Breaking down the Royals 29 non-roster Spring Training Invitees into tiers

It’s a Super Bowl weekend, and even the Royals seem to be focused on the Chiefs defending their Super Bowl crown:

Furthermore, in addition to the Super Bowl, Kansas City folks may also be focused on the cold front coming our way, as this weekend may force people in the Metro to hunker down for the Super Bowl (not necessarily a bad thing with the pandemic and all):

However, for Royals fans, some interesting “non-hot stove” news was shared on Royals Twitter that should whet fans’ appetite for Spring Training:

Wow. It’s crazy to think that we only have 12 days until pitchers and catchers report. For me, personally, February 12th can’t come soon enough, as I am definitely itching to see baseball again not just at the Surprise complex in Arizona, but also Kauffman Stadium come April (fingers crossed).

The list is definitely not a surprising one (no invitees outside the organization who haven’t been announced yet), but it still carries a fair share of intrigue, nonetheless. Thus, I wanted to separate this list of Royals non-roster invitees into four different tiers, in order to give Royals fans a sense of what to expect from the 29 players listed. The tiers I created are as follows:

  • Possible Active Roster Guys: These are non-roster invitees who could perhaps make the active roster on Opening Day.
  • Possible 40-Man Roster Guys: These are non-roster invitees who could make a case for a spot on the 40-man at some point during 2020. It may not happen right away on Opening Day, but their additions to the roster could occur.
  • Prospects Who Need Experience Guys: These are non-roster invitees who will benefit from the experience of Spring Training, but are probably a year or two away from making the MLB roster.
  • Organizational Depth Guys: There is a slight possibility that these guys could make the MLB roster, but ultimately, these are players who are Minor Leaguers for the long term, and don’t have much of a shot to really make an impact at the MLB level, let alone the Royals.

Thus, with these tiers being set, let’s take a look at how I separated the 29 non-roster players and my reasoning behind why each player belonged in their respective, starting from the low-expectation ones (Organizational Depth Guys) to the more “heralded” ones (Possible Active Roster guys).

Organizational depth guys

Jake Brentz, Pitcher; Gabe Cancel, Infielder; Nick Dini, Catcher; Freddy Fermin, Catcher; Erick Mejia, Utility; Anderson Miller, Outfielder; Erick Skoglund, Pitcher; Gabe Speier, Pitcher; and Bubba Starling, Outfielder.

Some of these players on this list are pretty obvious. Fermin, Miller, and Brentz haven’t really been serious prospects in the past, as they have been pretty absent from most prospect lists out there. Cancel has an intriguing bat, as he showcases pop at the keystone position, and did okay last Spring in Cactus League play. However, he wasn’t added to the 60-man roster at any point last season, which may show that the Royals aren’t exactly “high” on him and his potential. Dini was on the 60-man, but COVID kept him from making the Majors. Unfortunately, with the addition of Sebastian Rivero to the 40-man roster, and MJ Melendez getting some work in at the Alternate Site last summer, it seems less likely that Dini will be back at the Major League level in 2021.

Mejia is back in the Kansas City organization after being non-tendered this Winter, but with the addition of Lucius Fox to the 40-man roster, Mejia’s “super utility” function has been taken over by a much younger, and higher upside option. Skoglund and Starling are on their last breaths not just in Kansas City, but in baseball in general, as it is probably likely that they didn’t receive much interest from organizations outside of Kansas City. Honestly, it would not be surprising to see either or both of them out of baseball after the 2021 season. That’s how low their stock is currently.

Speier was the toughest addition to this list, as he has pitched in Kansas City in limited work in 2019 and 2020. However, he’s pretty much a LOOGY (a lefty only guy) in an era where that kind of pitcher is less valuable. Considering his limited value against right-handed hitters, the Royals would probably be better off utilizing another lefty in their system, someone who has a little more upside than Speier.

Prospects who need experience

Jonathan Bowlan, Pitcher; Austin Cox, Pitcher; Clay Dungan, Infielder; Jon Heasley, Pitcher; and Alec Marsh, Pitcher

A lot of pitchers are on this list, but then again, a lot of the talent in this Royals system is on the pitching end as well. However, these are all pitchers who most likely will be transitioning to High or Double-A in 2021, and it’s unlikely that any of them will make the Major League roster, barring injury or a massive decline from some key Royals pitchers next season.

