Final Royals Roster Projection
It's...tougher this year.
Here we are on the last Monday before the regular season begins and while the Royals have a lot of their roster figured, it’s the pieces on the fringe that are very difficult to predict. For one, we don’t know for certain how they’re going to divvy up the position players and pitchers. With a 26-man roster and a 13-pitcher limit, I think we had a pretty good idea they’d go to the limit. And they’ll have to do that starting on May 2. But for now, as Cady Heron can tell you, the limit does not exist. So do they go with 16 pitchers? I thought so for a long time…until today and you’ll see why in a minute.
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I say this a lot and then I continue to perpetuate the problem, but the Opening Day roster is only significant in that it’s the first one. It’s no different than the roster on June 12 or August 17 or any other random date on the calendar. The only difference is that this roster is introduced on the foul line before the game, usually with a massive American flag being unfurled behind them. So if someone doesn’t make the roster, he can still play 145 games, which is exactly what Whit Merrifield did in 2017. It feels like it means more, but it really doesn’t. And yet, here I am projecting who will stand on that foul line on Thursday afternoon.
There will come a time when Gallagher isn’t the man behind the man, but that time isn’t Thursday. I could see a world where they start the season with three catchers, including MJ Melendez, but I think some other factors made that something they weren’t willing to do just yet. Obviously in Perez, the Royals have their stalwart who should start converting to a bit less time behind the plate, but that time is not right now. Maybe it’s later in the year when Melendez comes up, but for now, he’s going to get the lion’s share of the catching duties. It’s not fair to expect him to repeat his power display from 2021, but he averaged 36 homers per 162 games in the three seasons he played before last year.
If Perez can get into 150 games as a hitter, then I don’t see a reason why he won’t hit 30+ home runs again. I’m not going to predict 48 for him, but it’s not like the power isn’t legitimate and huge.
Gallagher is a very good backup catcher simply because he accepts the role and does it well. He’s a good defender. He does a decent job throwing runners out and is very good at framing. He also makes contact at the plate and, while this isn’t terribly popular, he’s an outstanding bunter. I have always maintained that if some team gives him 400 plate appearances, he’ll have a random .280/.340/.415 season somewhere along the way. So for now, he’s the backup.
Bobby Witt Jr.
Yes, we finally got to the name you’ve been waiting for, Nicky Lopez. Oh not him? Okay fine, let’s talk Santana then. Not him either? You people are relentless. I’ll get to the guy you want, but just give me a second please.
First base and designated hitter are going to be manned mostly by Santana and Dozier. I understand people want that to be Nick Pratto and Melendez/Perez, but that’s just not the reality at this moment. Remember when I mentioned how this roster is just a snapshot in time? Please keep that in mind. The Royals are banking on Santana’s first half last year being real and Dozier’s second half being real. If Santana bounces back, he’ll likely be moved and that’ll open the door for one of the prospects. If Dozier’s ends up being real and there is no other spot for him, that might pose a problem, but one the Royals would love to have. The reality is that one of the two is likely to struggle and open up a spot one way or another. I don’t even want to discuss O’Hearn on this roster, but here he is.
The middle infield, defensively, is pristine. While Lopez ranked first in all of baseball at any position in outs above average last year, other metrics had him much closer to average at shortstop. Either way, he’s at the very least capable and at the very most excellent there. But we also know that he’s excellent at second based on his work at second in 2019 and 2020. And we also know that Mondesi is a very good defensive shortstop. The two of them together help to give the Royals a big edge defensively up the middle. Will they hit? I think we know that Mondesi will wow us at times, but hopefully he can be more consistent. And if Lopez can repeat like 90 percent of last year, that’ll be a fun duo.
And finally, the man you’ve been waiting for will take third base on Opening Day, and likely most of the days after that. Should he be the shortstop given that it’s his natural position? Maybe. But he’s not. If the Royals didn’t have two very capable shortstops already, I’d say this is thinking too hard, but keeping some defensive pressure off a rookie who is going to be hitting second doesn’t seem like the worst thing in the world.
Michael A. Taylor
The starting trio will be Benintendi, Taylor and Merrifield. In some ways, it’s surprising to see both Isbel and Olivares on a big league roster with three starting outfielders because it doesn’t allow for them to get everyday playing time, but we have to keep in mind that it’s not the worst idea for Benintendi to sit against some tough lefties and for Taylor to sit against some tough righties. That right there gets both of them in games. There will also be frequent days off for Mondesi, and that will require Merrifield to work his way from right field to second base. Still, the outfield doesn’t quite work.
