It’s now March, but we’re just four games into Spring Training and more than a month from Opening Day, but it’s not too early to start thinking about what the 25-man roster will look like. Like the year before it, and the year before that, most of the roster is already set. That’s what good teams do – they don’t have a lot of holes to fill. There’s always a chance that someone could Rey Fuentes themselves onto the roster. The last couple spots will be tough and good players will not make the team. Comes with the territory when you’re a contender. And make no mistake, the Royals are, despite Vegas handing them the second lowest win total in the AL Central (nothing new).
After the Royals traded Wade Davis, we wondered if the Window to Win was still open. Then, Yordano Ventura tragically died and something happened – its like the Royals decided it was time to go all in. They signed Brandon Moss and former Cubs pitchers Jason Hammel and Travis Wood.
They’re going for it!
All part of the original core, Eric Hosmer, Mike Mosutakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar could be gone after this year, but even if none of them return, the Royals are in much better shape in 2018 then we all anticipated at this time a year ago.
Assuming Ned goes with a 12-man pitching staff, there’s a couple spots in the bullpen open, MAYBE the fifth starter and the final one OR two bench spots.
Lets take a look:
Position player locks:
- C Salvador Perez – the Silver Slugger Award winner in 2016, Perez still saw a decline in AVG (.247) resulted from a disconcerting decline in contact rate, the skill Perez relies on most for production as he rarely walks and in recent years has carried a below-average BABIP. His strikeouts rose precipitously when facing breaking pitches and changeups. On the plus side, Perez surpassed the 20-homer plateau for the second straight season, enjoying an increase in isolated power for the third consecutive year. He’ll continue to play more than most at the position, but maybe Drew Butera can play more behind the dish with the potential of some available AB at DH for Perez.
- 1B Eric Hosmer – the first-time All-Star (where he won the MVP) set career-high’s in HR (25) and RBI (104), but it still seemed underwhelming as he posted his lowest AVG (.266) since 2012, his flyball % remained a low 25% and he struck out a career-worst 20% of the time. Entering a contract year, it’s a big year for Hosmer, even though I contend that 25 HR is about as good as it’s going to get for him.
- 3B Mike Moustakas – Moose still has a lot to prove. Also entering a contract year, he is also coming off a torn ACL that ended his season in May and he has still only produced one good year in his career – his last full season in 2015 (.284/.348/.470, 22 HR, 82 RBI). Last year he was on pace for 42 HR with 7 in 113 plate appearances, and while he likely wouldn’t have got there, maybe he would have hit 30. If he can do it in 2017, it would be huge. Of course, he is only a career .248 hitter, but, with his low strikeout rate, added pop, and improved approach, there’s reason to believe that the 2015 numbers are his new baseline.
- SS Alcides Escobar – While it’s pretty much settled that Escobar is the not the Royals answer at the top of the order (let’s hope Yost knows what we have known for YEARS now) with an abysmal career .297 OBP and indication that his legs are slowing (34 combined steals the last two years after averaging 28.5 from 2011-14), his glove and durability (162 games played in two of the last three seasons) will keep him on the field. He hit a career-high 7 HR this year and told the press he can hit 15 this year. I’ll take that bet.
- LF Alex Gordon –Gordon, in the first year of a new 4-year, $72 million deal, had a disastrous 2016, where he hit just .220/.312/.380 and played 128 games after playing just 105 the year before. He never did seem to recover from the wrist injury, seeing his contract rate drop to 67%, well below his career norm (76%), but his line drive rate and BABIP indicated that he did hit into bad luck. He still managed to hit 17 HR. His track record indicates he’s in line for a bounce-back season in 2017.
- CF Lorenzo Cain – After finishing third in the AL MVP race in 2015, Cain took a step back in 2016, where the familiar theme of injuries (hamstring and thumb injuries) came back to strike Cain, who played just 103 games. On the wrong side of 30 and never playing more than 140 games, it’s naïve to expect LoCain to play a full slate of games. Is 2015 going to be best version of Lorenzo Cain, or can we see something similar in 2017, who is also in a contract year?
