Projecting the 26, Take 1

It's roster projection season.

Back in the day, when we staked out ground at Royals Authority, my partner Clark Fosler would take a few runs at predicting the roster makeup for when the Royals would break camp. It’s always a fun exercise, particularly when the temperatures are hovering around the single-digits. Since I’m on my own now and there isn’t much going on at One Royal Way now that the moving trucks have departed for Surprise, I figured why not take a stab myself. This seems like an ideal place to drop this:

While the Royals are still allegedly searching for that elusive left-handed bat among the dwindling options and may go for another bullpen arm in the next week or so, we can still look into the crystal ball and see how it looks like the 26-man roster will shape up today. I’ll do these throughout the spring so we can look back at these once the actual roster is set and enjoy a good laugh.

Catcher

Cam Gallagher, Salvador Perez

This is, in just about any trade, known as a “gimme.” Perez obviously gets the lion’s share of time behind the plate and Gallagher has emerged as a more than adequate backup.

Last season, Gallagher bumped his walk rate to 10 percent which elevated his OPB to a tasty .356. He dropped in a couple of doubles on his way to a .434 slugging percentage and overall 116 wRC+. What was really even more impressive was despite the amazing season Perez was having at the plate, when Gallagher was pressed into duty, the offense didn’t miss a beat. That’s some kind of backup and it nets you job security. The projections aren’t as kind to him going into 2021, but they still have him with a plus-.300 OBP and a slugging percentage somewhere around .370. Not great, but for a backup… plenty good enough.

Infield

Hanser Alberto, Hunter Dozier, Nicky Lopez, Adalberto Mondesi, Ryan O’Hearn, Carlos Santana

Good thing catcher was such an easy projection because things are going to get weird in a hurry.

Alberto is a non-roster invitee, going to camp on a minor league deal. Except he’s such a prototypical Royals’ sign, that he’s all but guaranteed a place on the roster. The minor league deal carries a low risk for the club, but come on…the utility job is Alberto’s to lose. In fact, if Lopez gets off to a slow start, it’s not inconceivable that Alberto could be taking most of the reps at the keystone by the time we hit Dayton Moore’s critical 40 game point in the season.

Dozier is the third baseman but it still feels like the Royals are maybe looking around at options. It’s like when you’re dating that person and comfortable in the relationship, but deep in your heart you know you can do better. The Royals certainly want to keep Dozier’s bat in the lineup and the way the rest of the roster shakes out, it looks like third is his best position in the defensive alignment at the moment. Although he could get time across the diamond at first if the Royals use Santana as a designated hitter. But then what of Jorge Soler? Ack! I’m getting ahead of myself.

I don’t feel good about including O’Hearn but do so only because he’s a left-handed bat option off the bench. It’s difficult to see him getting anything more than the occasional spot-start or pinch-hit appearance with this roster. He’s my 26th man and likely the first to get shipped out. He and the other Ryan (McBroom) both have options left.

At least we can take comfort knowing that as long as he’s healthy, Mondesi is at shortstop.

Outfield

Franchy Cordero, Whit Merrifield, Edward Olivares, Jorge Soler, Michael A. Taylor

Speaking of health, with the Royals still looking for a left-handed bat (I mean, have you heard about this? Have I mentioned it? It only feels like I drop in this nugget of info every other paragraph.) that seems to give the edge to Cordero as the Royals search for an Alex Gordon replacement in left. Everyone else in this group bats from the right side, so it’s not a stretch to assume Cordero is the man. At least for now.

Cordero does have some extreme platoon splits, hitting .252/.322/.463 against right-handers and just .182/.239/.333 against southpaws in his career. And then there’s the whole injury problem that seems to knock him to the Injured List at least once a season for a massive amount of time. So if he’s going to platoon, maybe Olivares is a good candidate to pair him with. At least at the start.

I’m not sure Taylor is the man to get the majority of the reps in center, but he’s definitely making this team out of camp and figures to get ample playing time. Such is the Royals way. Olivares also will find himself in the mix in center. Merrifield could, too.

This roster is like hovering over a massive taco bar…so many options, none of them so wrong they will ruin your meal…finding those one or two combos that will taste amazing is the ultimate challenge.

Share

Rotation

Brad Keller, Danny Duffy, Brady Singer, Mike Minor, Kris Bubic

If you’ve been reading closely, you’ll notice I put the position players in alphabetical order, but I’ve placed the rotation in the order I think they’ll go to open the season. Bold. Exactly how you want your roster projections.

Keller is the number one guy (not an ace, a number one starter…there is a difference) by past performance in 2020 as the Royals’ Pitcher of the Year and on recent track record in general. Duffy backs him up in the second spot. I’m not endorsing Duffy as the second-best starter in this rotation, but I’m trying to mix and match stuff and handedness to give the opposition different looks from night to night.

Singer follows, looking to build off his solid rookie campaign. Veteran free-agent signing Minor is next with Bubic rounding out the starting five.

Could we see a six-man rotation this summer at The K? That’s not something I’d discount just yet. It will be interesting to see how the Royals handle the full workload of 162 after last year’s shortened schedule and lack of minor league game action for the prospects. Otherwise, this is just kind of a boring, run of the mill projection bringing back four starters from last year and dropping in the free-agent acquisition. But it’s too early to project Daniel Lynch, Austin Cox, Asa Lacy, Jonathon Bowlan or Ronald Bolaños (or Ervin Santana!) in the rotation. Instead, I’ll just drop them here as ones to watch in Surprise.

Bullpen

Scott Barlow, Wade Davis, Jesse Hahn, Greg Holland, Jakob Junis, Josh Staumont, Kyle Zimmer, Tyler Zuber

No surprise, it’s an eight-man bullpen. Holland is the closer with Staumont and Hahn acting as the setup men and Barlow resuming his role as most dependable of the relief corps. Zimmer could get some early season, high-leverage innings if he’s healthy, which is always a big “if” around these parts. Those are the locks.

Davis represents the Holland-esque intrigue of a reunion after crashing out of Colorado. And like Holland from last year, I think Davis is in good shape to make the roster out of camp. (Unless he can’t get out any Cactus Leaguers. Hey! Assembling a roster isn’t easy. We can’t assume anything.)

Speaking of reunions, does Trevor Rosenthal fit in here? He was throwing smoke last year and enjoyed arguably the best season of his career with a career-high strikeout rate of 14.5 SO/9 and a 3 BB/9 that was his best since 2014. It’s kind of wild he’s still available. If the Royals could convince him to return, this bullpen would have some serious potential. Serious.

The issue with this bullpen a projected above is there isn’t a single lefty to be found. Rosenthal doesn’t solve that problem and the Royals just don’t have a lot of options on the 40-man. If they find one or two, Junis and/or Zuber will get moved off the staff. Richard Lovelady is still around, but it just feels like the Royals are doing everything they can to not have him in the majors. No clue why they feel that way because if they gave him a full season of bullpen innings, he could be a serviceable southpaw. Fellow lefties Jake Kalish or Gabe Speier could get looks as non-roster invitees. They’ll need to find somebody. I just don’t feel good enough about the options present to project them into the bullpen.