Less than a week remains for the Royals front office personnel and coaching staff to make their final roster decisions. By the season opener, 12 more players needed to be trimmed from the group of 37 in major-league camp at the start of Thursday.
On Wednesday in his office, Royals manager Ned Yost barked at most questions — several before they were asked — regarding specific players and the club’s likely 25-man roster for the opener.
“I’m not going to give you my team today,” Yost said. “What we’re going to do is we’re going to go down to Omaha, probably, and look at all our options and make a decision on the guys that are borderline guys.”
After leaving Arizona, the Royals will play an exhibition game against their Triple-A team Monday in Omaha, Neb., before the season opener against the White Sox on Thursday, March 28 at Kauffman Stadium.
On Thursday, general manager Dayton Moore greeted roster questions with more of a velvet glove approach. Moore ultimately left similar ambiguity, all though he shed light on thought process in shaping the pitching staff.
“It certainly doesn’t do us any good to announce anything because we may have to retract, because we’ve got five games left and things happen,” Moore said. “You want to communicate with your players the very best you can to give them a strong sense of what’s going on. At the same time, you’ve just got to play it out.”
Moore acknowledged that it “makes sense” to start the season with 12 pitchers, including four starters, for the first couple weeks of the regular season because of off days and Danny Duffy likely to start the season in extended spring training.
The starting pitching rotation appears pretty much set with Brad Keller, Jakob Junis, Homer Bailey and Jorge Lopez. Moore said that Bailey had shown enough “quality” in camp to warrant in the Royals rotation.
It’s not clear how soon Duffy could be able to join the club, though he’s scheduled to pitch to live batters in batting practice on Monday. Heath Fillmyer, who started Thursday’s spring game against the Reds, has also been considered a rotation candidate.
Moore also said the organization didn’t have nearly enough starting pitching depth to feel comfortable, though he pointed to Foster Griffin, Scott Blewett and Arnaldo Hernandez (Blewett and Hernandez are on the 40-man roster) as players who the front office has kept close tabs on as starter candidates.
How does Moore balance the overall lack of starting pitching depth with moving starter Ian Kennedy into the bullpen?
“You look at where can this particular pitcher be utilized to be in a dominant role,” Moore said. “We felt that when we look at Ian Kennedy, he can really be exceptional in a relief role. He can be a better than average pitcher in that role. But that’s an area where we may, at some point in time, have to reverse course and look at that.
“What I told Ian Kennedy from the very beginning was Chris Young in 2015 was the most valuable pitcher on our staff. He started. He pitched in relief. He pitched middle. He pitched an inning at a time. He started games. He pitched in the playoffs. You need somebody in that versatile role.”
If the Royals go with 13 position players at the start of the season instead of 13 pitchers, there are several options as to how the extra bench spot could be used.
While outfielders Brett Phillips and Jorge Bonifacio are on the 40-man roster and were considered contenders for the starting right field job, Yost said earlier this week that they’d both benefit from playing regularly at Triple-A. Terrance Gore’s speed almost assures him a spot as a backup outfielder.
First baseman Frank Schwindel, the organization’s back-to-back player of the year at Triple-A and its minor-league hitter of the year in 2017, has worked at catcher in spring camp to increase his versatility.
Catcher Meibrys Viloria could give the club a third catching option early in the season, and, unlike Schwindel, he’s already on the 40-man roster. Middle infielder Humberto Arteaga has had an impressive spring training, including a .486 batting average entering Thursday’s game.
Third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert, middle infielder Jecksson Flores and middle infielder Nicky Lopez might also be intriguing options though the Royals would need to make roster moves to get them on the 40-man roster.
“You set your rosters on opening day and then after that you’re making battle-field decisions the next 162,” Moore said. “This time of year, we spend a lot of energy discussing who is going to be the extra this, who is going to be the extra that, and we debate it like we’re trying to figure out the Federal Reserve because that’s all we have to talk about.”