It has been 152 days since the Royals last played a game. In two more, they will play another one, albeit an exhibition one, but a game nonetheless. It’ll be broadcast on the radio, so you can hear the amazing sounds of baseball once again. And that’s a good thing for a lot of reasons. Spring training is interesting. We get super jacked up for pitchers and catchers to report and then we get less jacked up but still excited when the full squad starts workouts. And then it’s just a lot of nothing. It’s stories about the sounds of baseball and catching up with guys to see what they did in the offseason. The first game provides that excitement again. Regulars will play three or four innings probably. We’ll get tired of that too, but for now, baseball is back. I personally can’t wait to overanalyze an 0 for 7 stretch from Carlos Santana. Bring it on.
I thought it was interesting that Dayton Moore was pretty clear that the lineup and rotation are basically set heading into exhibition action. First of all, is he angering the baseball gods and asking for an injury? I mean come on. But second of all, it’s not all that surprising. I gave my initial roster projections over at Inside the Crown (won’t you please subscribe? Subtle, huh?) looking at the hitters and then the pitchers and it seems pretty clear who is set to be in each group. I think we put too much emphasis on Opening Day rosters anyway. Think about Chris Ellis and Frank Schwindel from the 2019 roster. Schwindel took his last plate appearance on April 10th and Ellis threw his last pitch on March 31st. While nobody wants to re-tell the story of the 2019 team, if they did, those two wouldn’t even be mentioned in all likelihood, but we spent so long dissecting their inclusion. Still, they’re the guys who get lined up and introduced in front of what’s usually one of a few sellouts a year for the Royals, so it’s a cool honor.
I’d assume the Rangers will start Kyle Gibson on Opening Day, which might give some Royals fans chills, but he’s not really especially worth worrying about. That means we’ll see the right-handed lineup and that will include Nicky Lopez at second base and the switch hitters hitting from the left side. A number of teams have already named their Opening Day starters, but many of those were beyond obvious, so I’m curious if the Royals go with Brad Keller, who did it in 2019 or if we’ll see one of the veterans (Mike Minor or Danny Duffy) get the call. Either way, it’s coming soon.
There’s a storyline to watch this spring that probably won’t captivate anyone, but is worth at least monitoring. The Royals currently have four catchers on their 40-man roster after adding Sebastian Rivero this winter. They don’t usually carry four. And one of the four is out of options. Yes, that’s right. We’re talking about Meibrys Viloria. You see what I’m saying about needing to watch some games for some very real stories? Anyway, Viloria is out of options already in spite of just 201 career big league plate appearances, so the Royals are in a situation with him similar to what we saw with Cheslor Cuthbert a few years back in that they either need to keep him on the big league roster or risk losing him.
So there are four things that can happen. The first, and least likely in my opinion, is that the Royals carry three catchers to keep Viloria at least for a week or two to try to sneak him through a DFA. The second is that he wins the backup job over Cam Gallagher with Gallagher getting sent to AAA since he has one option remaining. I don’t see that happening either as Gallagher is actually a very good backup. The third option is that they go with Gallagher and are able to get Viloria through waivers and he goes to AAA to split time with Rivero. But the fourth option is the interesting one to me and it’s that some team loses their catcher in spring training and want to take a chance on a 24-year old who theoretically has some upside. Maybe the Royals can find a desperate team to give up a lottery ticket that might potentially possibly cash in some day. Hey, for Viloria, there are worse things.
I had the privilege of spending some time on Almost Entirely Sports last night and Josh Brisco asked a good question about the upside of the Royals lineup. Outside of Michael A. Taylor and Nicky Lopez, there’s a world where the rest of the seven team up to give the Royals a really good offense. They don’t need the best case scenario for all of them, but at least for a couple of them. The conclusion I came to last night and am here to share with you today is that the positive here is that the majority of the players who have a lot of risk/reward going on is that all seven other than Carlos Santana and possibly Whit Merrifield are theoretically in their prime. And those are the two who figure to have the least variance (though Santana did have a pretty rough 2020).
Hunter Dozier, Jorge Soler, Andrew Benintendi and Adalberto Mondesi are all on the good side of 30 (the two former for a little while at least) while the latter should be entering their prime years. If all seven hit their top potential, the Royals lineup will absolutely be quite good. But that’s not terribly likely because the world just doesn’t work like that. Even so, as I’ve said before, pretty much everyone the Royals are hoping are at their best has been good within the last two seasons, so there are certainly worse positions they could be in.
With the lineup set and the rotation likely set, it’s hard to see much in the way of spring training battles, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to watch. For one, there are still battles. While I would say Greg Holland, Scott Barlow, Josh Staumont and Jesse Hahn are locks for the bullpen and Jakob Junis likely is if the rotation is all locked up with the five guys we assume, that means there’s at least three and maybe four more relief spots available. Kyle Zimmer has the upper hand after his excellent 2020, but he’s had injury issues and has one option remaining. Wade Davis is going to be given every shot to win the role, but he hasn’t been good for some time. And then it’s some combination of Tyler Zuber, Carlos Hernandez, Brad Brach, Richard Lovelady and Jake Newberry. And maybe even Ervin Santana actually.
On the offensive side, I mentioned Viloria and Gallagher having some sort of camp battle, but I don’t think it’s much of one. Aside from that, we have a pretty good idea that Hanser Alberto is going to make the team. So what’s left? If the Royals carry four on the bench because I think maybe they’re relaxing the 13-pitcher maximum rule in 2021, we’ll see if Ryan O”Hearn or Ryan McBroom can break as a bat off the bench who can play first and corner outfield spots. If they only keep three bench bats, it’s a battle among Nick Heath, Edward Olivares and I guess Bubba Starling. If they keep a fourth, one of those latter three will make it and then it’s a battle among the remaining four. So the camp battles aren’t that interesting, but there’s still some intrigue. Plus, spring training is a great time to see who is talked up the most to try to figure out where the team goes when they need someone next.