Predicting the Royals’ Opening Day Roster (Version 2.0)

Opening Day is swiftly approaching, as we are 12 days away, as of Saturday, March 18th. NCAA March Madness is capturing the sports nation right now, especially here in the Kansas City area (due to Kansas and Kansas State’s participation and a regional being hosted in Kansas City). That said, baseball fans are ready for the MLB regular season to begin, even with the World Baseball Classic wrapping up.

Before the beginning of Spring Training, I took my first crack at predicting the Royals’ Opening Day roster.

Now nearly a month later, I am ready to unveil another version, especially since I have a slew of Spring Training and WBC games to base my decisions on this time around.

Let’s move on to version 2.0 of my Royals Opening Day roster predictions.

Catcher: Salvador Perez

Backup: MJ Melendez

Salvy has had a WBC to remember, as he not only helped Venezuela win a difficult pool (it included Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic), but he also earned MVP honors as well in pool play.

Something dramatic would have to happen for Salvy to not be behind the plate on March 30th against the Twins. Then again, one can never be too certain, as Mets closer Edwin Diaz tore his ACL after celebrating their dramatic win over the Dominican Republic, which helped them advance to the quarterfinals.

Thus, the big question is not necessarily who will be the regular catcher in Kansas City. Rather, the bigger issue will be whether or not the Royals keep three catchers on the Opening Day roster, with the other two being MJ Melendez and Freddy Fermin.

Melendez is coming off a solid campaign with team Puerto Rico where he slotted in as the country’s no. 3 hitter. No one is questioning Melendez’s offensive ability, but his defensive ability has been questioned frequently since he debuted in May last year.

His framing has always been an issue, but Baseball Savant released a new metric called “blocking runs above average” and unfortunately Melendez didn’t profile much better in that area in 2022 either.

Melendez saw more time in the outfield with Team Puerto Rico in the WBC, and he was also seeing more time in the outfield this Spring. In addition, Freddy Fermin has shown some impressive athleticism and ability this Spring in Melendez and Salvy’s absence.

Fermin certainly has the chops to be the backup catcher full-time in 2023, but I am not sure if the Royals are ready to give him that role on Opening Day.

It seems like the Royals are going to want to maximize their hitting this season. While Fermin is certainly better than a Sebastian Rivero-type, I think the Royals will add other options to the bench that could give the lineup more hitting upside, even if they do not have Fermin’s defensive ability.

That said, I could see Fermin being part of this active roster by late May or early June and sticking up in Kansas City for the remainder of the season, especially if Melendez doesn’t show any progress defensively behind the plate either in his framing or blocking (which is highly plausible).

First Base: Vinnie Pasquantino

Backup: Matt Beaty

Much like Salvy, one can pencil in Vinnie to be the Royals’ starting first baseman on March 30th, even though he’s coming off an underwhelming campaign with Team Italy in the WBC (.200/.273/.200 slash in 20 at-bats; zero home runs and seven strikeouts). Pasquantino offers the offensive upside they need in the heart of the order, and defensively, he can handle the position, even if he doesn’t have the defensive upside of Nick Pratto.

As for Pratto, I had him on my original predictions (this was prior to the Franmil Reyes signing), and honestly, he’s done what he needed to do on a hitting end in Arizona.

In 11 games and 26 at-bats, Pratto is slashing .308/.387/.462 with four RBI, two doubles, and a triple.

While Pratto hasn’t necessarily done anything to NOT earn a spot on the Opening Day roster, I am not sure he’s outperformed Matt Beaty, who’s been on a tear since signing a Minor League deal with the Royals this offseason after a rough injury-riddled season in San Diego last year.

Beaty may not see a ton of time at first base, but he can slide in there when Vinnie needs a day off and he can also play the corner outfield positions if necessary. Beaty has also shown more power this Spring than Pratto (two home runs to Pratto’s zero) and has struck out less to boot (5 to Pratto’s 11).

I’m not sure Beaty will last a whole season in Kansas City. However, I think he’s earned his spot on the roster as a left-handed bench bat for now and should be a contributor for a couple of months until Pratto is ready for a long-term assignment with the Royals at first base.

Second Base: Michael Massey

Backup: Nicky Lopez

Lopez had a great WBC, as he is tied for the WBC lead in hits with 9 (along with Puerto Rico’s Francisco Lindor and Mexico’s Joey Meneses). That being said, he is coming off a rough campaign in 2022 that saw him regress from a 105 wRC+ in 2021 to a 57 wRC+.

Based on his xwOBA rolling chart breakdown, it’s hard to see a bounce-back coming for Lopez in 2023, especially since he struggles to generate hard contact at the plate.

As for Massey, he’s been tearing it up this Spring in Lopez’s absence, as he is slashing .333/.345/.741 with a team-high three home runs in 27 at-bats. Massey has also produced against MLB players in Cactus League play, as evidenced by this grand slam off of likely White Sox Opening Day starter Dylan Cease.

