Robert Ford came to 610 Sports Radio in 2009 as the station’s “Royals Insider.” He currently serves as the pre and post game show host for Royals Broadcasts on 610. The Syracuse graduate has been around professional baseball as a reporter and broadcaster for over a decade.
Royals Spring Training Report for Sat, 3/3
by Robert Ford,posted Mar 3 2012 2:30PM
Today was the last day of Royals camp without any games; their spring exhibition schedule starts tomorrow afternoon with a contest against their complex mates, the Texas Rangers, at Surprise Stadium. And, tomorrow is when the real competition for 25-man roster spots begins. Like most managers, Ned Yost doesn’t start really evaluating players until the exhibition games start. Let’s take a look at what the 25-man roster may look like at the close of camp.
Most of the everyday position players are set, barring injury. Salvador Perez is the catcher. Eric Hosmer is at first, with occasional starts at designated hitter. Billy Butler will be the primary DH and play first when Hosmer is the DH. Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas will hold down shortstop and third, respectively. Jeff Francoeur will be in right and Alex Gordon will be in left (Gordon will also back up first, since either Butler or Hosmer will DH most days, and you don’t want to lose your DH during a game because you need him to play first). The Royals are reluctant to say Lorenzo Cain is a lock in centerfield – probably because he only has 49 games of Major League experience and just six games last year – but Cain is far and away the best, and most likely, option. If Johnny Giavotella hits, he’ll start at second base; if he doesn’t, Chris Getz will be at second.
Most of the bench is set as well, as long as health isn’t an issue. Brayan Peña is the backup catcher (there was a school of thought that, before he tore the meniscus in his right knee, good-field, no-hit Manuel Piña had a shot at the backup role over the defensively-challenged Peña, but Peña’s out of options and teams rarely carry two rookie catchers. Of course, it’s a moot point now, with Piña likely to miss the rest of camp and the early part of the regular season). Yuniesky Betancourt was signed to be the righthanded pinch hitter and to back up second, short and third, getting starts for Moustakas against tough lefthanders. Betancourt could also find himself playing second everyday if Giavotella and/or Getz falters during the season. Mitch Maier will be the lefthanded pinch hitter and backup outfielder. The fourth bench spot will likely go to Jarrod Dyson, who can play the outfield and is invaluable as a pinch runner in late-game situations.
Barring injuries, the Royals’ top three starters will be Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen and Jonathan Sanchez in some order. I think Hochevar has the inside track to be the Opening Day starter but, if it isn’t him, it will be Chen. Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino are the most likely candidates for the last two spots in the rotation, but they need to have solid springs. Paulino has a hamstring injury that’s set him back slightly, but the Royals have raved about his improved command, which will need to continue in exhibition games. Paulino is also out of options. Duffy has smoothed out his delivery – making it easier to repeat, a problem for him last year – and has done a nice job of keeping the ball down and he, too, needs to bring those adjustments into spring training games. If Duffy and/or Paulino falter, Luis Mendoza could be next in line. Every Royals official I’ve talked to seems convinced Mendoza “figured it out” last season, when he led the Pacific Coast League in ERA and impressed in two late-season starts with the big club. Not to mention, Mendoza is out of options and the Royals are wary of losing someone they think can be a back of the rotation starter, so he could find his way on the team as a bullpen arm if he doesn’t make the rotation. All-Star reliever Aaron Crow is also being looked at as a starter, but the Royals have said, even if he does break camp as a starter, they aren’t likely to keep Crow in the rotation all year, so he would be a short-term solution, at best. Non-roster invitee and top prospect Mike Montgomery will get a long look this spring, but he would have to be really impressive and the other candidates would have to falter for Montgomery to get a shot to open the year. Sean O’Sullivan and Vin Mazzaro are even longer shots, even though O’Sullivan doesn’t have options left. Keep in mind that, unlike most years, the Royals will need a fifth starter for most of April; they only have two off-days that first month.
The competition for last year’s bullpen spots was stiff, with Greg Holland and Louis Coleman opening the year at Omaha despite impressive springs, and this year’s reliever competition figures to be even tougher, especially since Yost has indicated he’ll open the year with 12 pitchers, rather than 13 – so seven relievers, as opposed to eight. Joakim Soria is the closer and Jonathan Broxton is the eighth-inning guy. It will be tough for the Royals not to go north with Holland after he excelled in the eighth-inning role last season. Jose Mijares was signed to be the situational lefty, so his job is probably safe, barring an implosion (Mijares is also out of options). Tim Collins or Everett Teaford will make the team as the second lefty, and I’d give the edge to Collins if he continues to show improved command and reduces the walks. Both Collins and Teaford have options remaining. As for the other two spots? Likely someone out of the group comprising Coleman, Kelvin Herrera, Jeremy Jeffress and Blake Wood, all of whom have options. However, if Crow doesn’t open the year as a starter – a strong possibility – he’ll be in the bullpen. Also, Mendoza could find his way to the ‘pen since he’s out of options. The Royals also want to look at Mazzaro as a reliever, but I think he’s a long shot at this point.
There are some other players Royals fans should keep an eye on during camp, because they could wind up playing a role at some point because of injuries to or the ineffectiveness of others. Tony Abreu has 146 games of Major League experience with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks and, like Betancourt, can play second, third and short. Catcher Max Ramirez combined to play in 45 games with the Rangers in 2008 and 2010 and could get the call should the Royals need another catcher, especially if Piña is still sidelined. David Lough is on the 40-man roster, can play all three outfield positions and has put up solid numbers at Omaha the last two years. Kansas City native Tommy Hottovy has opened some eyes with his sidearm delivery from the left side and pitched in eight games for the Red Sox last season as a lefty specialist. Starting pitching prospects Chris Dwyer and Will Smith are both lefties and could find themselves with the Royals if they pitch well in the minors. Righthander Zach Miner spent four years starting and relieving for the Tigers, but hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2009, undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2010. Outfielder Wil Myers is considered by many to be the top position-player prospect in the system, and he could find his way to the Majors late in the year with a strong minor league campaign.
It’s been a while since the Royals went into camp knowing, barring injury and/or ineffectiveness, who most of their 25 will be, a sign the organization is headed in the right direction. However, spring training is always filled with injuries, surprises and, sometimes, a trade or two. But, as things now stand, the Royals are in a good position to compete in the AL Central and appear to have a decent amount of depth at most spots.