Letters from camp: The roster starts to take shape
The Royals set their rotation for the season's first series against Cleveland and pare down their roster. Opening Day is nigh!
The only good Monday is the Monday that comes a few days before baseball starts.
After an interminable winter, the real games finally start on Thursday. As such, the Royals have begun to make their final preparations for their break north. The starting rotation for the first series of the season has been locked in place.
Ok. So this jives with what I’ve been thinking. A bit.
We knew the Opening Day starter would be Zack Greinke. As manager Mike Matheny confirmed, that was pretty much cemented before Greinke signed his contract to return to Kansas City. Veteran. Steady. And, as he said to the media after it was announced he would start the opener, it’s ideal because he won’t have to put up with the extracurricular activities that go along with the day. He can just get down to the bullpen and focus on the task at hand.
Brad Keller is the starter in the season’s second game. You’ll recall he started Opening Day last year. You’ll also recall, it was a horrific outing. Keller finished the day recording just four outs on 51 pitches. The Rangers nicked him for six runs on nine hits. Sorry for dredging up that nightmare.
Anyway, from the “time flies” department, Keller is the Royals starter with the longest tenure. While he struggled last year, he has shown some promise and had some limited success. Add it all together and you have starter number two.
Kris Bubic as the third starter is a bit of a surprise, but he’s looked sharp in the Cactus League, posting a 1.80 ERA over five innings against an 8.0 Quality of Opponent. (Per Baseball Reference, an 8.0 OppQual is the equivalent to Triple-A.)
Bubic has added a slider to go along with his fastball that lives in the low 90s, his plus-change and curve. When he’s flashed the new slider this spring, it’s looked good.
It’s a nice change and a great opportunity for Bubic, who opened 2020 in the alternate site after a rough spring. He made his first start for Kansas City on May 18 and put together a string of three solid outings before the wheels feel off. He bounced between the bullpen and the rotation for a bit and really seemed to find his stride over his final five starts of 2021. In 30.2 innings, Bubic posted a 2.05 ERA with 23 strikeouts against just seven walks.
With the new slider, he has another option to keep hitters off balance.
“I think the emergence of the breaking stuff…that’s just another thing a hitter has to think about. Or another two things, depending on curveball or slider, depending on if they’re both working that day. It makes it a little easier for me too, because if I don’t have one pitch, I can come to the next. Everything predicates off the fastball command so that’s the number one priority always, but to now have various offspeed pitches I can go to at any time, it’s definitely helpful.”
Let’s just put the above quote from Bubic into our back pocket for a moment. We will come back to it.
The fourth starter is Carlos Hernández. He’s scuffled this spring, allowing nine runs (eight earned) in 4.2 innings off of four home runs, but hasn’t walked a batter against six strikeouts. With this assignment, it’s clear the Royals believe in what Hernández can bring once the ball shifts to the more temperate climes of the midwest.
I’m excited to see Hernández in the rotation from the jump. The potential feels high. After what we saw down the stretch last year, he certainly deserves a shot. Over his final 10 outings, he threw at least five innings in nine of them and allowed two runs or fewer in eight of them.
As for the fifth starter? According to J.J. Picollo, it’s a race between Brady Singer and Daniel Lynch.
Lynch has had a solid spring. He was touched up for a few runs (and a couple of home runs) against the Mariners on Sunday, but he recorded nine groundball outs and walked just a lone batter. Meanwhile, Singer has been roughed up a bit in the Cactus League. He’s issued seven walks against seven strikeouts in 7.1 innings.
Singer reportedly threw his change every day this winter, in preparation for 2022. He says he has found comfort in a grip for the pitch and that has led to improved command. I couldn’t help thinking of Singer when I read that above quote from Bubic, about how adding an extra pitch that he has confidence in can only help him on days when his other pitches aren’t working. Singer has, at times, been stubborn in how he uses his change. The sinker/slider combo will only get him so far. It’s imperative that he develops a third pitch if he wants to remain in the rotation.
Of course, we’ve been hearing about how Singer is working on the change now for the better part of three years. If he’s truly found a good grip for the pitch and has the confidence to throw it, that would be a very promising development. Except, we’ve heard this story before. I’ll stay skeptical until further notice.
Having written all that, this next sentence will be strange: I think Singer gets the fifth spot in the rotation.
I’ll explain. It’s just a simple matter of matchups. The Royals head across Missouri for the season’s fifth game, paying a visit to the Cardinals. That’s a lineup that skews very heavily to the right. Given how often the southpaw Lynch faced right-handed batters last summer (a full 88 percent of hitters he faced last summer were hitting from the right side), it would behoove the Royals to maybe find a better matchup for Lynch’s debut 2022 start. Not that it’s going to be especially easy, but maybe avoiding a middle third of Paul Goldschmidt, Tyler O’Neill and Nolan Arenado would be smart rotation management.
What is obvious, is that no matter which direction the Royals go for the first week of the season, there will be plenty of opportunities for different pitchers to get starts. It’s going to be that kind of year.
A lot of good twitter info from Anne on Sunday. From the minor league side of the organization:
This isn’t a surprising development, but it’s good to confirm the Royals will be using the minor league experience as an opportunity to get some of their top prospects a little versatility in their game. That will only help when the inevitable injuries (or roster moves) happen.
That will make next spring’s roster projection exercise all the more entertaining.
I don’t know about you, but these prospects have me juiced up in a way that may exceed even 2011. I know!
While it’s all but finalized that Bobby Witt Jr. has made the big league club, keep in mind that in order to get Witt to Kansas City, the Royals will have to open a spot on the 40-man roster. The obvious move would be to place Jonathan Bowlan, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery he underwent last May, on the 60-day IL.
Witt, along with Nate Eaton, are the only non-catching non-roster invitees remaining in camp.
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Thanks again for reading and subscribing. Get some sleep. Hydrate. The 162 game journey starts on Thursday. I can’t wait.