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Spring training battles: The bench

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Who will keep that bench warm?

Kansas City Royals v Chicago Cubs Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

In less than three weeks, the Royals will break north with the 26 players they will open the season with against the Rangers on April 1. Unlike most years, the starting lineup is pretty much set going into camp. Salvador Pérez will catch, free agent Carlos Santana is at first, Nicky Lopez brings his defense to second, Adalberto Mondesi will flash his leather at short and Hunter Dozier is back at third. The outfield will feature Andrew Benintendi in left, Michael Taylor in center, and Whit Merriifeld in right. Jorge Soler will serve as the DH. Barring an injury, or something really surprising with Bobby Witt, Jr., that is your likely Opening Day lineup.

But the bench is a bit more muddled. The Royals will carry four bench players, but which four will it be?

Backup catcher

The Royals have two solid options to back up Salvador Perez in Cam Gallagher and Meibrys Viloria. Gallagher has been a pretty adequate backup the last few seasons and has been lauded for his framing skills. He is not going to be an offensive force, but he shows a bit of power and is average at drawing walks. On the other hand, Gallagher is 28 years old, and will be arbitration-eligible next season. Viloria is just 24, is a left-handed bat, and has shown more offensive ability in the minors. We could see one of them traded, and Viloria has drawn trade interest before.

Infield

Hanser Alberto signed a minor league deal with the Royals, but he is almost certainly a lock to make this team. The veteran has been solid the last two seasons with the Orioles, hitting .299/.322/.413 with 15 home runs in 193 games. He has excelled against left-handed pitching, has had one of the lowest strikeout rates in baseball, and is capable of playing all over the field.

Outfield

The Royals signed Jarrod Dyson to a $1.5 million deal to serve as their fourth outfielder. He’ll bring speed to late-inning situations, veteran presence for the younger players, and unlike a younger player, the Royals won’t mind sitting him every day to start their regular outfield.

One more spot

That leaves one more spot on the bench, and with the positional versatility on the roster, it really could be at any position. With Alberto on the team, there may not be a need for another middle infielder, especially with Nicky Lopez able to move to shortstop and Whit Merrifield able to move to second. So instead of carrying a defense-first glove like Jeison Guzman, or another versatile utility player like Erick Mejia, the Royals could instead opt for a bat that can help out.

If you’re looking for a bench bat, Ryan McBroom may be the best option. The slugger tied the club record with three pinch-hit home runs, even though it was in a truncated 60-game season. The 28-year old right-handed bat has held his own in 168 big league plate appearances, batting .269/.321/.436, but with Santana at first and Benintendi in left, he may not get many opportunities to start.

Incumbent first baseman Ryan O’Hearn could be a good candidate, particularly after smashing his third home run of spring training on Wednesday, but he has very limited defensive utility. Third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez has also looked good, and could get some time at third with Hunter Dozier able to move to another position if need be. Bubba Starling was the starting center fielder last year, but at age 28, he may be out of chances, particularly now that he is not on the 40-man roster.

Edward Olivares looked impressive in very limited action last year, and is capable of playing all three outfield positions. Nick Heath led the minors in stolen bases in 2019 and brings a terrific attitude to the clubhouse, but his skillset seems rather redundant with Jarrod Dyson already on the club. Lucius Fox, who was an infielder acquired from the Rays for Brett Phillips last summer, also brings speed, but is probably a long shot to make the roster. The Royals may eventually want these younger players in Omaha getting regular at-bats, but with the minor league season pushed back to May, it may make sense to carry one of them on the bench.

The long shot some fans are clamoring for is phenom Bobby Witt, Jr. But he almost certainly begins the season in the minors, and if he does somehow make the team, it will almost certainly be as a starter.

Royals bench candidates (career numbers)

Players PA AVG OBA SLG BB% K%
Players PA AVG OBA SLG BB% K%
Hanser Alberto 973 .278 .300 .377 2.6% 12.1%
Jarrod Dyson 2,684 .246 .316 .334 8.6% 16.6%
Lucius Fox 0 - - - - -
Cam Gallagher 298 .241 .308 .368 7.7% 19.5%
Kelvin Gutierrez 91 .244 .308 .329 8.8% 33.0%
Nick Heath 18 .154 .313 .231 11.1% 33.3%
Ryan McBroom 168 .269 .321 .436 6.5% 32.7%
Erick Mejia 43 .167 .244 .222 9.3% 32.6%
Ryan O'Hearn 672 .212 .304 .414 11.5% 26.9%
Edward Olivares 101 .240 .267 .375 4.0% 24.8%
Bubba Starling 261 .204 .246 .298 5.0% 31.8%
Meibrys Viloria 201 .215 .266 .287 6.5% 30.8%

Who do you think will be on the Royals’ bench on Opening Day?

Poll

Who do you think should get the final bench spot?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Lucius Fox
    (2 votes)
  • 6%
    Kelvin Gutierrez
    (53 votes)
  • 2%
    Nick Heath
    (20 votes)
  • 45%
    Ryan McBroom
    (369 votes)
  • 3%
    Erick Mejia
    (26 votes)
  • 23%
    Ryan O’Hearn
    (194 votes)
  • 11%
    Edward Olivares
    (97 votes)
  • 6%
    Bubba Starling
    (54 votes)
815 votes total Vote Now