It’s Day 18 at Royals camp, which means we have been here long enough to start to notice weird things.
For instance: Royals prospect Hunter Dozier always wears one batting glove. This is actually not that strange, but it does make Dozier an outlier. Nearly everybody in baseball wears two batting gloves — except former Royals prospect Wil Myers, who, in awesome fashion, wears zero. But the right-handed hitting Dozier wears one, on his left hand, and it makes him look very 1980s.
There was a time, of course, where players wearing one batting glove was quite prevalent. But that time seems to have died out about 15 to 20 years ago. Still, there are some players keeping the look alive. Hunter Pence is one. Dozier could be another.
So I figured Dozier just liked the feel of one glove and not two, but then he reminded me, during an interview the other day, that he battled a left hand injury last September while in Kansas City. So, wait, is the one batting glove just to protect the hand?!
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Fortunately, no. That’s just a coincidence.
“I’ve always done just one batting glove,” Dozier said. “My whole life; I don’t know why.”
Dozier said he is a golfer, which might explain part of it. But for now, he’s sticking with one.
“I started doing it when I was a kid,” he said. “And I just stuck with it. I tried to go back to two. But I can’t.”
If you include him as a “veteran,” I would say reliever Seth Maness, who signed with the Royals shortly before camp. When healthy, Maness, 28, was a productive member of the Cardinals’ bullpen. He posted a 2.32 ERA in 66 games in 2013 and a 2.91 ERA in 73 games in 2014. But his performance lagged a little bit the last couple seasons, in part, because of health issues.
He damaged his ulnar collateral ligament last year — yes, the injury that usually requires Tommy John surgery — but he underwent a new procedure called “primary repair” that sped up the recovery timeline.
The Royals have said they plan to take it slow with him. And despite his hopes, it appears unlikely that Maness will be healthy enough for Opening Day. But assuming he returns in good health, he could be an option in the pen down the road.
So let’s talk about Peter O’Brien, who has spent the first part of spring training killing baseballs.
The question, I think, is this: How would Peter O’Brien fit on the roster? So let’s count up the spots. Assuming the Royals carry 12 pitchers at the start of the season, that’s 13 spots for position players.
The roster locks looks like this: Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Jorge Soler, Brandon Moss, Paulo Orlando, Drew Butera. That’s 10.
That leaves three spots and we haven’t addressed the vacancy at second base.
Whit Merrifield is an ideal fit for a roster because he offers a fifth outfielder who can also handle three spots in the infield — and play shortstop in a pinch. He also might be the best option at second. Cheslor Cuthbert and Christian Colon are out of options, meaning they can’t be sent to the minors without going through waivers.
So to find a spot for O’Brien on the roster — theoretically as a fifth outfielder/platoon DH/pinch hitter — you have to do without one of Merrifield, Colon and Cuthbert. There is some redundancy in having all three of those guys on the roster. But they each offer versatility, and the Royals, like most teams, prefer to keep roster inventory high. Would they want to risk losing Colon or Cuthbert?
A couple things to keep in mind: The Royals rarely pinch hit. So they don’t have much need for that. And O’Brien has two options remaining, which means he could continue to pile up at-bats at Class AAA Omaha and polish his skills as a hitter.
For now, this seems like the likeliest course of action. We’ll see what happens if he continues to hit homers.
Finally, I didn’t even mention Billy Burns as a possibility as a fifth outfielder/pinch runner or even Terrance Gore. But they both have options remaining as well. Also, in regards to the idea about Peter O’Brien playing first. He has played some first this spring, and he has rare, rare power. The Royals pulled off a nice deal in acquiring him for a little-known minor-league pitcher. But O’Brien is (probably) not even the best first baseman prospect in camp. That would be Ryan O’Hearn, who is 23 and continues to rake in the minor leagues.
They are definitely in win-now mode, even while keeping one eye on the future with the trades for Jorge Soler and Nathan Karns.
But if the Royals are buried at the trade deadline, they would almost certainly sell off parts that are about to become free agents. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas or Lorenzo Cain would also surely coveted by any contender that has a need at first base/third base/center field.
It’s also March.
The easy answer, of course, is that the pitcher who performs better makes more sense for the starting rotation. But that’s not quite the question here, obviously.
The Royals signed Travis Wood, in part, by guaranteeing him an opportunity to compete for a job in the starting rotation. Wood couldn’t get that opportunity everywhere, and this is an important point. He found success in the Cubs’ bullpen, but he would prefer to get back to starting.
Still, there’s a pretty cogent argument here that the Royals would be better off if Nathan Karns has a tremendous camp and wins the job in the starting rotation. Wood has had success as a reliever, while Karns has barely done it. (And Karns didn’t feel totally comfortable when the Mariners sent him to the bullpen last season. Of course, he was also battling a back issue around that time.)
Wood draws high marks from teammates and coaches as a gamer and competitor. These are intangible qualities that are impossible to quantify. But they speak, I think, to his ability to be versatile and handle different roles. The Royals are likely going to need more than five starting pitchers in 2017. So it does make some sense to have Karns open the year in the rotation, with Wood waiting in the wings in case somebody gets injured or really struggles.
Ned Yost made the point the other day that the starting second baseman on Opening Day might not necessarily be the guy playing second every day. The implication: We may see a rotation there, with guys splitting time.
It’s hard to get a read on the battle. The competitors are really even. Whit Merrifield is steady and solid and can play other positions. (Statistically, he has the best case.) Christian Colon looks more athletic and has made a couple nice plays in the field. Cheslor Cuthbert is still new at the position but can obviously hit pretty well for that spot.
This may change in the next months, but it seems possible that Merrifield, Colon and Cuthbert are all on the Opening Day roster (see the Peter O’Brien stuff above), and that all three end up logging time at the position during the first half of the season.