But I believe it will be difficult for the Royals to send either of the two down given the springs they’ve had. When you do everything that’s asked of you and then some and don’t even make the roster, I believe that sends a message that you don’t want sent. Again, a roster is a constantly changing beast and a lot of these issues do find a way to work themselves out. But it’ll be a juggling act for Matheny to keep his young talented outfielders ready to go when the veterans who may or may not be in Kansas City the next time the team makes a run at the playoffs will be starting regularly.
On the whole, though, it’s a strong unit defensively. Benintendi and Taylor won Gold Gloves last year and Merrifield is always competent wherever he plays. Isbel is good in a corner and good enough in center, especially in smaller parks on the road. And Olivares, well, he hasn’t been good, but reports have been positive on his defense in spring training, so maybe he’s taken a step or two there. Again, I’ll have a close eye on this position grouping as the season progresses.
Oh what’s that? You think I forgot to keep typing. Well you thought wrong. I’m dividing this up differently than I have in the past because for the first few weeks with the expanded rosters and pitchers still building up, I have a feeling the Royals will be a little loosey-goosey with the starting rotation. But based on spring work, I believe these two will be starting their outings in the first exclusively when the season gets going. Greinke is the veteran and he’s just going to start. Keller is someone who is being treated as the number two and will start the second game of the year.
It’s a big year for him. He’s entering his second year of arbitration, which means two things. One, he’ll be a year away from free agency when the season ends. But two, and more importantly for him for now, his arbitration case will allow him to be compared to all pitchers rather than just pitchers in his similar year of arbitration. So rather than comparing himself to second-year arbitration pitchers, he can look at any and all contracts that were signed. Given the rash of $10-$12 million per year contracts that were signed by mid-rotation starters, he might be able to argue for a pretty sizable raise in 2023 from the $4.825 million he agreed to this season.
There will be starts by most of this group, though probably not Clarke, who could arguably go in the short-inning arms group below. I know it might seem weird to have Bubic and Hernandez here given that they’re ticketed to start the third and fourth games respectively, but I just think this is going to be a committee approach while guys get geared up. I’m actually a little surprised that they’re starting the two guys who have the most relief experience (sans Clarke), but that’s the plan. I struggled with putting Singer here because I think the Royals are pretty hesitant to put him in a role he hasn't been in before, but they have used him in relief recently in spring training and it’s not going to be about getting out of a jam but rather starting a clean inning and giving the team three or four total innings. Plus, he didn’t make the first starting four. My guess is that Bubic, Hernandez, Lynch and Singer all start more than they relieve, and maybe they all even start exclusively, but the option is there for them.
I’m honestly not completely sold on Kowar making the team, but he’s looked better and has pitched in relief both in a big league regular season game and in spring training. I think he might be a guy they look at to get two or maybe three innings rather than four to five. And I’m not convinced he’ll start at all, though you just never know with how up in the air a lot of this is going to be. I wouldn’t be too surprised if most days starters aren’t known until after the game before given usage.
I am 100 percent sure that, if healthy, the top four are going to make the team. The next three are a little bit tricky. Coleman is a guy who I love, but he hasn’t gotten much work this spring on the big field. Maybe he starts the year in the minors and comes up with a sort of line change, but I do think he makes it. Tapia and Payamps were solid for this club last year and I think in spite of some rough spring numbers, both will make the club. If they’ll stay on it, that’s a question for another day, but I do think they’ll make it.
In those top four, you have to like the versatility and the balance they provide. It’s obviously two from the right side and two from the left side, but they kind of have mirror arms. Barlow and Garrett have filthy sliders and fastballs that get up there in the mid-90s. Staumont and Brentz are both big-time fastball guys who have a breaking ball that can get the job done. Brentz debuted that two-seamer this spring and it looked nasty when I got to see it, so I’m excited to see what he can do in his second year. I think that’s a very solid back of the bullpen and if Coleman looks anything like he did last year, the Royals have a heck of a group of short-inning arms.
So that’s what I’m thinking for the roster. But it’s a weird, weird year and there are still three days before those guys stand on the first base line to get introduced so a lot can happen. I guess stay tuned to see how much changes from today to then.