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Get to know your 2022 Royals non-roster invitees to spring training

Who will make the team?

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Kansas City Royals Photo Day
 Dairon Blanco #72 of the Kansas City Royals poses during Photo Day at Surprise Stadium on March 20, 2022 in Surprise, Arizona.
Photo by Kelsey Grant/Getty Images

The Royals are well into spring training now with their first few exhibition games under their belt. Most of the names are pretty familiar to you - Whit, Salvy, Benny. But what about those non-40-man roster players invited to big league camp? Which of them have a shot to go north with the club to begin the season in the big leagues?

Here are the non-roster invitees in camp.

Pitchers

Colten Brewer is a 29-year old right-hander who has bounced around from Pirates to the Yankees to the Padres to the Red Sox before signing a minor league deal with the Royals last winter. He was useful for Boston in 2019 with a 4.12 ERA in 58 appearances but has had trouble throwing strikes with 5.7 walks-per-nine innings in 91 career big league innings. He has terrific spin rates, but has been unable to translate that into better results. He throws a fastball that sits around 93 mph, although it looks like last year he transitioned to more of a cutter to go along with his slider and curveball. Probably on the outside looking in for the bullpen, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him up at some point this season.

Austin Cox has been overshadowed by other pitchers from the 2018 draft class, but the fifth-rounder has put up terrific numbers at every level of the minors. Last year he posted a 3.00 ERA in 15 starts for Double-A Northwest Arkansas, although his strikeout rate declined to 8.0 per-nine innings and he was roughed up in two outings for Omaha. The lefty throws in the low-90s, getting it up to 94 mph at times, and is probably slated for Omaha’s rotation this year, but could be on the Royals pitching staff before long.

Jose Cuas is a former infielder who began pitching after the Brewers released him. The Royals signed the right-hander out of the independent leagues and he was fantastic with a 1.95 ERA with 32 strikeouts and just seven walks in 32 13 innings for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. He throws sidearm with some deception, and with his command, the 27-year old could be an interesting dark horse to make the big leagues soon.

Josh Dye fits in the dictionary under “crafty lefty” with a “herky jerky” delivery, a fastball that sits in the upper 80s, with a good slider. The 25-year old was a 23rd-round pick by the Royals out of Florida Gulf Coast University and has performed very well as a reliever at each stop in the minors. Last year, he put up a 2.52 ERA with 68 strikeouts and 18 walks in 60 23 innings for the Naturals, and pitched well in a handful of innings for Omaha. He’s probably ticketed for Omaha, but with the lack of lefty depth in the bullpen, could find some innings this year for the Royals.

Foster Griffin is back for his first full season after Tommy John surgery in 2020. He slowly ramped up last year, getting in 52 innings in the minors, including six starts for Omaha. The former first-round pick has some big league experience - he made one start for the Royals in 2020. The lefty throws in the low-90s and his career was stalled in the minors due to some underwhelming numbers, but scouts like his stuff and he may be a different pitcher following his time off.

Brad Peacock is a versatile and valuable swingman who has pitched in ten big league seasons with the Nationals, Astros, and Red Sox. In 2019 he was a 1.1 rWAR pitcher for Houston, with a 4.12 ERA in 91 23 innings, making 15 starts and 8 relief appearances. The 34-year old has been hurt in the last two seasons with neck and shoulder issues, signing a minor league deal with the Royals just before the end of the lockout. If he’s healthy, he can be a nice veteran to rely on to sop up innings and protect younger pitchers.

Jace Vines was a fourth-round pick by the Royals in 2016 who was putting up underwhelming numbers until last year, when he seemed to have a breakthrough moving to the pen. His strikeout numbers spiked to 8.9 per-nine-innings with a 4.10 ERA in 68 innings, although it came with higher walk numbers as well. The 27-year old right-hander will likely begin in Omaha, but is an option for later in the year.

Arodys Viczaino was once a top 100 prospect for the Braves, and later saved 50 games for them with a 3.01 ERA and 218 strikeouts in 194 13 innings in parts of seven big league seasons. The 31-year old Dominican is a fastball/curveball pitcher, with a heater that runs in the upper-90s, but with some control issues at times. He last pitched in the big leagues in 2019, undergoing labrum surgery in 2020 and suffering elbow injuries in 2021. If he’s healthy now, he can add another big arm in the Royals bullpen that can pitch in the late innings.

