2022 Opening Day Roster Projection 1: The Arms
Who will be throwing those baseballs to opposing batters to start the year? Let's find out.
Yesterday, I dug into the 13 batters who I projected to be a part of the Royals’ Opening Day roster, whenever that is. Today, I look at the pitchers and this is a little more difficult. By my count, they have 14 pitchers who will get looked at in spring as a starter and then more relievers than that possibly. This is a very deep group with a lot of upside, but in terms of actual production, we haven’t seen a ton from them. If you told me today that the Royals would be top-five in the AL in ERA at the end of the year, I’d believe. If you said they’d be bottom-three, I’d believe that too. There is a lot of variance here. So let’s get to it. Just like yesterday, all stats listed are 2021 stats.
I still think they might look to move Mike Minor, but if he’s on the team, he’s in the rotation, at least to start the year. The same is true of Brad Keller, though I don’t think they’re looking to move him. And Brady Singer is in too, without question, even though there probably should be some question. So that’s where things start to get a little stickier. They have two off days early in the season, so they don’t need their fifth starter until the ninth game (if the season starts on time). So I could see them rolling with just four starters for the first week plus, but I’m going to give you five because it’ll even out so quickly.
After the three locks, Kris Bubic and Daniel Lynch made the most starts in 2021. Bubic finished strong for a second straight year while Lynch made some strides but he faded big time down the stretch. That’s not terribly surprising given his 2020 lack of competitive pitching, but still worth noting. If he looks like the August Lynch in spring, he’s got a job. If he looks like the September Lynch, he’s in AAA. After them, it was Carlos Hernandez, who looked like a real find at times, Jackson Kowar, who looked like a batting practice pitcher most times, Jon Heasley and Angel Zerpa.
Add in some minor league possibilities like Foster Griffin, Alec Marsh and Asa Lacy, who should get a shot with the big club and I think they’ll have Drew Parrish and Austin Cox there as well. It’ll be quite a competition.
I have a strange feeling based on literally nothing that Kowar is going to have a nice spring. After his massive struggles in 2021 at the big league level, that’s the kind of story you see a lot in the spring. Where I’m concerned is if his fastball stays as straight as it has been, the Arizona air will not be kind to it, so maybe that feeling is just indigestion, but I think he’ll look good. That said, I’m not going to predict he gets the job. I think the last two spots go to Lynch and Hernandez (and Hernandez pitches out of the bullpen for a week) with Bubic, Kowar, Heasley, Griffin, Zerpa and Lacy in AAA to start the year. I just think Bubic’s stuff looks bad in Arizona like it did last year. I’m looking at Marsh, Cox and Parrish in AA to start the season.
The thing about this group is that I think 2022 will be similar in a lot of ways to 2021 with pitchers getting breathers either in AAA or the bullpen for stretches. That means that whoever starts the year in the rotation will likely not spend all year there and there’ll be plenty of opportunities for others. And as we approach mid-season, Jonathan Bowlan will add his name to the mix as well as he returns from Tommy John.
This is where things get a little trickier. Assuming, again, they use the 13-man roster limits, that means eight relievers. There are a few locks. Scott Barlow, Josh Staumont, Jake Brentz and, after his 2021, Domingo Tapia are going to make this club. The other candidates are, alphabetically, Ronald Bolaños, Taylor Clarke, Dylan Coleman, Josh Dye, Joel Payamps, Collin Snider, Gabe Speier, Daniel Tillo, Jace Vines, Nathan Webb and Tyler Zuber. There’s also any of the starter candidates, but I’m thinking Hernandez is the only one they’d want pitching out of the bullpen right now.
I’m a huge Coleman fan, so I think he makes it. I also think that they signed Clarke for a reason, so unless he bombs in spring, Wily Peralta style, he’s on the club too. Which leaves just two spots for all those arms above. Let’s break them down individually.
