Royals Opening Day Roster Taking Shape — Who is Out, Who is In

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Outfielder Travis Snider was released just minutes ago as the Royals roster continues to trim down to it’s 25-man Opening Day limit (three spots still to be settled). But, most of the spots were settled before Spring Training even started. We are still trying to get used to that. We like it, though.

Over the last few seasons, the Royals have changed the way pitching staffs are being used. Now, other teams are trying to follow their lead. Even the Yankees are attempting to duplicate a powerhouse back end of the bullpen. It is smart baseball. In the past, teams seemed to want to maximize the mileage out of their pitchers.

The Royals want to maximize the potential from their arms. It is obviously working. Four good innings from Chris Young is better than six lesser innings of him trying to stretch himself out. I think the Royals will continue to revolutionize how pitching staffs are used and managed. Barring injury, we think we know that Edinson Volquez (who is the Opening Night starter on Sunday night despite his acknowledgement that he didn’t want to start Game 1 so he could enjoy the festivities), Ian Kennedy and Yordano Ventura (the surprising No. 3 starter) are going to start every fifth day.

They have proven that they are more than capable. The back end of the rotation, we expect to see a number of arms, intentionally. Chris Young has been named the No. 4 starter, but we all know he cannot throw 200+ innings and make 30+ starts anymore. I think it is smart to continue to limit Kris Medlen’s (the No. 5 starter) innings.

A third Tommy John surgery would likely end his career. Like the four good innings of Young vs. six mediocre comparison, 15-20 good starts is better than 25-30 bad ones. I think we’ll see Medlen, Young, Danny Duffy (in the bullpen, likely as the sole lefty), prospect Kyle Zimmer (later in the season), and possibly even Dillon Gee and Chien-Ming Wang making starts in the back end of the rotation. Not so much due to performance, but to maximize what each of these limited, or young and inexperienced arms, can do. A pitching platoon so to speak.

With the release of Brian Duensing (along with fellow non-roster invitees P Peter Moylan, who was brought back today on a minor league deal, and IF Clint Barmes), earlier this week, who we projected as a member of the Royals bullpen when camp opened, Wang has the inside track for the final bullpen spot, although non-roster invitees, southpaw’s John Lannan and David Huff are still in camp. Wang, who won 19 games in back-to-back seasons with the Yankees in 2006-07, hasn’t been seen or heard much about him since. He last pitched in the MLB in 2013 with the Blue Jays, but thanks to a little work with Super Dave Eiland, here he is, in the show again, throwing 95 mph. Is he the next reclamation project?

There’s a chance the Royals only keep 11 pitchers, manager Ned Yost said, with the Royals having multiple off days – including two in a row next week on Wednesday and Thursday. If so, Wang would be the odd man out. But, it wouldn’t be for long, as if he is not on the big league roster buy May 1, he can opt out and become a free agent. If he isn’t the 12th man of the bullpen, which position player will make it instead? More on that below.

Gee (1-1, 4.50 ERA, 1.27 ERA in 15 innings across five games – two starts) was added to the 40-man roster on March 15, so he is a lock for the roster. The man without a role, Danny Duffy, is next in the bullpen totem pole. Expect to see the Duffman in the fifth, sixth or seventh innings, throwing GAS. Gnar, baby.

Then there’s the studs that make up the B-BOAT (Best Bullpen of All-Time): Luke Hochevar (this year’s Ryan Madson role), Kelvin Herrera, Joakim Soria (Jack’s Back!) and the cyborg Wade Davis.

Lannan (0-2, 5.23 ERA, 1.84 WHIP, 10.1 IP) and Huff (1-1, 4.50 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 15 IP), both who are league average pitchers that won’t blow anyone away, have been both starters and relievers in the majors and either could fill the long relief role, but we expect both of them to be cut by Friday, when Nedly said he would have the roster down to 25.

Much like the pitching staff, most of the position player roster spots were already settled before camp even began (Salvador Perez at catcher, Eric Hosmer at 1B, Alcides Escobar at SS, Mike Moustakas at 3B, Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain in the outfield, along with Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson in the outfield, and Omar Infante and Christian Colon at 2B, with maybe only one spot open).

One of the battles heading into camp was that for the backup catcher, Tony Cruz versus Drew Butera. Butera, who was brought back for 1-year in an arbitration deal after coming in mid-season from the Angels, is a no-brainer in this competition as Cruz, who was acquired via trade from St. Louis this offseason, has options left.

