I was hoping to have this post out on Tuesday, but it’s been a busier-than-expected couple of days of work. Nonetheless, while this post didn’t go out yesterday as planned, the Royals Spring camp did officially begin, with some early shots surfacing from the Royals camp in Surprise, Arizona.
Safe to say, those photos should get Royals fans excited, even if the PECOTA projections from the Baseball Prospectus crew for the Royals aren’t exactly promising (they are projecting roughly 62 wins).
Honestly, I think that’s kind of low, but it makes sense with a roster full of unproven talent for the most part. But that’s a post for a different time.
Let’s take a look at my predictions for the Royals’ Opening Day roster for the 2023 season.
Salvador Perez is going to be the starting catcher on this team in 2023. That’s probably the surest bet for the upcoming Royals season. Salvy still wants to catch, and as the highest-paid player on the team, he’s going to get his wish, even if his defense may be regressing. When he’s not being the plate, he will be expected to get regular time at the DH position, as his power is definitely needed at the top of the order.
I only listed Salvy here because I do believe MJ Melendez will get some time behind the plate, though I think he will see less time at catcher in 2023 in comparison to 2022. While he certainly struggled defensively at catcher (his DRS and framing metrics were actually worse than Salvy’s), I do not think the Royals give up on him just yet, especially considering his age and upside.
The Royals will treat Melendez’s situation in a similar way to how Arizona handled Daulton Varsho, who saw spot time at catcher in his first two seasons (2020 and 2021) before fully transitioning to the outfield in 2022 (he’s expected to do the same in 2023 with Toronto).
Fermin could earn a spot here with a torrid Spring, and he’s off to a good start after an impressive campaign in Venezuela this Winter. What could put Fermin over the top in Cactus League play though is his defense, as the Royals desperately need a good framing catcher with Salvy and MJ being so awful at it.
If Fermin can show some ability in this area, he could steal a roster spot, especially with manager Matt Quatraro and bench Paul Hoover coming from a Rays organization that valued framing so highly.
Vinnie Pasquantino, Michael Massey, Bobby Witt, Jr., Hunter Dozier, Nicky Lopez, Matt Duffy, and Nick Pratto
Pasquantino, Witt, Dozier, and Lopez seem like Opening Day locks to me at this point. Witt is going to be the Royals’ Opening Day shortstop, though who knows how long he will last at the position. Dozier also seems to be projected to be the Royals’ Opening Day third baseman, especially after comments from GM JJ Picollo at the Royals Rally.
Pasquantino’s bat is going to be needed on an everyday basis, but I am not as certain that he’ll be the everyday first baseman (more on that later). And Nicky’s defense is a valuable asset to have, even if his bat took a step back in 2022.
After that though, I think the infield is going to be more interesting than Royals fans may think, especially at first base.
Before getting to that position, I do think Massey not only makes the Opening Day roster but nabs the starting second base position on March 30th as well. Massey would have to have a really subpar Spring to lose the job (and Nicky would have to be scorching at the plate as well). Massey’s defense wasn’t great metrically last year, but I do think that was mostly due to the small sample size, as he did win a Minor League Gold Glove in 2021.
I also think that the Royals will carry another utility infielder who can help give Dozier days off, especially when he’s in the midst of rough streaks at the plate (which could be often based on the past couple of years). The prime candidates are Johan Camargo, Samad Taylor, and Matt Duffy. Taylor has the advantage of being on the 40-man roster already, but Camargo and Duffy have both proven more at the MLB level than Taylor.
Duffy to me is the one who emerges because he seems more like a natural at third base, and he has ties to Tampa Bay (he played for the Rays organization from 2016 to 2019). Q and Hoover know what Duffy can do over the course of a full season, and I think Camargo and Taylor would have to really impress those two if either wants to make the Opening Day roster.
The last spot may be the most polarizing, but I think it makes sense when diving into the Royals’ needs and situation.
It appears that many Royals fans are under the impression that Edward Olivares is going to be the “regular” DH for Kansas City in 2023. While I think that isn’t the worst idea (especially with Olivares’ shortcomings with the glove), I also have found it fascinating that Royals fans and experts haven’t mentioned Nick Pratto as a possibility at either DH or at first with Pasquantino sliding over to the more regular DH role.
Pratto metrically was slightly behind Vinnie on an OAA basis (1 to Pratto’s -1), but Pratto did show more range and was two runs better on a DRS end as well (0 to Vinnie’s -2 mark). Pratto also won a Minor League Gold Glove in 2021, and his defense has been widely lauded throughout his time in the Royals’ Minor League system.