I absolutely loved what I saw from Bolaños in his incredibly small sample. It was the best he looked in a long time. And then he got hurt and struggled to throw strikes when he came back. If he’s even close to the guy who threw those three games for the big club before his injury, he might not only be on the team, but he’s a late-inning reliever with that stuff. That said, I don’t think it happens in spring.
Dye could potentially be off the club by the time spring training rolls around if they hold the Rule 5 draft after the lockout like rumors say they will. But if not, a funky lefty like him has a shot to be a very nice change of pace from the fire that Brentz brings from the left side. He’s a possibility, but he wasn’t the guy I picked. Not just yet anyway.
Payamps looked good for the Royals after they picked him up following the Blue Jays dumping him. There’s just something that’s slightly off about him. He throws hard with good spin and good movement and the slider looks like it has the potential to be unhittable. But it’s just not quite there. He doesn’t get the swings and misses you’d think he would. But he has pretty good control and if he’s your fifth or sixth best reliever, you’re probably putting out a pretty good bullpen. I think he makes it unless they make another move before spring starts.
Snider and Webb are two guys I’m going to lump together since both were added to the 40-man this past November. The Royals like them and wanted to keep them from getting selected. Both are big arms who can add to the pure stuff in this bullpen, but I think they’re going to want another lefty in there, so both are in AAA to start the year.
I’m going to jump right to Zuber and Vines, not because they’re similar, but because they’re the last two who aren’t going to make the team. Zuber has struggled mightily in the big leagues in a way I didn’t expect. I thought he would take his good control and good stuff and immediately be a late-inning weapon. And he just hasn’t. Vines will impress you with his sheer size and his velocity, but I think he faces an uphill battle not being on the 40-man. He might get a shot, though, at some point.
So that leaves Tillo and Speier, both lefties. I was super high on Tillo after they moved him to the bullpen in 2019 and he was so successful. That big lefty with the downward tilt to get a ton of grounders and also hit upper-90s with his fastball is quite a weapon to have. It’s a similar velocity profile to Brentz, but a different type of pitcher. I think that would play well. And Speier threw 7.2 walk-less innings in the big leagues in 2021. Walks were a problem for the team, so that was nice. But he also allowed 10 hits. So that’s why I went with Tillo as the last reliever.
Now, all of this said, there are free agents out there. People won’t love this, but Greg Holland loves the Royals and the Royals love him. And when he was used a little more sparingly and given time to recover, he was pretty successful last season. He can’t be a guy who pitches three days in a row and even back-to-backs would need to be limited, but if he’s giving you 40-45 innings, he could be a weapon. I still like Collin McHugh as someone who can give a little length and be a veteran in this bullpen. And Danny Duffy is definitely a possibility, though he won’t be ready to go until mid-season anyway, so that’s a question for another day.
So now you’ve got your first look at my projected Opening Day roster. The second will come out once spring gets going, whenever that may be. Word is the two sides are talking again this week, so hopefully the owners start actually negotiating in good faith and they can knock a deal out because a spring delay is pretty much a sure thing without a deal before the weekend, which seems awfully unlikely.
The KC Royals haven't had a decent rotation in over 30 years. I do think there is one in the collection of arms we have to choose from. Who is in that rotation remains to be seen. I really was not all that bothered by the troubles the young arms had last year. It takes most pitchers a year or two to adjust, and most of the arms had times when they looked like world beaters. However, I saw a lot of over throwing by this group. Keller also seemed to have this same problem most of the first half of the season.
As this young group settles in, I suspect we will see results similar to what they have shown in the minors. Singer, Lynch, Hernandez and Bubic will get the first crack at landing in the rotation. Kowar, Lacy, Zerpa, Marsh and others will probably get their chance as the year go's on.
So far, I really like the chances of Hernandez, Bubic, and Lynch winning a regular spot on that rotation. The competition will be fun to watch!
NO! TO DUFFY, Ben Wierzbicki