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Projecting the Royals’ 26-man roster

The Royals seem like they might be done making moves. What is the roster going to look like come Opening Day?

Bobby Witt Jr. #7 of the Kansas City Royals dives into second as he tries to steal in the third inning against the New York Yankeesat Kauffman Stadium on September 30, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Bobby Witt Jr. #7 of the Kansas City Royals dives into second as he tries to steal in the third inning against the New York Yankeesat Kauffman Stadium on September 30, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Pitchers and catchers report in less than a month. The first Spring Training game is only 35 days away. Opening Day is 68 days from now. It might be winter outside, but it is definitely baseball time in our hearts. With the Royals seemingly done making moves, but not yet practicing, now is the ideal time to project out their 26-man roster. So let’s get started!

Pitchers

Starting Rotation

LHP Cole Ragans

RHP Seth Lugo

RHP Michael Wacha

RHP Brady Singer

RHP Jordan Lyles

Cole Ragans earned his spot at the top of this rotation until something changes with his absolutely tremendous finish to the 2023 season. The lefty has a nasty, triple-digit heater and multiple breaking and off-speed pitches to keep hitters honest even when he’s not hitting his spots. Julio Lugo gets the nod here from me as the number two starter thanks to signing with the Royals earlier in the off-season followed by fellow former Padre and free agent acquisition Michael Wacha. Brady Singer and Jordan Lyles will round out the rotation.

Waiting in the wings are Alec Marsh, Anthony Veneziano, Jonathan Bowlan, Daniel Lynch IV, and Kris Bubic (once healthy.) Lyles is in the rotation because he’s owed a lot of money, but if he’s pitching poorly and one of those guys is pitching well, he’ll quickly find himself in a mop-up role similar to what Jeremy Guthrie experienced in 2015. Brady Singer makes the rotation because of the flashes of quality pitching he’s shown, but if he continues to refuse to implement a third pitch and it continues to hurt his consistency, he could also easily lose a spot to someone else on the rise. His two-pitch mix could play up well in the bullpen, should that come to pass.

Bullpen

RHP Matt Sauer

LHP Josh Taylor

LHP Jake Brentz

RHP John McMillon

RHP Nick Anderson

RHP James McArthur

RHP Chris Stratton

LHP Will Smith

The bullpen will be headlined by the three new relievers and the two guys whose names start with Mc. Taylor and Brentz will pitch in lower leverage positions as they all try to work back from injury. Sauer is the Royals Rule 5 selectee, so they’ll do everything they can to keep him on the roster but also out of anything resembling important innings until he proves he can handle them.

Yes, that’s a bullpen that will feature three left-handed pitchers, which might seem like a lot, but Smith can get out hitters from both side. Should any of them falter, Will Klein, Carlos Hernández, Steven Cruz, Lynch, and Marsh will be ready to step in and do their best. Expect to see Klein, Cruz, and Hernández on the road between Omaha and KC frequently along with probably Brentz and McMillon based on how worn out the bullpen is.

Batters

Starting lineup

3B Maikel Garcia

SS Bobby Witt Jr.

1B Vinnie Pasquantino

C Salvador Perez

DH MJ Melendez

RF Hunter Renfroe

2B Michael Massey

LF Nelson Velázquez

CF Kyle Isbel

The top of the lineup probably shouldn’t surprise you. What might surprise you is that I have Renfroe batting sixth, behind Melendez. The thinking here will be that alternating righties and lefties makes things more difficult for opposing managers when bringing in relievers (that’s also why Massey will get to bat ahead of Velázquez.) Melendez might also see more fastballs if Renfroe bounces back and pitchers begin to fear handing out a free pass to Melendez (who is the only player likely to take a walk other than Pasquantino.)

Bench

UT Garrett Hampson

UT Nick Loftin

C Freddy Fermin

OF Drew Waters

I know some of you would rather Loftin over Massey, but I expect Massey to have a good spring and hang on to his job, at least for now. Fermin is the player most affected by the Renfroe signing, at least to start, as it forces Melendez into a DH role, which forces Salvy to catch more, which prevents Fermin from playing. If any of Melendez or the corner outfielders falter, Fermin should get more playing time while Salvy DHs more. Even if Salvy hits poorly, it’s going to be hard to remove him from the lineup.

Drew Waters will probably split time with Isbel, whichever of them is hotter will get the majority of the starts at any given time, but Isbel will get the nod to start the year. Hampson and Loftin crack the roster thanks to positional versatility (and a guaranteed contract in Hampson’s case.) They can both play seven positions at least credibly, which provides a lot of flexibility to the roster.

This does mean that Nick Pratto, Samad Taylor, and Dairon Blanco will all have to start the year in AAA but you should expect to see all of them at some point during the season due to injuries or other events that cause players to have to leave the team temporarily.

All in all, there are a lot fewer weird choices to make than we’ve seen in recent years. That’s thanks mostly to the large number of free agent acquisitions the Royals have made this off-season that allegedly increase the competition, but really just guarantee that anyone currently in the system that wants to crack the big league roster is going to have actually earn it.