And two of the more interesting options may be first baseman/outfielder Ryan McBroom, who was acquired from the Yankees last Spring and still has one more Minor League option available, and Matt Reynolds, a non-roster infielder invite to Spring Training who was signed to a Minor League deal this off-season. While neither player is a long-term option for the Royals, they do offer some flexibility from the 26th roster spot, and could help boost the Royals’ chances in terms of improving upon their 59-103 record a season ago.
With Major League active rosters expanding to 26 spots this year, there has been a lot of debate in terms of what teams should do with the extra bench spot on the roster. The Royals are no exception to that rule, as they have some interesting options available this Spring to plug into the 26th roster spot for 2020. From early reports, it seems likely that both Bubba Starling and Brett Phillips will make the active roster, as they are both out of Minor League options, but still solid defensive outfield replacements who could be quite valuable if they can turn around their fortunes at the plate (Starling is this Spring…Phillips not so much). That being said, even with the addition of both, the Royals should still have one more roster spot available for someone to nab by the end of Spring Training.
Hence, let’s take a look at each player individually, and what each would offer the Royals as the “26th player” on the active roster in 2020.
Why McBroom makes sense for the spot
McBroom is not only expected to compete for the 26th active roster spot this Spring, but there is an outside chance that he could steal the first base job from Ryan O’Hearn, who had a lackluster 2019 after a strong finish to 2018. McBroom does not offer the power upside that O’Hearn possesses, but it’s possible that McBroom may be a more complete hitter. While O’Hearn has been more of a home-run hitter in both the Minors and at the Major League level, McBroom hit for higher average in Triple-A than O’Hearn. In 2017, O’Hearn hit .232 in Triple-A, and followed it up with a .262 mark in 2018. While he did hit .295 in Omaha last year, he started the year with the Royals, and hit only .195 over 370 plate appearances.
As for McBroom, in 2018, he hit .324 in Double-A Trenton and followed it up with a .295 average over 393 plate appearances in Scranton Wilkes-Barre, the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. And McBroom continued the high-average, solid power approach in the International League, as he not only posted a .315 average with SWB, but he also hit 26 home runs and posted a slugging of .574 over 482 plate appearances.
McBroom didn’t necessarily transition the power from SWB to Kansas City in his late-season call up with the Royals shortly after being acquired from the Yankees. Over 23 games and 83 plate appearances, McBroom didn’t hit a home run and he only posted a .360 slugging. However, he did hit .293, which is almost 100 points higher than O’Hearn. Furthermore, McBroom has impressed early this Spring in the Cactus League, as he is hitting .286 with a home run and two RBI, highlighted by a dinger in today’s game against the Rangers.
It will be interesting to see if McBroom will usurp the first base spot from O’Hearn. While McBroom out-hit O’Hearn in 2019 with the Royals average-wise, the rest of the numbers are fuzzy, as McBroom actually posted a worse BB/K ratio than O’Hearn (0.28 to 0.39), and their swinging strike and contact rates were remarkably similar as well (10 percent and 75 percent, respectively). So, if O’Hearn can continue his power surge, and maybe hit the ball on the ground a little less this Spring (he had a GB rate of 1.29 last year, an increase from the 0.75 mark he had during his breakout 2018 campaign), it’s hard to see O’Hearn losing the job to McBroom by Opening Day.
However, what makes McBroom intriguing is that he could be a great platoon option against lefties at first base, and he does offer some outfield versatility as well. Thus, if Mike Matheny and Dayton Moore want some insurance for O’Hearn, then McBroom would be the best option that would help the Royals the most from the 26th spot on the roster.
Why Reynolds makes sense for the spot
While adding McBroom adds some first-base insurance and outfield versatility, the Royals may need some depth in the infield, especially with Adalberto Mondesi’s health a question mark. While Mondesi is expected to be ready for Opening Day, it does seem like they will have some limitations on him early in the year so he doesn’t re-injure anything and miss a long stretch of time like last year. (Apparently he may start the year with a no-dive rule, which they tried to do at the end of last season.)
Thus, the Royals would benefit from a utility infielder in the 26th spot, especially with Whit Merrifield expected to move the outfield full time. While Whit certainly can play second base, all advanced metrics show that he was average to mediocre, and it may benefit Whit to play full time in center field so he can develop some feel and aptitude for the position long term. Also, Nicky Lopez should be a mainstay at second as well as Franco at third, and thus, any infielder off the bench should be available to play any of the three main positions in the infield (second, short, and third) to give those guys a spell, not necessarily take their position entirely.
And Reynolds fits well with that type. He can play third, second, and shortstop in a serviceable manner, and he has potential to play the outfield in a pinch. Furthermore, it would be likely that Reynolds would relish the role as a utility infielder, and would not conflict with Royals players or management in terms of getting more playing time. Reynolds is a plain and simply a stopgap option, and considering the Royals are still rebuilding and a couple of years away from seriously contending, Reynolds is a cheap, versatile backup who could be valuable off the bench due to his utility in the field.
Of course, while Reynolds can field, the main question that has dogged him over his professional career is whether or not he can hit at the Major League level. Over 127 professional games with the Mets and Nationals, Reynolds has a career slash of .223/.295/.340 at the Major League level, with only a .635 OPS and 0.25 career BB/K ratio to show for it. Furthermore, Reynolds did not receive a call up from the Nationals last year, instead toiling the entire year in Triple-A. While he did post a solid line with the Fresno Grizzlies of .295/.401/.521 over 449 plate appearances, with 16 home runs and 65 runs scored, this line came as a 29-year-old. That’s not exactly impressive or promising for a potential Major League player, and if anything, his performance may be a sign that Reynolds may be more of a Four-A player than serviceable Major League infielder.
Furthermore, Reynolds’ status as a non-roster invitee also presents a challenge for the Royals should they want him to fill that utility role. In order to clear space, the Royals most likely would have to release someone from the 40-man roster, which is difficult to discern as of this moment. While Reynolds’ utility would be welcomed on this Royals team in 2020, it is unlikely that Moore would want to sacrifice someone like Starling, Phillips, or catcher Cam Gallagher (who’s off to a great start this spring) in order to have Reynolds on board.
Who will be the better fit for the Royals?
McBroom is definitely an offensive upgrade over Reynolds, but Reynolds’ infield flexibility makes him an enticing option, especially if Erick Mejia or Humberto Arteaga don’t show much this Spring. Reynolds may be a poor-man’s Ben Zobrist or Whit, but if he can hit at a Chris Getz-level, that may be enough for him to garner that 26th spot since he will be used mostly as a bench player. After all, it is not Ned Yost managing this roster, and thus, Royals fans won’t see a Getz-like player starting in Kansas City under Matheny (at least hopefully not anyways).
However, Reynolds’ hitting is a big question mark, and considering his .125 average and .375 OPS through 8 at-bats this Spring, he’s not exactly doing anything early thus far to prove Royals fans or management he’s turned it around. Granted it’s a long Spring, but Reynolds will have to show some strides if he legitimately wants to steal the 26th spot from McBroom.
As for McBroom, he’s off to an early lead over Reynolds for the spot, and if he continues to mash in Surprise, it’s not out of the question to see him get the nod on Opening Day against the White Sox on March 26th in Chicago. It’s O’Hearn’s job to lose, probably, but McBroom is making his case that he deserves some consideration for more playing time in Kansas City in 2020, and if he continues to make noise at the plate and impress, it’s only going to make Reynolds’ candidacy for an active roster spot unlikely by the end of Spring Training.