- RF Jorge Soler – The return piece for Wade Davis, Soler, still just 24, was often the odd man out in a crowded Cubs outfield. But, he will get every chance in 2017 and the Royals hope the former No. 12 prospect cashes in on his immense power potential. In 139 less AB in 2016 than 2015, he posted a career-best in HR (12), while raising his isolated power from .137 to .198 and improving his strikeout and walk rates. What happens, however, if he’s hovering around the Mendoza line come Memorial Day?
- DH Brandon Moss – Like Soler, Moss is not the typical Dayton Moore/Ned Yost-type player, featuring a low contact rate (a career-worst 30.4 strikeout rate in 2016) and his third straight season hitting below .250 (his AVG has dropped every year since posting a .291 mark in 2012). But, the Royals needed to replace Kendrys Morales power (30 HR) somehow, and Moss offers plenty of that. He’s hit 123 over the last five seasons (24.6) as a semi-regular and he is a .309/.338/.515 lifetime hitter (68 AB) at the K. He also offers the Royals some flexibility, where he can play both corner outfield spots and 1B.
- C Drew Butera – After posting his best offensive season of his career, the solid defensive backstop returned to KC for two more years ($3.8M). He made the best of his limited playing time (133 PA) behind the All-Star Perez, posting a .285/.328/.480 slash with 4 HR, 16 RBI in his first MLB season with an AVG above .200. 15 of his 35 hits went for extra bases. And, hands down, best hair on the team.
- 3B Cheslor Cuthbert – He took the 3B job after Moustakas went down, and ran with it hitting .274/.318/.413 with 12 homers, 46 RBI, but finished the season with a 20-for-96 (.208) stretch over the final 30 games. Blocked at 3B by Moose, there’s a chance he could play 2B, but, out of options, he will be on the roster. What will his role be?
- IF/OF Whit Merrifield – Another rookie who splashed onto the scene in 2016, the now-28-year old hit .283/.323/.392 with two homers and eight steals in 81 game But it was an up and down season for him. He hit .339/.356/.496 through 27 games and earned the name “2-hit Whit” thanks to 24 multi-hit games in his first 42 games, but slowed down drastically before a .170/.241/.245 earned him a demotion. He finished strong after his September return, hitting .307/.360/.416. In competition for the 2B job, Merrifield’s long-term future will be super-utility, thanks to his ability to play anywhere on the field. That will ensure him a spot on the Opening Day roster.
- OF Paulo Orlando – A career year in 2016, hitting .302, but at Age 30 and success that was propped by an unsustainable .380 BABIP, completely unsupported by an average line-drive rate and low hard-hit percentage, gaining about 15 more groundball hits than expected as compared to league BABIP on grounders, a repeat is questionable, and the Royals didn’t seem to believe in it, either, as he is once again headed back to a fourth outfielder/late-inning replacement this season.
That’s 12 players. Now, the starting rotation locks:
- Danny Duffy – Duffy went from the bullpen to breakout season and likely 2017 Opening Day starter. He slowed down some in September, thanks to 9 HR in just 36 innings, but, as a whole, in 26 starts, he was exceptional. His 20% K-BB% ranked eighth among qualified starters last season, ahead of pitchers like Corey Kluber, Chris Archer and David Price posted and he posted career-bests in strikeout rate, walk rate, and swinging-strike rate, though some of his control gains with the fastball seemed to come at the expense of his command with the pitch yielding career-worsts in home run rate and hard-contact rate. He struck out 16 and allowed one hit in eight innings in one of the best starts in Royals history in Tampa on Aug. 1. He parlayed the 12-3, 3.51 ERA season into a new 5-year, $65 million contract. He has not proven he can log 200 innings, but the Royals are counting on it in 2017.
- Ian Kennedy – If he can repeat what he did in 2016 – his first year of his five-year, $70 million, where he compiled a 3.68 ERA and 1.22 WHIP over 195.2 innings, the Royals will be happy. He does have some reasons for concern as he finished with a HR/9 rate north of 1.5 as he was absolutely crushed on the road (21 homers allowed in 108.2 innings) and his groundball rate sunk to 33.2 percent while his flyball and hard-hit rates jumped considerably – his hard-hit rate was the fourth-worst among qualifiers and has four straight years without a winning record. But, he has proven durable, making 30-plus starts in seven straight seasons. His 22.5 percent strikeout rate was strong and his ratios were plenty useful last season even with all the homers.
