A week from today the Royals begin the regular season at home against the Minnesota Twins. The team is largely the same from last year’s squad, with a few minor off-season moves. The have pinned their hopes on a youth movement with a lineup that could have as many as 7 or 8 hitters age 26 or younger, and a pitching rotation that features young arms like Brady Singer and Daniel Lynch.
While most of the core returns, there were still a few roster battles in camp this spring. With less than one week to go before the team breaks north, here are my predictions on who will be on the Opening Day roster:
Catchers (3): José Briceño, MJ Melendez, Salvador Perez
The demotion of Freddy Fermín yesterday threw an interesting wrinkle to the catching situation. The Royals likely want him to play every day, while a third catcher will be the Maytag Man, doing nothing most of the time. That’s why I think they’ll carry José Briceño as a third catcher. I could be way off, but he’s a veteran with some MLB experience who has played well this spring. I can also see them asking around the league for a veteran that’s not going to make a big league roster - hey, maybe we bring Cam Gallagher back from Guardians camp.
Infielders (5): Hunter Dozier, Nicky Lopez, Michael Massey, Vinnie Pasquantino, Bobby Witt Jr.
I thought there was a slight chance Nick Pratto could make the team, but his demotion yesterday makes it clear he’ll begin in Omaha. Matt Duffy could have a chance to make this team, but the Royals should be fine with reserve infield depth between Nicky Lopez up the middle and Nate Eaton backing up at third. Johan Camargo is another possibility, although he hasn’t hit well this spring. I thought Maikel Garcia was a long-shot to make this team even before his demotion, and although he played well, he could probably use a bit more seasoning and an everyday role in Omaha.
Outfielders (5): Jackie Bradley Jr., Nate Eaton, Kyle Isbel, Edward Olivares, Franmil Reyes
I think the last spot on the roster among hitters is between Duffy or Bradley, either of whom would have to be added to the 40-man roster. The lack of depth in the outfield probably gives the edge to Bradley as a true backup centerfielder to Isbel. Matt Beaty could also be an option here - and he has hit well this spring - but as a first baseman/outfielder who can play some third, I don’t think there’s a need for him on this roster. Reyes has earned a spot on the team with his slugging this spring, plus he has a good track record in the big leagues.
Starting rotation (5): Zack Greinke, Brad Keller, Jordan Lyles, Daniel Lynch, Brady Singer
The Royals will need a fifth starter the first week of the season, and the fifth spot is up for grabs in camp, most likely between Lynch and Kris Bubic. Bubic has missed more bats this spring than Lynch, although with more walks. Both pitchers have been working on things in camp, so I’m not sure either of their performances is that instructive. My personal view is that Lynch’s upside is much higher than Bubic’s, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if Lynch gets the kind of demotion that Brady Singer got at the beginning of last year as a wake up call to get his career going.
Bullpen (8): Scott Barlow, Aroldis Chapman, Taylor Clarke, Dylan Coleman, Amir Garrett, Carlos Hernández, Josh Staumont, Ryan Yarbrough
Ryan Yarbrough is a rotation candidate I suppose, but he has missed some time due to groin soreness and isn’t likely to be stretched out by the start of the season. Taylor Clarke has dealt with some lower body soreness, so he’s a candidate to stay behind in extended spring training. Richard Lovelady has looked very impressive in camp, according to reports, and I can see him sneaking onto this roster if a spot opens up, although there are already three lefties in this bullpen. Lefty Josh Taylor could also make the team, although the Royals may want to ease him into action after he missed all of last season. Jose Cuas was effective last year, but is probably a depth piece right now. Anne Rogers of MLB.com left Coleman off her roster projection at the outset of camp back in February, and he has walked a lot of hitters this spring, so he could be a surprise demotion. David Lesky has talked up Ryan Weiss as a dark horse bullpen candidate, but adding him would require opening up a 40-man roster spot. Mike Mayers and Nick Wittgren are also non-roster invitees who could get added, although neither has been lights out this spring.
Injured List (3): Jake Brentz, Diego Hernandez, Drew Waters
The Royals can add non-roster invitees Franmil Reyes and Jackie Bradley Jr. to the 40-man roster once Diego Hernandez and Jake Brentz are placed on the 60-day Injured List, but another spot would have to be created to add Jose Briceño. Drew Waters isn’t expected to be out as long, with the team hoping he can return in April. Taylor Clarke, Josh Taylor, and Ryan Yarbrough are all candidates to open the season on the Injured List if they aren’t ready to begin the season.
Who do you project to be on the 26-man Opening Day roster?