Infielders

Gabriel Cancel is a power-hitting infielder who hit .238/.304/.510 with 14 home runs in 58 games for Triple-A Omaha last year. The 25-year old was a seventh-round pick out of Puerto Rico in 2015, and has hit well at each level. He can swipe some bases and is capable of playing second and third. He has a lot of swing and miss to his game, and is likely a starter at Omaha until injuries warrant a call up.

Ivan Castillo signed with the Royals as a minor league free agent after bouncing around from the Guardians to the Blue Jays to the Padres, where he made his MLB debut last year. He got in just three games, but also hit .287/.326/.366 with three home runs and 12 steals in 113 games for their Triple-A affiliate in El Paso. Castillo is a 26-year old switch hitter who can play all over the infield, and could be a candidate to make the team as a bench player.

Clay Dungan was a ninth-round pick out of Indiana State in 2019 that put up an impressive pro debut in Idaho Falls that year, hitting .357/.427/.494. He was moved all the way up to Double-A last year, and still managed to hit with a line of .288/.357/.405 with 28 steals in 108 games. Dungan is capable of playing both middle infield positions, and has some decent power to go with his good speed. He is likely ticketed for Omaha, but the 25-year old left-handed hitter could be a useful and versatile bench bat soon for the Royals.

Nathan Eaton is another versatile player who can play both infield and outfield, and was even considered to convert to catcher when the Royals drafted him. They ultimately valued his speed enough to keep him from squatting, and he was 23-of-26 in steal attempts last year. A right-handed bat, Eaton hit .243/.345/.371 with six home runs in 70 games for High-A Quad Cities. The 24-year old will likely begin at Northwest Arkansas, but his versatility could earn him a promotion before long.

Vinnie Pasquantino has become a darling among fans, rising up some prospect lists this off-season after an impressive 2021 campaign where he hit .300/.394/.563 with 24 home runs in 116 games across High-A and Double-A. The 24-year old first baseman shows an ability to draw walks, but without striking out, making him one of the best contact/power combo hitters in the minors. With first base a bit blocked at the big league level and upper minors, Pasquantino may have to bide his time, but his performance will be hard to deny for much longer.

Bobby Witt Jr. is considered one of the top prospects in all of baseball, and was named the top prospect by MLB Pipeline. A five-tool infielder, Witt shook off an underwhelming pro debut in 2019 to hit .290/.361/.576 with 33 home runs and 29 steals between Double-A and Triple-A, earning him Minor League Player of the Year honors by Baseball America. There has been a knock on his ability to make contact, but he made improvements last summer. Barring an injury, he is very likely going to be the starting third baseman for the Royals to begin the year.

Outfielders

Dairon Blanco was acquired from the A’s organization in 2019 for reliever Jake Diekman. The right-handed hitting outfielder has terrific speed, swiping 41 bases last year while hitting .277/.350/.441 with 14 home runs in 117 games in Double-A and Triple-A. The 28-year got a late start to his career after defecting from Cuba, but his speed could be an asset as a fourth outfielder.

Brewer Hicklen is an intriguing power/speed combination hitter who stole 40 bases in 44 attempts last year while smacking 16 home runs for Northwest Arkansas. The former Alabama-Birmingham football player has hit well at each level, although he has some swing-and-miss to his game. The 26-year old right-hander is an athletic outfielder who will draw some walks and could be a surprise contributor soon.

JaCoby Jones is a six-year MLB veteran with the Detroit Tigers, hitting .212/.275/.371 in 352 games. A right-handed bat, he has modest power and strikes out a lot, but can swipe some bases. The 29-year old can handle centerfield defensively, and could make the team as a fourth outfielder.

Catchers

Tyler Cropley, like all of these non-roster catchers, is in camp to give pitchers more opportunities to throw. Cropley is a Sioux City native and former Iowa Hawkeye who the Royals signed after the Nationals let him go. He hit .194 in 26 games for Northwest Arkansas last year.

Kale Emshoff was one of the top undrafted free agents the Royals signed in 2020 out of the University Arkansas-Little Rock. He impressed in his first pro season last year, hitting .267/.378/.480 with 10 home runs in 63 games in Low-A and High-A. He strikes out a lot, but also walks a lot and could be a factor down the line.

Freddy Fermin is a 26-year old Venezuelan whose bat has slowly developed. He had his best year last year, hitting .279/.356/.446 with 10 home runs in 73 games for the Naturals. The right-handed hitter is likely headed to Omaha this year.

Logan Porter splits time between first base and catcher, but is a solid bat, hitting .241/.368/.451 with 14 home runs in 77 games in High-A last year. The 26-year old did post one of the best walk rates in the organization last year.