The battle for the 25th spot on the Royals roster is shaping up as a question of Whit Merrifield or Christian Colon, of versatility vs. inventory.
Merrifield, a 28-year-old utilityman, is perhaps the most versatile player in the organization, an athletic infielder who can also play all three outfield spots. Merrifield, however, has options remaining, meaning he can be sent to Class AAA Omaha without going through waivers. Christian Colon, a 27-year-old former first-round pick in 2010, does not have options left. If he is not on the 25-man roster, he must be placed on waivers and exposed to other teams.
Colon does not offer the same versatility as Merrifield. Yet he can play second base, third base and shortstop. He is also responsible for two of the most memorable postseason moments in franchise history. His inclusion would allow the Royals to move forward with both players at their disposal.
“Inventory,” Yost said of Colon, “and he’ll give you a great at-bat. He had one of the biggest at-bats.”
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Yost was referencing Colon’s RBI single in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series. The decision could come down to the final days of camp.
The question became clear on Monday, when the Royals elected to move forward with Raul Mondesi as their starting second baseman. The club is also leaning toward keeping outfielder Terrance Gore, a late-game speed weapon who could fill the injured Jorge Soler’s spot on the 25-man roster. Gore, 25, is a one-dimensional player. Yet Yost believes that his speed could help the Royals win a game in April.
On Tuesday, Yost also hinted that Merrifield could be more valuable as a bench player if the Royals are forced to carry 13 pitchers. For now, they are set to open the season with 12 pitchers on their roster, including a seven-man bullpen.
“Everybody wants to break with the team,” Yost said. “But our plan going into this is to make adjustments whenever we need them. And it won’t be long.
“(Let’s) say if we option Whit out; probably the first time we need 13 pitchers, here comes Whit. Because we’re one man short on the bench and we need that versatility. I’m not saying one way or the other how this is going to end up, because quite frankly, we don’t know yet.”
The Royals reassigned catcher Brayan Peña to minor-league camp on Tuesday morning.
Peña, 35, was in spring training as a nonroster invitee. He previously played for the Royals from 2009 to 2012 and spent last season with the St. Louis Cardinals.
He was a long shot to make the roster, given the presence of Salvador Perez and backup Drew Butera. Peña could be headed for Class AAA Omaha, where he would offer depth in case of an injury at the big-league level.
The Royals have 29 players remaining in major-league camp, including reliever Brian Flynn, who is on the 60-day disabled list.
The only nonroster invitees remaining are relievers Peter Moylan and Seth Maness. Moylan is positioned to be seventh man in the Royals’ bullpen. Maness, a former reliever with the St. Louis Cardinals, is recovering from elbow surgery and is slated to make his first spring appearance this week. Maness signed a minor-league deal with the Royals in February and is three weeks behind the rest of the pitching staff, manager Ned Yost said.