We’re already two weeks into Spring Training and the roster is shaping up nicely! We’ve all been waiting for the next wave and it seems like it might have arrived - at least as far as the position players. The pitching is still a bit suspect. I’m going to cut off position players at 10 plate appearances to make sure we have some decent sample sizes to work with. Otherwise, I might predict something ridiculous, like Brewer Hicklen batting third in the order because of three at-bats against the equivalent of High-A competition. That would just be silly!
The guy who is catching my eye right now is Jeison Guzman. With Adalberto Mondesi still sidelined by injury, the 1.155 OPS put up by the 21-year-old, Dominican Republic native has really opened my eyes. He’s striking out more than you’d like - in 50% of his at-bats - but some strikeouts are acceptable in today’s game and when he’s not striking out he’s basically always on base. Guzman has been in the Royals’ system since 2016 but he was added to the 40-man roster during the off-season. Perhaps the Royals anticipated this star turn for the young infielder!
Whit Merrifield and Maikel Franco seem destined to keep the other two infield starting spots, but mostly because they haven’t faced anything resembling real competition for their spots. MJ Melendez has taken the catcher’s job and run with it. Among the position players, only Guzman and outfielder Bubba Starling have a higher OPS. The Royals’ longtime mainstay at the position, Salvador Perez, has been playing more elsewhere as the Royals try to find something else for him to in the wake of Melendez’s breakout. We all know Salvy wants to play every day but he’s also a good character guy so I’m sure he’ll be satisfied to back up Melendez if its for the good of the team.
Brett Phillips has been on the rise, lately, too. He’s got his OPS up to .783 which would put him in the starting lineup with Starling and Khalil Lee who both have been raking more than a person with a lot of trees in their yard and an obsession with seeing the grass. You might think Jorge Soler could stick in at DH after last year’s tremendous season but, unfortunately, he’s fallen well behind in the depth chart. In addition to the three already listed, Hunter Dozier, phenom Kyle Isbel, and even zombie Alex Gordon are outhitting him, these days.
The Ryan Brothers continue to battle it out to see who gets to play first and who will be relegated to designated hitter. O’Hearn is leading the way with a 1.037 OPS right now, but McBroom has half as many strikeouts and an identical number of home runs, walks, doubles, and all-important RBIs. Either way, if these two keep up the production the Royals could have their very own versions of Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco on the roster. But hopefully with fewer steroids and bat guano.
As I alluded to at the beginning the pitching is still a position of weakness for the Royals, especially in the Starting Rotation. Danny Duffy and Jakob Junis both have yet to give up a run, which is promising. Jorge López may finally be harnessing his stuff - he has struck out six and walked only two without allowing a home run, But after them things get dicey. Brad Keller just seems to have aged right in front of our eyes and carries an astonishingly bad 33.75 after two starts. The guys next in line for the rotation are probably Stephen Woods Jr. and his 4.91 ERA along with Mike Montgomery who has only a 9.00 ERA.
The good news is that the bullpen seems drastically improved. Enough to replicate the success of the 2014 and 2015 teams that had some suspect starters at the back of the rotation? I don’t know. But Heath Fillmyer, Andres Machado, Arnaldo Hernandez, Josh Staumont, Yunior Marte, Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, Richard Lovelady and Randy Rosario have all refused to allow a run yet this spring. Yes, I did skip one guy in that list. And there’s a good reason for that. Trevor Rosenthal hasn’t just kept opposing hitters scoreless, he’s looked incredibly dominant on the mound. He’s struck out 70% of the batters he has faced. These guys haven’t been chumps, either. His Opponent Quality is 8.3 which is second only to the struggling Jesse Hahn. If for some reason the Royals break camp and any of these guys turns out to be mirages (as if that could happen!) there are still seven other potential relievers with ERAs of 3.00 or less that the Royals could plug in.
There is still time for the Royals to bolster the rotation. Alex Wood is still out there, for example. The lineup and bullpen are looking pretty good. If the Royals are serious about trying to compete this season they’ll make a move. Even with their mediocre rotation so far this spring they’re still 7-7. They don’t need to improve much to turn this club into one that could at least sneak up on people and compete for the Wild Card game.