- Jason Hammel – He has produced three straight seasons with a sub-4 ERA (3-year average of 3.68 with a 1.16 WHIP), sporting a 3.83 ERA and 15 wins in 2016 for the World Series-winning Cubs. An injury in September basically ended his season, and at 34 years of age, he has yet to throw more than 180 innings in a season. The Royals will need at least 180 out of him to compete in 2017 and his value will hinge on the health of his arm, although his new home park of Kauffman Stadium doesn’t play too well to the longball, which could help the righty put a dent in his career 1.1 HR/9.
- Jason Vargas – After a lengthy recovery from a July 2015 Tommy John surgery, Vargy flashed promise for the final year of his 4-year deal in 2017 with three strong September starts (25 ERA and 11 strikeouts over 12 innings). However, his 86.6 mph average fastball velocity was a 1.5 mph drop from his efforts in 2015, a red flag that his stuff might be diminished by surgery. That might be an overblown concern, as Vargas’ game has always been more about mixing pitches, including a particularly strong changeup. If he is able to show his old stuff, it could be another passable season for an extreme flyball pitcher throwing in front of an elite outfield defense. Vargas has posted an ERA+ above 100 in all three of his years with Kansas City after doing it only once in his first eight years in the league. Royals hope he can regain this old form, and be a solid No. 4 in the rotation and they can get their money’s worth from the southpaw, who, if he makes it through a full season, will have pitched 2.5 years for the Royals.
That’s 16 players. Now, for the bullpen:
- Kelvin Herrera – Herrera really took off as the closer after the Wade Davis DL stints, converting all 10 saves but really hit a wall in September (1-2, 8.18 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 1 SV). For the fourth straight season, he registered at least 20 holds (26), joining Tony Watson as the only relievers to accomplish the feat. He did it while combining a return to a double-digit strikeout rate with a precipitous drop in walks. He did by throwing fewer fastballs, dropping from 75% heaters to 60, while introducing a plus slider to his arsenal. It has to make you wonder if all the wear and tear from all the innings he’s thrown over the last three years will make his the next arm injury candidate?
- Joakim Soria – Soria was the whipping boy last year from Royals fans, and rightfully so as he finished the season with career highs in ERA (4.05), FIP (4.36) and WHIP (1.46), and he needed extra rest between appearances as the season winded down, all while Yost continued to use him in a setup role, despite his struggles. Ironically, his velocity was the best it has been (92.5 mph) in his career. With two years still remaining on his deal, Soria will likely have to earn back his late-inning role. And, on the wrong side of 30, and with two Tommy John surgeries under his belt, he is not only an injury risk, but there’s also no guarantee that he’ll return to the guy the Royals thought they were signing. It would be sad if this is now the new Soria, tarnishing our memory of the old Soria from his first stint in KC. Good news for Royals fans, he was a really good relief pitcher as recently as 2015.
With seven spots left, let’s examine the “competitions.”