The only non-pitcher on this list is Clay Dungan, a middle infield prospect who was drafted in the ninth round out of Indiana State in the 2019 draft. He’s a low upside prospect, but he did tear it up for Idaho Falls in the Pioneer League, as he posted a .357/.427/.494 slash and .921 OPS in 65 games and 293 plate appearances. Furthermore, he also earned an invite to Spring Training over some other prospects such as Nick Loftin and Brady McConnell, which shows that the Royals front office may be pretty keen on him. Here’s a video of him from his time in college at Indiana State which gives a little more information about the little-known prospect:

Marsh and Cox have pretty live arms, and seemed to get some good work in at the Alternate Camp this summer. The Royals front office seemed to talk about these two the most this summer outside of the “Core Five” (Singer, Bubic, Lacy, Kowar, and Lynch). If they have a strong Spring Training campaigns, they could be dark horse 40-man candidates later in the year, if the opportunity arises (though unlikely).

Possible 40-man guys

Jeison Guzman, Infielder; Kyle Isbel, Outfielder; Jake Kalish, Pitcher; Jackson Kowar, Pitcher; Asa Lacy, Pitcher; Seuly Matias, Outfielder; MJ Melendez, Catcher; Nick Pratto, First Baseman; Emmanuel Rivera, Third Baseman; and Bobby Witt, Jr., Infielder.

This is where the list gets interesting. Kalish is added to the list because it appears that he and Speier are around the same level. It’s totally plausible that Kalish is simply an “organizational depth guy”, as he has been in Omaha for three seasons. However, I could see the Royals prefer him over Speier if they are looking for another lefty. Outside of Richard Lovelady, there aren’t a lot of left-handed reliever options available in the upper minors, which could play to Kalish’s advantage (even if it may be short-term).

Guzman was on the 40-man in 2020 (to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft), but he didn’t really get any playing time last season. He was removed and went undrafted, which was expected in an off-season where most teams were looking to save money. Guzman has potential with the glove, but his bat needs some work. If he does progress as hoped with the bat, he could find himself back on the 40-man roster, especially since his glove has always rated so highly. The same could be said for Melendez, who struggled with the bat in 2019 in Wilmington, but earned rave reviews for his work behind the plate defensively this Summer. If he does show any kind of progress with the bat next year, the Royals may add him to the 40-man, especially if they part ways with Meibrys Viloria, who is out of Minor League options.

Rivera and Matias are also interesting non-roster invitees, as they performed well this Winter in the Puerto Rican and Dominican Winter leagues, respectively. Rivera is more of a long shot, as he didn’t really do all that great in Double-A in 2019 (258/.297/.345 slash), but it will be interesting to see if he can carry over his strong performance in Purto Rico to Spring Training. As for Matias, he struggled with injury in 2019, but as evidenced from the video below, when healthy, his power is unmatched in the Royals farm system:

Witt and Lacy don’t have a whole lot of Minor League experience on their resume, but they are maybe the most highly rated talents in the organization as a whole. They earned valuable experience at the Alternate Site last summer, and it isn’t out of the question to think that the Royals will be aggressive with them in 2021. Lacy may have the better shot to make the Majors this year, simply because he’s a pitcher, and the Royals have been aggressive with pitchers before (Brandon Finnegan being a prime example). That being said, Witt is the kind of prospect the Royals haven’t had in quite some time, and he could make a case for a September call up should the Royals bottom out.

Kowar and Isbel may be around the same level on this tier, meaning that they may have the best shots of the group to make the 40-man and get serious time in the Majors, even if it may not be until later in the season. Kowar didn’t get a call up last year, but he pitched in Double-A, and his changeup may be the best pitch in the organization. As for Isbel, I wrote about him in my last post, and I think he may be closer to the Majors than people think. The Royals still haven’t added that left-handed bat in free agency, and I doubt they will (or one of serious note). Thus, it could be a sign that they believe Isbel may be ready, though they may need to see him perform at Double-A for a half-season or so before they pull the trigger.

