Projecting the 26, Lockout Edition
Exhibition games aren't being played as scheduled this week, but that won't stop us from building a potential Opening Day roster.
The lockout has already taken from us so many rites of spring. Truck day. Pitchers and catchers reporting. Best shape of their life stories. And the first week of exhibition baseball under the Florida or Arizona sun.
But damnit if I’ll let it stop roster projections.
Someday (I think) the lockout will end. When that happens, there will be a flurry of activity as teams finalize their spring rosters and try to get everyone to camp for what will be an abbreviated spring. This current Royals roster projection doesn’t take into account the fact that Dayton Moore and JJ Picollo are probably not done with their offseason shopping. That’s not to say there’s a big free agent splash or trade coming whenever the lockout lifts. It’s to say that there are probably still a few areas where the team is looking at making an improvement. Like the bullpen.
There’s still plenty of unknowns. You’ll notice I have 12 position players and 14 pitchers. Baseball was planning on limiting pitchers on the active roster to 13 this year, but I’m thinking that may change now that spring has been so delayed. And parsing a bullpen and rotation for this team is a bit more challenging and fun.
So this first stab at a 26-man roster only takes into account the players currently in the organization. Let’s go.
Perez was behind the plate for almost 71 percent of the innings the Royals were in the field in 2021 and he’ll be there again—health permitting—for as much if not a little more in 2022. That’s the value the Royals place on Perez.
I know there was some talk way back when about Gallagher as a non-tender. He wasn’t and with three years and 106 days of service time, he’s eligible for arbitration for the first time in his career. MLB Trade Rumors estimates that’s worth a cool $900,000. The Royals view that as being worth it for a capable second-stringer and org guy.
Sebastian Rivero is an option on the 40-man. More importantly, MJ Melendez is climbing up those top prospect charts and is close to Kansas City. Last year he crushed 41 dingers, best in the minors and finished with a 1.011 OPS. Quite a turnaround from an abysmal 2019 season in Wilmington. But he only played 44 games in Triple-A last summer, and while he did just fine hitting .293/.413/.620 with 13 home runs while maintaining the improved strikeout rate he flashed in Double-A Northwest Arkansas, I get the feeling that the Royals will slow play Melendez for now. He starts back in Triple-A where he gets a chance to show what he can do on repeat at that level.
The Royals need to figure out how to balance playing time behind the plate for Perez and Melendez. They can put off attempting to solve that riddle until 2023. Or maybe the middle of 2022 if Melendez dominates once again the way he did last summer.
Bobby Witt, Jr.
That’s a crowded infield. But that’s how the Royals website lists each of the guys above, so I’ll roll with that. Let’s go around the horn.
First base remains the domain of Carlos Santana. He’s a trade candidate in what has become this plethora of infield options, but he’s going to need to rebuild whatever value he can before any team will bite. A strong spring isn’t going to do it, either. He will need to do the work in the first three months of the season. And since this is a projection of Opening Day, Santana is here.
That’s about the only lock you can place on this infield at the moment. As you obviously know, the most fun a Royals fan can have during this winter of the lockout is trying to figure out how to fit four players in three infield spots. Fortunately for you, this newsletter is at your service.
I wish I had some insight, but at this point before camps open, I don’t think the Royals themselves know how this is going to shake out. That’s ok.
Here’s how I think it should go down. Nicky Lopez should man the keystone. Yes, he was fantastic defensively as a shortstop last summer, but he is just as solid at second. Adalberto Mondesi is at third. He only got 175 innings of action at the hot corner and was generally ok defensively. He has the arm to play the position and just needs to refine those quick-twitch reflexes required.
That leaves Bobby Witt, Jr. as the shortstop.
Witt is a generational talent. A guy you build around. He should be in Kansas City for at least six years. You don’t move the second (or first) best prospect in the game off his natural position because either Lopez or Mondesi is darn good and has been here longer. Moore already famously said they know they can’t count on Mondesi to be healthy on the regular. Lopez proved more than I could’ve rationally imagined. But you just don’t displace a guy like Witt, especially knowing that if you do, you will have to put him back there for an extended look. Basically, you don’t jerk the guy around defensively. Give him the position, tell him to go pick it, and watch him excel for the next six years.
Dozier is listed on the roster as an infielder, but I wouldn’t let him anywhere near the dirt with a glove. If anything, he can patrol right (but I have other ideas for that position). Instead, he’s the designated hitter who will take over in right when Mike Matheny needs to give one of his regulars a rest.
Michael A. Taylor
You’ll notice I didn’t have a spot for Merrifield on the infield. So pencil him in right with Gold Glovers Andrew Benintendi and Michael A. Taylor. He’ll be fine.
I just realized I’ve come this far without a gif. So how about Taylor on defense?
I didn’t mention Ryan O’Hearn with the infielders, but he and Edward Olivares provide a left/right combo off the bench.
I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry. And like Brady Singer’s pitch repertoire, I’m not sure there’s a third option.
Yes, I’m going with a six-man rotation. (They’re listed in order, as opposed to alphabetical like the other sections.) Because with the start of the spring delayed, if Major League Baseball somehow opens the season as scheduled, teams will need to find the balance for starters. With a team like the Royals with a stable of young arms, that’s going to be crucial. A six-man rotation solves that potential problem. Besides, if the tumblers all fall into place, they absolutely have the personnel to make this happen.
I think Mike Minor, Brady Singer and Brad Keller are locks. I have Daniel Lynch bumped ahead of Keller in the rotation because the Royals’ second series of the season is against the White Sox and if you remember from last week, that’s a lineup that can put a southpaw on tilt.
(Do I need to remind you that I’m making projections entirely by feel? The lockout has dulled the senses and turned out the lights.)
There’s a lot of bullpen help that’s been left stranded on the market thanks to the lockout. It wouldn’t be shocking if the Royals added the reliable proven veteran to a relief corps that skews young. I’ll have more on that next week.
In the meantime, there’s a lot of smoke coming from this collection of arms. You know all about Barlow, Brentz and Staumont. Coleman had a 14.5 SO/9 in the minors last year and impressed in his cameo last September. Tapia was a revelation when purchased from Seattle in May. Payamps wasn’t as good as he was in Toronto, but has elite control that he showed in a 1.3 BB/9.
I didn’t write about the acquisition of Taylor Clarke last December, but that move has some potential. His fastball averaged 95.5 mph last year, but he caught too much of the zone with it. The secondary pitches (a slider and change) were effective against both left and right-handed batters. If the Royals’ front office has shown anything, it’s that they know how to build a bullpen.
Finally, there’s Daniel Tillo as the second left-handed option behind Brentz. Tillo was on the path to the bigs before Tommy John surgery derailed his progress in July 2020. He was throwing in January of last year and was back in game action for Northwest Arkansas in mid-August. The command wasn’t there—as is often the case post-TJ—but the Royals think highly of him and he’s already on the 40-man. A solid showing in spring would cement his spot on an Opening Day roster.
I’m not anointing a closer from this group, although if forced I’d point to Barlow as a default.