Ned Yost claims there is a 4-man second base competition – Merrifield, Christian Colon, Cuthbert and prospect Raul Mondesi, Jr. But, in reality, Mondesi, who hit .185/.231/.281 in 47 games down the stretch last season, will likely start the season in the minors, will he fine tune his offensive skills. Projected long term at shortstop, due to his slick glove, he is currently blocked there by Escobar. Mondesi did display a combination of speed (9/10 SB in 149 plate appearances in MLB, 24/25 in in 231 plate appearances across three minor league levels) and power (.469 SLUG) that he hadn’t yet shown in his profile last year. His ceiling is still high. It would be criminal if Cuthbert did not make the roster this year after what he did last year, and I can’t think of another player who had the success that Cuthbert did as a rookie, then head back to the minors the following season. He also doesn’t have any options left, so he will make the team, as he will certainly be claimed if he is left exposed to waivers if he is DFA’d. However, I do NOT think he will be the second baseman, despite Yost saying he is in the competition and the Royals entertaining the idea of starting him there in 2017. Why? Because Cuthbert’s defense is not good enough for the position. He dropped an IF pop-up already in camp. They attempted this move in the minors twice. The first time, they abandoned it after committing three errors in 28 innings. The second time, he returned to the big leagues before he could even get started. The third time – this winter – we heard nothing on whether he could or couldn’t play the position. Wouldn’t you think if he transitioned to the position well, we would have heard some positive reports of it? Cuthbert will be on the bench, but if he is here, he has to play. He can’t rot away. The most likely scenario is he has some role against left-handed pitching. 1) He DH’s (Moss will sit against MOST lefties) or 2) plays 3B. I envision Orlando getting the starts against southpaws, with Soler – who the Royals hope can be an average defensive outfielder under Rusty Kuntz’s tutelage, moving to DH. Let’s not forget that Moustakas has produced just one good season and is a career .234/.290/.381 hitter against left-handed pitching. Why not play Ches there against southpaws?
This leaves Colon and Merrifield for the 2B job. Colon, the 27-year-old, has some huge postseason moments in his career, but, at this point, seems destined to a career as a utility man. He hit just .231/.294/.293 – yes an OBP higher than his SLUG – in 2016 and has a career SLUG of just .338. He stayed back in Kansas City this offseason to mirror Alex Gordon’s workout and diet, so maybe it will pay dividends and all of a sudden comes together like the Royals envisioned when they drafted him fourth overall in 2010. He’ll still make the roster due to his ability to play SS, but with Escobar rarely having a day off (he played all 162 in 2016 and 2014), but with more than anything else, like Cuthbert, he has no options remaining. Colon, with a lesser ceiling than Cuthert, its possible the Royals risk the chance of him getting claimed by sending him down, in favor of another player. If something happened in a game to Esky, Merrifield, who by process of elimination, is the 2B, can slide over and play short.
Merrifield, the first Royal since Willie Bloomquist to start at five different positions, I think is still seen long term as a Brock Holt-type super utility guy, but until Mondesi is ready, he’ll be the primary guy at the keystone.
Colon makes the roster. That’s 19 players, leaving six spots.
There are a couple others that could make the roster besides who we have already mentioned:
- OF Billy Burns: I once though Burns would make the roster once Dyson was traded as he is Dyson 2.0-lite, but with other roster needs, I now think he is on the outside looking in. But, we know how Ned Yost loves this type of guy on his roster. Unfortunately, he had a 75-point drop off in BABIP from 2015 to 2016 cratered Burns’ batting average. The good news is that his batted ball numbers didn’t change too much between seasons, so the drop-off may be more due to bad luck.
- OF Peter O’Brien: O’Brien, a man without a true position yet incredible power, could hit his way on the roster, but roster spot will be available? Could he be the right-handed hitter in a DH platoon with Moss? O’Brien has three two-run homers already this spring, and emasculates Alex Gordon during BP. His power (6 HR in 36 MLB games/79 plate appearances, where he’s hit a HR every 4 games in the minors, on average hitting no less than 22 in any of the last four years, including 34 in 2014) can play anywhere, but he swings and misses at a high rate, striking out in 40% of his MLB AB, with a .176/.179/.391 slash. I liken him to Cerrano in “Major League” mashing fastballs until Harris starts throwing the curve. He’ll look great in an Omaha uniform, stirring up the storm.
- OF Terrance Gore: Speed. Lots of it. Fastest guy in ALL OF BASEBALL – a skill that has earned him late-season call-ups to serve as a pinch runner the past three seasons, where he has 19 steals despite just nine major league plate appearances over that stretch. That could be enough to make the roster, but it’s essentially a wasted roster spot since Gore can barely hit in the minors, and likely will NEVER be able to hit at the MLB level. His offensive game has thus far been completely one dimensional, as he has never hit a home run as a professional and hit just .233 for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Still, with 44 steals after reaching base just 83 times, Gore is a huge threat on the bases every time he gets on. His speed also makes him a defensive asset.
