Royals Roster Projection 2: Position Players
I gave this a shot during the lockout and now that they're actually on the field, let's try this again.
I’ve talked about this quite a few times, but for a team that ended the season in fourth place and 14 games below .500, the Royals have an awful lot of clarity in what they’re going to put on the field before a single move was even made. Now, before the lockout, that’s pretty much all they made, at least on the big league level, adding Taylor Clarke to the pitching staff, but take a look at the second to last lineup of the season:
You might recall that Salvador Perez was DHing because he had hurt his ankle toward the end of the year but was pushing so hard to break the team home run record, so that put Gallagher in at catcher, at least seven of those players are likely to be a part of the Opening Day lineup on April 7 (it’s so nice to finally have a date for that). And if Adalberto Mondesi doesn’t make eight, he and Cam Gallagher are both poised to be on the roster. That’s kind of crazy to see that little turnover from a mediocre at best team. But there are still some spots up for grabs and some young players who are going to be trying to grab them.
All the stats in this edition will be the 2022 ZiPS projections. Those highlighted in yellow are the starters.
This one is pretty easy, generally. I feel like the Royals will trade Gallagher at some point. He’s a very good backup, but they also have Sebastian Rivero and MJ Melendez on the 40-man roster. While Rivero profiles as a backup long-term, Melendez would be a different sort and the Royals might like carrying three catchers if he and Salvy are splitting some time at DH and with the roster rules reverting to their intended maximum of 13 pitchers, teams should be able to find a spot for a third catcher in a situation like this.
This is the spot on the field that everyone is curious about, right? You’ve got your incumbents, all in that lineup above, but then there’s Bobby Witt Jr. And there’s Nick Pratto. And there’s Melendez potentially getting some time at first or even third. And there’s Nick Loftin and Michael Massey not too far behind. And Vinnie Pasquantino too. Lots and lots of options. Which is a good thing, but with a condensed spring, the Royals job is difficult.
There will be changes as the spring schedule starts, but as it stands right now, I think the infield on Opening Day looks pretty similar to the lineup above. With one change.
Bobby Witt Jr.
Barring a surprisingly bad spring or *whispers* injury, he’s going to make this team. The question is where does he play and I think we see him at third base to start the season. Some people may not like that, but I believe that the shortstop battle will be between Mondesi and Nicky Lopez. Lopez had the nice season in 2021, but isn’t the gifted athlete Mondesi is. But he also stays on the field. And Mondesi now has three consecutive below average offensive seasons as well while Lopez played very good defense at shortstop last year. I think that’ll be very interesting. Both will make the team, health permitting, but I believe one will be the utility infielder. My guess as of right now is that Mondesi is the utility player with Whit Merrifield at second, but he plays more often than Hanser Alberto did last year.
And then at first base, they’re going to try to move Carlos Santana, but I don’t think it gets done before the start of the season, so he’s going to get some time to prove that his issues were related to his hip and not age-related decline. My money is on a combination of both, which means he should at least be better to start the year. He and Dozier will share time at first, but I would guess Dozier spends a lot of time at DH. Many will groan, but I’m here to remind you that he hit .272/.346/.576 in September and .261/.331/.449 after the break. And that he had a 123 wRC+ in 2019 and 104 in 2020, so maybe the first half of 2021 was the real anomaly.
And the final spot just makes me sad, but the Royals will like to have a lefty bat on the bench and Mike Matheny still loves Ryan O’Hearn. His time is limited with Pratto and Pasquantino almost there, but as of this moment, I think he starts the year in the big leagues. Emmanuel Rivera spent some time in the big leagues last season and while he wasn’t great, he did have some great batted ball data in the minors and could be a nice righty bat off the bench if needed. If Mondesi wins a starting job and pushes Merrifield to the outfield, I think Rivera will make the team, but I don’t see that in this particular prediction.
We know two of the players here. Andrew Benintendi will be in left and Michael A. Taylor will be in center. Will those two be there in 2023? That’s an excellent question, but not the point of this article, so focus! The question is how the rest of the unit will shake out. The infield has some impact on this group. If the Royals decide that Witt, Lopez and Mondesi should be some combination of second, third and short, then Merrifield probably moves to the outfield. I don’t think that’s what’ll happen, but he’ll play some games there regardless probably. And so will Dozier.
The battle as it stands right now is Kyle Isbel vs. Edward Olivares. The new CBA putting a limit on the number of times a player can be optioned to AAA will at least save Olivares some wear and tear on his tires between KC and Omaha, but I think what we saw last year is the Royals don’t believe in him. And I’m not sure it has anything to do with his bat. They just don’t like his glove, which is both obvious from the outside and something that a source has told me too. They love Isbel, though. He’s not a star, but he feels like a glue guy on the team and plays very good defense in a corner and is capable of handling center. The lineup leans pretty heavily to the right side, at least at the start of the year with Benintendi and Lopez as the only lefties (and Santana as a switch hitter), so Isbel fits well.
I think he gets the starting job, assuming they don’t make another move. In my previous roster projection, I had the Royals going out and signing a fourth outfielder. It was Kevin Pillar, for whatever it’s worth, but I think they end up staying in house and going with JaCoby Jones, who they signed to a minor league deal a bit ago. You probably remember Jones from him playing well against the Royals and basically only the Royals, but he did hit .268/.333/.515 in 108 plate appearances in 2020. That was after a respectable-ish .235/.310/.430 in 333 plate appearances in 2019. I just feel like he’s going to impress the team and make the club out of camp, which we’ll all likely hate.
Note: Rosters will likely be expanded to start the season to account for the shortened spring. With that, they’ll likely add two or three spots. If it’s two, they’ll both be pitchers. If it’s three, they may require one to be a position player. In that case, I’d expect it to be Olivares, but Rivera might get a shot.
And just to have a little fun, here’s my Opening Day starting lineup prediction:
Who’s pitching? Tune in tomorrow for the pitching predictions.