There are just 24 days until Opening Day, but as spring training opens up, most teams aren’t even sure who will be in their organization by then. A 99-day transaction freeze has caused teams to compress what would usually take most of an off-season into a few weeks.
The Royals may have a bit more stability than other teams, hoping to improve the team mostly through internal upgrades through the farm system. Let’s take a look at the roster situation as players begin workouts in Arizona. Remember, teams have to carry 13 hitters and 13 pitchers on the roster this season, and while the season will likely begin with expanded rosters, nothing official has been announced yet.
*-denotes a player not on the 40-man roster
Catcher: Salvador Perez
Trying to make the team: Cam Gallagher, MJ Melendez, Sebastian Rivero
Salvador Perez, the seven-time All-Star, is obviously the starter here, although last year he made 40 starts at designated hitter. Cam Gallagher has been a very serviceable backup, and is a much superior pitch framer to Salvy. But with MJ Melendez leading all of the minors in home runs last year, the Royals may want to see what he can do at the big league level soon. Gallagher could be traded to a team in need of a solid defender, with Rivero as the back up until Melendez is ready.
Infielders: Nicky Lopez, Whit Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi, Carlos Santana
Trying to make the team: Gabriel Cancel*, Ivan Castillo*, Clay Dungan*, Maikel Garcia, Ryan O’Hearn, Vinnie Pasquantino*, Nick Pratto, Emmanuel Rivera, Bobby Witt Jr.*
The middle infield is likely set with Lopez and Merrifield up the middle. Barring a trade, Carlos Santana will likely begin the season at first base, although there’s a good bet he’s not on the team by the end of the season so the club can make room for Pratto. Everyone expects phenom Bobby Witt Jr. to be at third to start the year, but stranger things have happened. The Royals have penciled Mondesi in for more of utility role, although it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see him traded altogether. Ryan O’Hearn was tendered a contract, but can still be released with partial termination pay (next year arbitration contracts become guaranteed), so the Royals will have to determine how he fits in this year’s roster.
Outfielders: Andrew Benintendi, Hunter Dozier, Michael A. Taylor
Trying to make the team: Dairon Blanco*, Nathan Eaton*, Brewer Hicklen*, Kyle Isbel, JaCoby Jones*, Edward Olivares
This is the unit that could use the most improvement. However the Royals already committed to Taylor with a two-year deal and Dozier with a four-year deal, ensuring they will likely get plenty of at-bats despite subpar offensive performance last year. Taylor at least brings the best outfield glove in baseball, but Dozier could see more time at DH this year, giving the Royals an opportunity to get a look at Isbel and Olivares, or perhaps they even seek some external help in right.
Starting pitchers: Brad Keller, Mike Minor, Brady Singer
Trying to make the team: Kris Bubic, Foster Griffin*, Jon Heasley, Carlos Hernández, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, Daniel Mengden*, Angel Zerpa
Like the last two years, the rotation will probably be very fluid, with lots of opportunities for starts. You could see the Royals go with a six-man rotation, or try to piggyback guys to keep innings down. Bubic would have an inside track to make the rotation after putting up 1.8 rWAR in 180 big league innings the past two seasons. Hernández pitched the best out of the young prospects to make their debut last year, but the Royals could also turn to veteran pitcher Daniel Mengden, a former Athletics pitcher back from a stint in the Korean league.
Relief pitchers: Scott Barlow, Jake Brentz, Taylor Clarke, Josh Staumont
Trying to make the team: Ronald Bolaños, Colton Brewer*, Dylan Coleman, Austin Cox*, Jose Cuas*, Josh Dye*, Joel Payamps, Brad Peacock*, Collin Snider, Gabe Speier, Domingo Tapia, Daniel Tillo, Jace Vines*, Arodys Vizcaino*, Nathan Webb, Tyler Zuber
The bullpen is probably pretty wide open and the area most likely to see some additions between now and the season opener. Vizcaino is a proven closer who, if healthy, would stand to have a good shot of making this team, but he has pitched just four big league innings in the last three seasons. Dylan Coleman has impressed many with his 100 mph fastball and could be a good addition, and Bolaños looked nasty in a short stint in the pen before he got hurt last year. The Royals are short on lefties, so you could see them make an acquisition, but Speier has the inside track to join Brentz as the southpaws in the pen.
Who do you predict will be on the 26-man roster?