Both share a similar skill set as neither is a good offensive player and both are plus defenders. Both can, and have, played other positions, which is a plus, with Butera at first base and Cruz at second base and third base. After acquiring Cruz, it was surprising a bit to see them bring Butera back, but it must have been a depth move as they viewed these two as an improvement over Butera and Francisco Pena, who was traded to Baltimore after playing just 9 games, starting one, in KC over the last two seasons, hitting .143/.143/.143. There’s not really much of a separation at the plate for these two – as the duo is hitting a combined .151 (11-73) this spring, but, with Butera being out of options, it seems like an easy decision.

At second base, Infante was going to have to go out and win the job for the first time in his three years in KC. Colon, though, made it easy by going out and opening the spring with an 0-20, and a 2-25 (.080 start). He sits currently at .137 (7-52), meanwhile, Infante, who has been the worst staring second baseman in the AL over the last two seasons, is slashing .357/.386/.476. Colon will head back to the utility infielder role and Infante will slide into the No. 8 spot in the batting order.

As camp opened, it was expected that Orlando and Dyson would platoon in right field and bat ninth. It was unclear how this platoon would exactly work out, but the easy thing to assume was the right-handed Orlando would start against left-handed pitching, and Dyson vice versa. But, would Dyson play center field, shifting Cain over to RF? We won’t know the answer for at least a couple weeks into the season. The 31-year old speedster hit the shelf on March 3, when he was diagnosed with a Class 2 oblique strain.

It was expected that Orlando would assume the every day duties in RF with Dyson down, but that was before former first-round draft pick (Boston) Rey Fuentes hit his way onto the roster – and likely the left-handed hitting part of a platoon – with a huge spring, batting .389/.459/.648 and tied for a team-high in HR (3) and SB (3) and leading the team with 14 RBI. This, in turn, put Travis Snider, who we originally picked as the final bench player, in jeopardy of making the roster, which was made official today.

A former uber-prospect who the Blue Jays once refused to move in an attempt at blockbuster Zack Greinke trader, Snider is another left-handed hitting corner outfielder who Dayton Moore’s No. 2 man JJ Picollo labeled a “steal.” It’s no wonder he we expected him to make the roster. But, two years removed from a .780 OPS with the Pirates, the .262/.292.405 spring, was not good enough to crack camp with the defending World Champs.

So, who remains? Outfielder Terrance Gore, do-it-all Whit Merrified and infielders Cody Decker and Raul Mondesi, Jr.

If the Royals go with the 11-man pitching staff, two of these guys will make it. If Wang makes the Opening Day roster, it’ll just be one of them. Two of them are longshots, another deserves to make it, but is No. 2 to in line. Let’s take a look.

Terrance Gore, whom has made a living, literally, of playing September and October baseball by doing little more than nothing else than running. And man, can he run. The fastest “man” in baseball, who looks more like a 12-year-old, has 8 MLB stolen bases in 20 games, but with just six plate appearances, with zero hits. He has another two runs scored and 4 SB’s in eight postseason games – with zero chances at the plate. He is hitting just .188/.278/.188 in the spring, and despite hitting .284 last year in Double-A NW Arkansas, Gore is not a man you want at the plate, and he may never be that guy.

So, how can little dude make the team? Because he fills the Jarrod Dyson void; he can be the late-inning pinch-runner and can play out in the outfield (10 MLB innings), if needed. Seems like a waste of a spot this early in the season and more of an expanded roster or postseason thing, but Ned is set in his ways and appears to want Gore in that role, even if just for a couple weeks. So, let’s count him.

Whit Merrifield, the former ninth round draft pick, has done everything he can do to make the team. Hitting .386/.429/.727 and with versatility across the diamond, he seemingly would be perfect candidate to break camp and head north on the 25-man. He truly deserves it and could be a valuable bench asset and a late-bloomer that could end up being something.

The last two guys aren’t really anything more than roster filler for the final remaining exhibition games. Decker is your classic AAAA guy. He has impressed this spring, hitting 3 HR and slugging .548, while hitting .262. The 29-year-old made his MLB debut last year, appearing in three games in limited action for the Padres. The career minor league journeyman has averaged a HR every 16.6 AB in his career. It would be absolutely stunning if he made the roster. The same can be said about Mondesi.

The 20-year-old is rated as one of the Royals top prospects by all prospect rankings, but he isn’t ready for the show, yet. The slick-fielding middle infielder has is holding his own in camp, hitting .244, but he has struck out – much like he did in his only World Series AB, when he became the ONLY player to make their debut in the World Series – 16 times in 45 AB. He’ll be here soon enough, but it doesn’t need to be right now. Expect to see him in Double-A, but he could advance rapidly.

Hold on, guys, the regular season is just days away, oh yeah, against the Mets again. That ought to be fun, huh? We should know what the roster will be, before that.

#ForeverRoyal

Dont forget to attend the Royals Blue Watch Party at Waldo Pizza's Tap Room on Sunday!!

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Author: Brian Graham

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