Now, Pratto’s defense is already MLB-ready and could be helpful, especially with the new shift rules intact for 2023. But what about his offense?
Let’s take a look at the ZiPS projections between Pratto and Olivares:
As Royals fans can see, Pratto has more HR, RBI, and wRC+ upside than Olivares. Really the only category where Olivares would outshine Pratto would be batting average. Other than that though? Pratto, according to ZiPS, could be the better play, not just in the long term, but in the short term as well.
Honestly, I think Royals fans would be more optimistic about this squad, especially after 2023, with Pratto at first on Opening Day and Vinnie at DH rather than Vinnie at first and Olivares at DH.
MJ Melendez, Kyle Isbel, Drew Waters, Nate Eaton, and Edward Olivares
Did you see in the Royals’ Twitter post where Melendez was playing? Yep, the outfield, and I think the Royals are going to do a lot of work this year to ensure that he can be the Royals’ starting left fielder on Opening Day. When Salvy needs a rest, I think Melendez moves behind the plate to catch, with Olivares being the guy to slide in at left field, where his porous defense will get least exposed.
I talked about this in my Spring Training positional battles post, but I think Isbel starts in center field and Waters in right on Opening Day. Eaton to me earns the bench outfield spot, and I think he’ll play mostly in right field on days when Waters moves to center and Isbel has a day off. Eaton’s combo of range and arm strength makes him an ideal candidate in right field at the K.
With Dozier being “identified” as the Royals’ “favorite” at third base, I think Eaton doesn’t see much time at the hot corner, barring an injury. That said, I also think Dozier at third benefits Olivares as Dozier would have gotten time in left field if the Royals wanted to incorporate him in a utility role like Matheny did over his tenure as Royals manager. While Olivares’ defense certainly isn’t good, it is better than Dozier’s in the outfield.
Zack Greinke, Brady Singer, Jordan Lyles, Daniel Lynch, and Brad Keller
The first three spots are pretty much locked into the rotation barring injury. Greinke is the most high-profile pitcher the Royals have; Singer had the best season for a Royals starting pitcher last year; Lyles was their best free-agent pitching acquisition.
I also think Lynch is not necessarily a lock, but a favorite to earn the other spot. Lynch would have to experience a rough Cactus League campaign to not make the Royals’ rotation out of Spring Training. That said, that was a similar situation for Singer last year, and he failed to earn a spot in the rotation on Opening Day after a mediocre performance in Arizona. So Lynch isn’t getting a spot regardless of performance (unlike the other three).
That leaves the fifth spot up for grabs, and I think Keller, Ryan Yarbrough, Kris Bubic, Jon Heasley, Max Castillo, and Angel Zerpa could all be candidates.
Keller to me though is the most likely to nab the spot, as he has shown spurts of being a good starter at times since debuting for the Royals in 2018. His 2022 was actually better than 2021, and he was looking to be on his way to having a good season before things fell off a cliff for him command-wise in the second half. He’s got a good two-pitch combo with his four-seamer and slider, and he could be more effective as a starter if Quatraro is able to pull the hook on him in sooner (and maybe follow him up with Yarbrough or another long reliever).
He’s also in the last year of team control, and he could generate some trade interest. If the Royals do want to trade Keller (and it is likely that they do since signing him to an extension would be tough), then showcasing him in the rotation for the next few months makes the most sense.
Ryan Yarbrough, Amir Garrett, Josh Staumont, Taylor Clarke, Aroldis Chapman, Scott Barlow, Dylan Coleman, and Nick Wittgren
I don’t think Yarbrough makes the rotation, but I think he finds a role as a swingman type who can help Quatraro pull the hook on starters early when the situation merits it. Carlos Hernandez and Castillo could also satisfy this role if they have solid spring campaigns, but it’s unlikely that Quatraro wants to carry two of those guys at the same time.
Hernandez was left off because it sounds like he will be granted an extra Minor League option. If that’s the case, the Royals can be a lot more patient with him. But this is a critical season for him to show that he can contribute to the pen in a meaningful way. If he doesn’t, he could be a DFA candidate before the end of the year.
Garrett, Staumont, and Clarke should bring a solid veteran presence to the middle innings.
Garrett was a pretty good pitcher against lefties in 2022, and though he had control problems, I think he’ll benefit from the pitching coach reshuffling this off-season. Staumont is another bounce-back candidate as injuries held him back in 2022. If healthy, he could be a critical piece in the middle innings, which should suit him better than the high-leverage situations he pitched in over the past two years.