- OF/3B Hunter Dozier: His re-emergence as a prospect is an excellent story, as it seemed reasonable to write him off a year ago after he looked incapable of handling Double-A pitching. Obviously a recently turned 25-year-old posting a .864 OPS with 15 home runs over 103 games in the Pacific Coast League doesn’t mean he won’t end up settling in as a AAAA hitter long term. But, it is a sight far more encouraging than when he posted an OPS under .625 across 192 games at Double-A between 2014 and 2015. The Royals began transitioning him to the outfield at Triple-A, and when he got a cup of coffee with the big league club in September, all six of his starts came in right field, where he finished with a .211/.286/.263 slash. As we entered the offseason, I thought it was possible Dozier could sneak onto the roster as a DH/OF type, but with the roster moves, it was clear that he is not going to make the roster barring an amazing spring and wrath of injuries.
Now to sort out the pitching staff.
Yost has been on the record saying that there’s a competition for the fifth starter, among these dudes:
- Nathan Karns: The front-runner in the race for the No. 5 starter, Karns came over to Kansas City in the Jarrod Dyson trade. He hasn’t yet hit arbitration yet and won’t enter free agency until 2021. The right-hander has a fastball that sits in the mid-90’s and touches 98. 2016 was his worst year, a WHIP over 1.40 and a 5.15 ERA in 22 games (15 start), posting a 6-2 record; but a bad back could be attributed to that. He also struggled in part to a lack of control (4.3 BB/9) and a .327 BABIP, but he also posted a career-best 10.9% swing rate. But, in his career, spanning 265 innings, he has 250 strikeouts, a 4.41 ERA, 1.364 WHIP and a 14-9 record over 54 games (46 starts). His season came to an end abruptly in late July due to a back injury. Karns’ strikeout ability was as good as advertised (9.6 K/9) and he showed flashes of excellence, but his inconsistency and lack of control could keep him from becoming a reliable starter in the big leagues long term. But a guy traded for Dyson likely won’t be in the bullpen.
- Matt Strahm: Since claiming he was in the running for the rotation earlier in the winter, Yost has pretty much confirmed that Strahm will be given the Danny Duffy treatment (bullpen), where pitching coach Super Dave Eiland can work his magic despite stretching him out in camp, just in case. Yost commented about how much relieving helped fellow left-hander Danny Duffy develop into one of the top pitchers on the Kansas City staff. The southpaw turned into the Royals top-pitching prospect prior to his call up at the end of July, given Kyle Zimmer’s recurring shoulder issues. However, he had so much success as a reliever following his promotion that the Royals, who have Strahm under team control for the next six seasons, may simply see an elite late-inning arm, for now. Among relievers that threw 20-plus innings last year, Strahm ranked fifth in ERA (1.23), eighth in FIP (2.06) and 16th in strikeout rate (34.1%). The move to the bullpen certainly allowed his stuff to play up, as he was comfortably sitting in the mid-90s and touching 97 mph with his fastball in relief after sitting at 91-92 mph as a starter. Not surprisingly, his changeup and curveball both play quite nicely off 95 from the left side. His floor has been established as a shutdown setup man. Whether the Royals decide to get greedy and attempt to turn Strahm into a mid-rotation arm is to be determined, and something that certainly won’t come this year.
- Josh Staumont: The starter in the Spring Training opener on, he has an 80-grade fastball with his triple-digit heat, but seems like a long shot to make the roster, unless it was out of the bullpen, but they want to keep them as a starter, if they can. He also has a plus curveball, shaky command, no reliable third pitch and while he has not pitched in Triple-A yet, his stuff his good enough that he could skip a level and likely thrive as a power arm in the ‘pen. In addition to having two monster pitches, he has a starter’s body and is entering his age-23 season while already having 50.1 innings at Double-A under his belt. If his changeup can become at all serviceable and he can develop fringe-average command, Staumont could be a front half of the rotation starter. He showed some encouraging signs down the stretch, posting a 1.84 ERA and 49:10 K:BB in 29.1 innings over his final five starts – two of which came in the Texas League playoffs.