Possible active roster guys on Opening Day

Hanser Alberto, Infielder; Wade Davis, Pitcher; Daniel Lynch, Pitcher; Ervin Santana, Pitcher; and Carlos Sanabria, Pitcher.

Alberto is the likeliest player of this bunch to make the active roster on Opening Day. In fact, I think he could be in a possible platoon at second base with Nicky Lopez, which makes more sense when one look at the metrics. After him though, there could be some heated competition this Spring for maybe one more spot, which may result in a pretty interesting Cactus League season, especially on a pitcher’s end.

Sanabria was claimed off waivers from the Astros early this Winter and he may be a dark horse out of the bullpen, if he can harness his control. Santana is a veteran presence who didn’t play in the Majors in 2019, but he displayed some increased velocity on his fastball this winter in LIDOM play, which could bode well for the rest of his pitching arsenal, as I talked about before on this blog. Davis brings all kinds of nostalgia and good memories, but he’s had legitimate struggles the past two years in Colorado, as well as a pretty big velocity drop. While Royals fans may think he’s due for a career bounce back in Kansas City like Trevor Rosenthal and Greg Holland a year ago, I think Royals fans should be more prudent with their outlook for Davis in 2021.

Which leads to the last person on this list: Daniel Lynch. I honestly believe Lynch could steal a spot on the active roster, and maybe start the year in the bullpen, ala Finnegan with the Royals in 2014. While Lynch’s long term outlook is in the rotation, it could be wise for Lynch to get limited work in the pen to start the year, and then eventually transition him to a starting role should one be available (which it most likely will). The Royals had success with this model with Brad Keller, whom they started out in the pen at the beginning of the year, and then eventually transitioned to the rotation later in the season. Granted, they had to do this because he was a Rule 5 pick, and they would have lost him had he been optioned to the Minors. That being said, I think Lynch would fit that same role well, and Kris Bubic proved last year that he could succeed even though he had only pitched at High-A in 2019 (the same situation as Lynch, who hasn’t pitched in Double-A yet).

Granted, Lynch would need to have a strong Spring to justify this. That being said, he had a strong Spring Training and Summer Camp last year, and it’s not out of the question to think that he could do it again in 2021. If he does well against Cactus League hitters this Spring, don’t be surprised to see Lynch on April 1st at Kauffman Stadium…

Even if it may be initially out of the bullpen.

(Photo Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)

4 thoughts on “Breaking down the Royals 29 non-roster Spring Training Invitees into tiers

  1. One of the last unsettled questions regarding the makeup of the 21 roster is a LHRP or two in the bullpen. Granted there is not as much of a need for a loogy as there used to be, but you’d have to figure the Royals need at least one if not two LHRP. As it stands now there are 3-5 candidates depending on how you look at- all with significant question marks.

    On the 40 man roster now:

    Angel Zerpa- protected from rule 5 draft, 19 years old and hasn’t pitched above rookie ball. Highly unlikely to see any MLB action this season.
    Daniel Tillo- has at least reached AA with modest results, and is on the 40
    Richard Lovelady- once a more highly regarded prospect who has struggled in limited opportunities at the major league level and has apparently lost some velocity, also currently on the 40 man roster.
    Danny Duffy- obviously a pitcher with quality stuff and a record of some success starting and relieving at the MLB level, but he’s never been able to start more than 28 games or exceed 180 IP in a single season. I’ve long thought he’d provide a lot of value in the pen but the Royal’s lack of SP candidates has prevented any serious consideration of moving him. Long shot perhaps but the emerging SP depth makes it more likely.
    Daniel Lynch- so many are soooo high on this guy that, especially given the relative success of Bubic and Singer, makes you wonder if he is either the 5th starter with Duffy moving to the pen or he pitches out if the pen until there is an opportunity to start. Not on the 40 man roster currently tho.
    I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the Royals add a LHRP through free agency as they tend to be the most budget friendly. Sean Doolittle would have been a nice addition. He just reportey signed a one year 1.5 mil deal.


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