Clarke was a dependable strike-thrower who had a rough start but performed much better once after he got past a rough stretch in Colorado and Arizona. Before Chapman, I thought he would be a setup guy, but the addition of Aroldis should push him back to the middle relief, which like Staumont, could be a better fit for him and his profile.
Chapman and Barlow should be locked into the late innings, and I think Coleman gets there too, though he’s less of a sure thing compared to Chapman and Barlow. Anne Rogers, MLB.com’s Royals writer, left Coleman off her projections, which makes me wonder if there is something we don’t know about Coleman. Until something breaks about him though, I am penciling in Coleman, who was one of the Royals’ best relievers down the stretch.
My last candidate is Wittgren, who is currently a non-roster invitee.
I went back and forth between him and Josh Taylor, the latter whom the Royals acquired from Boston in the Adalberto Mondesi trade. Taylor has a lot of ability and was pretty good in 2021, but he didn’t really pitch in the Majors in 2022 due to injury (he had some Triple-A innings). I think the Royals take it slow with him and make him the first call-up from Omaha, especially with him having options.
As for Wittgren, he has familiarity with Sweeney from Wittgren’s days in Cleveland, which should give him an inside edge like Duffy. While Wittgren struggled in 2022, he also pitched for the Cardinals, who also didn’t have the best pitching coaching structure either (they let Mike Maddux go after the 2022 season). The Royals need a guy who can generate groundball double plays to get out of innings, and Wittgren has the profile to fit that role.
If Wittgren struggles though in the Spring, look for either Jose Cuas or Collin Snider to fill that spot.
Photo Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images
13 thoughts on “Predicting the Royals’ Opening Day Roster (Version 1.0)”
Pratto feels like a weird case to me. I don’t know exactly where the org stands on him, but it feels like a lot of the fanbase has already given up on him or forgotten about him completely. Sure, he definitely has some areas in need of major improvement, but I also saw some really good things last year too. Seems premature to bail on him at this point. I wonder if part of that is the Vinnie P effect (& I agree that they hype on him feels warranted) combined with the Royals’ questionable roster construction. Ideally, Pratto proves he can hit and wins the 1B job- his best value is there- and Vinnie takes over as full-time DH, more or less. But I don’t know how you do that when Salvy is going to need to DH a fair amount when he’s not catching, and that is going to only get worse as time passes.
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I totally agree. I get that Pasquantino is the favorite at first, but it just feels weird to me too that a lot of Royals fans and analysts aren’t even putting him in the running for a job this Spring. He showed some good things (especially with defense) and his power transitioned well to the Majors. Cutting down the K rate will be important, but he still drew a lot of walks to boot. I think with more regular playing time and exposure to MLB pitching he could be a solid 1B, though he will always be on the low average end as a hitter.
As for the Salvy bit, I do not think he will DH as much as we think. He still will do so, but I also think the Royals are developing enough depth to where he doesn’t need to play 158-160 games a year either. While I think Salvy will still slide into DH, I also think Q will give him more days off than Matheny in order to preserve his health (and develop depth) in the long run.
I agree with what you’re saying on Salvy- his usage may be an early indicator of how different the new regime will be. Salvy is the kind of player who wants to play every day, whether it’s in his best interest or not. I mean, he also seems like a team player and not the type to make a public spectacle of his personal gripes, but I’m sure the new coaches don’t want to get sideways with the franchise, even behind closed doors. It’ll be interesting to see how they navigate that.
Mr. O’B, how and why does Carlos Hernandez merit an additional minor league option?
Here’s how an extra option year would work according to MLB.com:
“Players typically have three option years, but those who have accrued less than five full seasons (including both the Major and Minors) are eligible for a fourth if their three options have been exhausted already. For the purposes of this rule, spending at least 90 days on an active Major League or Minor League roster during a given season counts as one full season. Players also earn a full season if they spend at least 30 days on an active Major League or Minor League roster AND their active-roster and injured-list time amounts to at least 90 days in a given season.”
Currently, he has 1.145 of service time (year and 145 days), and I don’t think he really fully exhausted the 90 days in ’22 or ’20. Furthermore, I know the options of the ’20 season are kind of given a grain of salt. Kyle Zimmer was out of options going into 20, but he was given an extra one due to a similar situation, though it wasn’t announced until Spring Training games started.
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