- Kyle Zimmer: He did not make a start before May because of a shoulder problem that surfaced in spring training and he did not make a start after May because of shoulder fatigue. He underwent Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery in July – a procedure that essentially ended Chris Carpenter’s career and was one of the final straws before Josh Beckett was forced into early retirement. Perhaps no pitching injury has been as consistently limiting in recent years as Zimmer’s ailing right shoulder. He has only logged 74.1 innings since the start of 2014. There is no denying that he still has frontline stuff, as he logged a 2.30 ERA and 88:30 K:BB over that stretch. However, his inability to overcome the shoulder issue and this subsequent surgery overshadow all of the potential he demonstrates when he toes the rubber. He has thrown already this spring – hitting 95, but sitting at 91-92 before dropping to upper-80’s in his second inning.
- Chris Young: This ship has sailed, hasn’t it? Much like Bruce Chen did, Young fell off the starting pitching cliff last year as a troubling GB/FB ratio and lack of velocity finally caught up to him, as he put up a 6.19 ERA and 1.66 WHIP on the season. The 6-10 right-hander finished the season on the DL after undergoing surgery on his bilateral core and right-side adductor in mid-October. He allowed a startling 2.8 home runs per nine innings due to his .70 GB/FB ratio and severe lack of velocity, hitting an average of about 88 on the radar gun with his fastball. The 37-year-old improved his numbers as a relief pitcher, finishing with a 4.13 ERA in 23 appearances, contrasting starkly with his 7.39 ERA in 13 starts. He will be best suited as the long-man in the pen.
- Travis Wood: Relegated to bullpen work in most of 2015 and all of 2016 and in his last full season as a starter, he finished with a 5.03 ERA and 1.53 WHIP, so the left-hander seems to trending toward the bullpen, again. At face value, Wood’s 2.95 ERA and 1.13 WHIP look strong, but there are reasons to believe he may experience some regression in the future, as he held a relatively low strikeout rate of 6.93 K/9 and high 3.54 BB/9 walk rate to go along with 1.2 home runs allowed per nine innings. These numbers were reflected in his high 4.59 FIP. In 2014. Seems perfect in the situational lefty role.
*No. 5 starter: Nate Karns.
That’s 20 players. Five spots remaining – all in the bullpen.
I’m pretty certain on these four guys joining Herrera and Soria:
- Mike Minor: Signed by the Royals to a two-year deal last February, there were hopes that after rehabbing, he could join the staff mid-season and maybe help the rotation down the stretch, but he never made it to the 25-man roster, mustering a 6.23 ERA in eight starts at Triple-A Omaha before being shutdown for the season. He struggled with walks (4.4 BB/9) and was susceptible to the long ball (1.82 HR/9) during his time in the Pacific Coast League. In an attempt to protect him and get something out of him, the 29-year-old will try and re-invent himself as a relief pitcher as tossing 50-60 innings could keep him healthy. He hasn’t pitched in the bigs since 2014. He tossed two scoreless innings in his spring debut.
The final spot comes down to Zimmer and Peter Moylan. 2016 was somewhat of a resurrection year for the submarine-style Australian reliever, Moylan, who was a dependable option for Yost. He appeared in 50 games throughout the season, third highest in the Kansas City bullpen, finishing 2-0 to go along with his 3.43 ERA and 1.30 WHIP despite relatively low strikeout (6.85 K/9) and walk (3.22 BB/9) rates. His 44.7 innings pitched were his highest since 2010, as he appeared in just 29 innings from 2011 to 2015. He averages just 90.1 mph with his fastball to go along with his low strikeout totals, but his success comes primarily due to his strong 2.96 groundball to flyball ratio. He did not appear in many high-leverage situations for the Royals, recording seven holds on the season with no saves. He is a viable option to break camp with the Royals. However, it may be, “we have to get something out of him before he gets hurt again” for Yost and Eiland, prompting them to keep him on the roster. If he makes it through 2017 healthy, he could slide into the rotation, likely in Vargas’ spot for 2018. A big IF.
With just 67.2 innings logged above High-A, he still gets our 25th spot.
