielder is not on the 40-man roster, but that is true for all of the candidates for the final bench spot.
Cuthbert seems to be a forgotten man after a lingering back injury cost him much of the 2018 season. He was limited to just 30 games, not a good sign after he was limited to just 58 games in 2017 due to wrist and foot injuries. Cuthbert held his own back in 2016, hitting .274/.318/.413, but his poor defense and slow baserunning go against the speed and defense theme the Royals are going for.
Third base is not completely set, but the Royals seem likely to play Hunter Dozier there most of the time, with Chris Owings as a backup, and Cuthbert does not offer positional versatility anywhere else. The fact he was taken off the 40-man roster is a sign the Royals aren’t exactly sold on him being part of the future. However Cuthbert is still just 26, and has at least experienced a modicum of success at the big league level.
Mejia has also played very well this spring, hitting .429 with a home run, two triples, and four walks. The 24-year old struggled last year in his first season in the organization after being acquired from the Dodgers, hitting just .263/.318/.367 in AA Northwest Arkansas. He does have good speed, stealing 34 bases last year, although he was caught 17 times (he has a very peculiar pattern of alternating very high caught-stealing seasons with very low caught-stealing seasons).
Mejia is a switch-hitter and can play all over the infield, even getting into 14 games in the outfield with the Naturals last season. He has been flying pretty low under the radar this spring, so it would be a surprise if he made it, but he does check some boxes on things the Royals like - speed, positional versatility, and the ability to put the ball in play.
Frank the Tank may be the fan’s choice after tearing it up AAA Omaha the last two years. He has hit .302/.338/.516 with 41 home runs in the last two seasons as the first baseman. The knock on Schwindel was his free-swinging approach, but he was able to show more patience last year, bumping his walk rate from 2.4% to 6.1%. However that is still a pretty low rate for a slugger that could be problematic at the Major League level.
Schwindel is a right-handed bat that could allow lefty Ryan O’Hearn to sit against tough lefties, although Hunter Dozier can also fill that role. But Schwindel mashed against lefties in AAA last year, hitting .353/.402/.630 against them. Schwindel is not considered a very good defender, although he has donned catcher’s gear and taken grounders at third base in spring training to improve his positional versatility. Schwindel has hit at DH the last two nights in what otherwise looks like a regular starting lineup for the Royals. The ZIPS projection system predicts Schwindel to be the fifth-best active hitter in the organization (not counting Salvy). At age 26, Schwindel is a bit old to have much upside, but we said the same thing about Whit Merrifield, so who knows?
Someone from outside the organization
Yost has left open the possibility of a roster move before the season. With the Royals looking to build up organizational depth, it would be wise for them to look for waiver claims and trades for players that aren’t going to be making the Opening Day roster for their current clubs. You can see a list of players out of options here that would have to clear waivers if their team didn’t keep them on the roster.
There are also a few free agents still unsigned, although it seems unlikely any would be ready to start the season. And of course, there is the possibility of bringing back old friend Alcides Escobar, who was released by the Baltimore Orioles this week.
Who should get the last bench spot?
This poll is closed