While Spring Training is in its early stages, there already has been some noteworthy things going on in camp in Surprise, Arizona. With the season about to start, one of the things I want to do is do more “Royals Recaps”, which either reviews games or weekly events to kind of summarize some thoughts about the Royals. Since no Spring Training games have happened just yet (not until February 21st), I wanted to focus on just a few things that have happened over the past week after pitchers and catchers reported.
Zimmer gets fourth Minor League option
Early Sunday morning, Royals MLB.com writer Jeff Flanagan dropped this nugget on Twitter:
This news is incredibly interesting as it adds some flexibility to the bullpen for this upcoming season. I wrote last week how Zimmer was on the bubble in terms of making the roster this Spring because he has struggled with wildness in 2019, and without options at the time, he would be designated for assignment if he didn’t make the 26-man out of Spring Training. However, now that he is granted an extra option, it is probably likely that Zimmer will start the year in Omaha, work on a few things, and be called up again at some point in 2020 when his metrics are a little bit more stable (his walk rate will be interesting to follow this Spring).
But what does this mean for the bullpen overall? Well, former closers Trevor Rosenthal and Greg Holland were both signed this off-season but on Minor League deals. Thus, neither is guaranteed a roster spot for 2020, and if they don’t make the club, it is likely they will be released and find another organization to pitch with by Opening Day. It seems like manager Mike Matheny had a big influence on both Rosenthal and Holland signing with the Royals, and with a 26-man roster spot cleared with Zimmer getting an extra option, it seems more likely that at least one of these relievers will make the active roster this Spring.
That of course is as long as they have productive performances this Spring Training.
Melendez and McBroom making an impression early this Spring
I mentioned in a previous post that catcher MJ Melendez, a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, would be one to watch for. After all, it does not seem like Cam Gallagher or Meibrys Viloria will be the heir-apparent to Salvy (who will be a free agent after 2021), which opens the door for Melendez in 2022. However, Melendez struggled offensively at the plate in Wilmington, along with other top position prospects Nick Pratto and Seuly Matias.
That being said, it seems like the work Melendez has put in this off-season to improve his swing and contact issues have been noticed already by Royals management.
While hitting in BP against a coach and against live, Major League pitching are two different things altogether, it is nice to see that Melendez is off to a good start this Spring. Hopefully, this new and improved swing will transition to quality at-bats not just in Surprise, but wherever he lands in 2020 (most likely Northwest Arkansas, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see him at least start the year back in Wilmington).
In addition to Melendez, another position player generating some buzz early this Spring is first baseman/outfielder Ryan McBroom, who was acquired late last season from the Yankees. McBroom has torn up minor league pitching, as he has posted a .288/.353/.473 slash to go along with a .825 OPS and 102 home runs over 697 games in the Minors. Thus, he has nothing to prove in Triple-A Omaha, and his .293/.361/.360 slash over 23 games with the Royals last September hints that McBroom could be a productive option at first or off the bench in a utility role.
However, it seems like Ryan O’Hearn, who also has nothing to prove with the Storm Chasers, has the early lead, as Matheny has talked about giving O’Hearn a “full chance” to earn the role. That being said, in addition to Flanny writing a piece about the competition between the two for first base, Royals Review also posted this regarding PECOTA projections for the Royals:
It’s going to be interesting to see if the Royals will keep both up, even though McBroom still has a minor league option remaining (which may mean Bubba or Brett being DFA’d as they have none remaining). O’Hearn offers more power potential, but McBroom is more likely to hit for better average, and could up his power with a more extended stint in the Majors. Furthermore, it is possible that the Royals could platoon the two, though that would block Salvy from getting reps at first base (which he may or may not be down with apparently).
Matheny setting the standard early this Spring
In the off-season, most of the focus was on general manager Dayton Moore and his decisions this Winter. Some were good (didn’t spend on a mediocre free agent) and some were questionable (will Maikel Franco be worth it, even if he came cheaply). However, while Matheny generated headlines with his hire, he’s kind of been in the background this Winter as Moore and the front office generated the most news in local KC media circles.
That has not been the case since pitchers and catchers reported in Surprise, as Matheny has been pretty active this Spring, making his mark not just with the team and the roster, but also with the local KC media.
Here are a few snippets of Matheny’s impact so far during camp in Surprise:
It’s amazing to think that the Royals will be transitioning to new management after 10 seasons with Ned Yost. While Yost is a legend in Kansas City, and the city will forever be grateful for his contributions to the organization, it was obvious that things were starting to get stale “manager” wise for the Royals the past couple of years. The team needed a fresh jolt of enthusiasm on the field, and it’s nice that Yost recognized that, and stepped down when he did on amicable terms (which does not always happen in organizations).
It is still too early to tell if Matheny will be an upgrade over Yost (you have to play the games after all), but it seems like Matheny has taken a hands-on approach this Spring, and it will be interesting to see how that style develops over Spring Training. Honestly, I was a little hesitant with the Matheny hire this winter (I preferred Pedro Grifol…who is still on staff, thankfully). That being said, he has said and done the right things, and while I think we will still see shades of Matheny’s personality from St. Louis come up during the year (i.e. old school), it does appear he has made a conscious effort to better himself in his second stint as a MLB manager.
Let’s just say I cannot wait for his first lineup and game as a manger this Spring against the Rangers. Though it’s still Spring Training, that could be telling what his approach will be with this roster in 2020.