Some other pitchers to watch in camp:
- Scott Alexander: A southpaw reliever, he spent time between Omaha and the parent club, where he posted a 3.32 ERA in 19 innings. With other lefties ahead of him in camp, he faces and uphill battle making the roster. Beyond the peripherals, lefties were able to hit for a .286 batting average against him while righties hit .343. Additionally, because Alexander relies much more on getting groundballs than missing bats, he likely be confined to mostly low-leverage situations while fluctuating between to the majors and the minors
- Brian Flynn: Another lefty, he had a chance to make the team out of camp after posting a 2.60 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 44 strikeouts in 55.1 IP in 2016, but he fell through his barn roof, suffering some broken ribs, in Oklahoma prior to report date, derailing that. Prior to last season, he had allowed 24 runs in 25 innings, so 2016 may come off as too good to be true. In addition, he isn’t prone to retiring batters by way of the strikeout, as he posted a mediocre K-rate of 19.9 percent. Control wasn’t his forte either, for more than 10% of the batters he faced wound up reaching base via a walk. Rather, he relied on his fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup pitch arsenal to keep hitters on their toes. As a result, Flynn rode a 2.22 GB/FB to quietly being the fourth-most-used reliever. However, he was seldom used in high-leverage situations, registering just two holds. If he pitches in MLB in 2017, expect much of the same.
- Jake Junis: The Royals are high on the 2011 29th round pick. Currently, he is a starter, but his long-term projection is the back end of the bullpen. He posted a 3.25 ERA in 21 starts for Double-A NW Arkansas, but struggled at Omaha upon promotion.
- Kevin McCarthy: Another homegrown arm (16th round pick), he debuted as a September call up last season, going up two level in 2016. After promotion to Omaha, his walk rate doubled from 2.11 BB/9 to 4.35 BB/9, while his home run rate increased from 0.78 K/9 to 1.08 K/9, but his ERA dropped to from 3.12 to 2.97, which is a strong ERA considering it was his first shot at AAA. He also recorded 16 total saves in 2016.
Dayton Moore/Dave Eiland reclamation project candidates:
- Al Alburquerque: Once a productive Major League reliever, he split time in 2016 between the Seattle and Anaheim organizations, pitching just two MLB innings, as control issues plagued him. Prior, he spent five years with Detroit, posting a 17-6 record, 3.20 ERA, 1.333 WHIP, including a great 2011 (1.87 ERA, 1.154 WHIP in 43 innings) and a good 2014 (2.51 ERA, 1.169 WHIP in 57.1 IP). It would take a miracle for him to make the team. Organizational depth.
- Brandon League: Saving 37 games, he was a 2013 All-Star closer with the Mariners in 2013. He is trying to make a comeback after a shoulder injury sidelined him in both 2015 and 2016. He hasn’t been in affiliated baseball since mid-2015. But, he did put in a good year as recently as 2014 when he posted a 2.57 ERA in 63 innings, so he could still have some major league potential in him as long as the shoulder is healthy.
- Bobby Parnell: He hasn’t shown major league effectiveness since receiving Tommy John surgery in April 2014. He has shown top-shelf bullpen stuff in the past, it’s just a question if he will ever be able to find that stuff again. He was unimpressive in the MLB last season, allowing four runs over just 5.1 innings (six games) with Detroit, however, his career ERA and WHIP in the majors are 3.82 and 1.44, respectively. While these aren’t phenomenal marks, he has a history of MLB success.
- Chris Withrow: The Royals are hoping that the veteran reliever still possesses some of the tantalizing upside that he previously displayed with the Dodgers. He posted a sub-3.00 ERA and 31 percent strikeout rate in 2013 and 2014 before missing the entirety of 2015 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. In 2016, in 46 appearances out of the bullpen, his strikeout rate declined to 17.7 percent, but he was still able to close out the season with a respectable 3.58 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 12 holds.
- Jonathan Sanchez: Yes, that Jonathan Sanchez. Most remembered for his role in bringing Jeremy Guthrie to Kansas City, after a dismal stay in KC in 2012 after coming over in the Melky Cabrera trade, he is back. Now working as a reliever, he is sitting in the 90’s with his fastball, but he still hasn’t pitched in the show since 2013.
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