Lopez will be a valuable utility infielder for the Royals who will play multiple positions for Kansas City this season (unless he’s traded of course which isn’t out of the realm of possibility).

But in terms of the starting job on Opening Day at the keystone position? That should belong to Massey.

Shortstop: Bobby Witt, Jr.

Backup: Lopez

This is another no-brainer, even though Witt hasn’t gotten much playing time with Team USA in the WBC. While his defense is a concern, Witt has the upside to really take a major step forward on the hitting end, and perhaps be one of the best offensive shortstops in the American League in 2023.

So who will back up Witt when he needs a day off?

Right now, it’s going to be Lopez, though Maikel Garcia has certainly made noise as a candidate to make the Royals’ Opening Day roster (especially with the Royals testing him out at third base and outfield this Spring).

Garcia has nine hits this Spring, but he has also struck out six times and only walked once. Plate discipline was something that regressed for him when he moved to Omaha, so I think Garcia could use a month or two to polish that up and continue to develop his power, which did mature a bit in the move to Triple-A.

I would expect Garcia to make his way to Kansas City in June or early July by the latest, though that could get expedited if Lopez should get traded at some point in the first couple of months of the year.

Third Base: Hunter Dozier

Backup: Matt Duffy

Dozier seems to have captured the third base job this Spring as he is slashing .286/.355/.464 with a home run and three RBI in 28 at-bats. The glove has always been questionable at the hot corner, but it sounds like Dozier has been putting in work with infield coordinator Jose Alguacil this Spring to improve in that area (among other things, like his swing as well).

I don’t buy into the Dozier “comeback” in 2023, but I get that the Royals need to do this in order to improve Dozier’s trade value. In terms of his backup, I think Matt Duffy gets the nod, mostly because he can play multiple positions as well. Duffy was my original pick for a bench spot at third, and I think that remains the case especially after hitting .391 this Spring.

Plus, I think Duffy is a veteran presence who is familiar with this staff since his days with the Rays, and manager Matt Quatraro will want someone with that kind of background around, especially with the lineup going to be particularly young.

Outfield: MJ Melendez (LF); Kyle Isbel (CF); Edward Olivares (RF)

Backup outfielders: Nate Eaton, Beaty, and Franmil Reyes

The outfield will be the biggest question mark for the Royals in 2023, especially in the wake of the Drew Waters injury.

I think Melendez starts in left field for the Royals on Opening Day and that is his primary position for the upcoming season. He mostly played in right field for Puerto Rico in the WBC, but I think that was more due to Eddie Rosario being the left fielder (Rosario is limited defensively). Nonetheless, Melendez showed in the WBC he could play solid outfield in right, so it’s not out of the question to think he sees time at both corner outfield positions for Kansas City this season.

Isbel has earned the center field job in my mind though I’m curious to see if Jackie Bradley, Jr. can make a push in these next couple of weeks.

Bradley got off to a late start due to signing after Spring Training had started and is questionable offensively (.733 OPS this Spring). That said, if the Royals do not believe Nate Eaton can play center field, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bradley get a roster spot and Eaton optioned to begin the year.

Speaking of Eaton, I think the starting job in right comes down between him and Edward Olivares and the loser ends up being optioned to Omaha. Eaton seems like the more likely candidate to be demoted to Omaha, especially with him having three options remaining. That said, Eaton has really looked solid at the plate this Spring (.391 average; .982 OPS) and has also played multiple positions across the field (including some time at second base).

I could see Eaton and Olivares (and maybe even Bradley, Jr.) existing together if the Royals believe that Eaton can satisfy that infield utility role that Duffy would have. I’m not ready to call it just yet, but Eaton is surging at the plate and could earn that role by the conclusion of Cactus League play.

Designated Hitter: Franmil Reyes

Backups: Salvy and Vinnie

Reyes had to prove himself this Spring to earn a roster spot on the Royals for the 2023 season (he only signed a Minor League deal). And so far, he’s done just that, as he leads the Royals with 12 hits this Spring, which includes two home runs and nine RBI.

The former Cleveland Guardian has looked motivated, in shape, and is showing a much better eye at the plate this Spring (four walks to eight strikeouts). Furthermore, it seems like he is bringing great positive energy to the clubhouse, something this young Royals squad needs for the upcoming season.

Expect Salvy and Vinnie to also see time at the DH position (and maybe even Melendez when he needs those days to rest his legs). But Reyes will be the Opening Day DH and I could see him having a big year in what could be his lone season in Kansas City.

Starting Pitchers: Zack Greinke; Brady Singer; Jordan Lyles; Daniel Lynch; and Brad Keller

Not much has changed from my pitcher predictions, as Lynch and Keller have looked good enough to earn those final rotation spots. Jon Heasley is already out of the running as he was optioned to Triple-A after a disastrous nine-run outing against the Angels on Friday.

The only one who could make a case is Kris Bubic, who started the spring late due to a shoulder issue.

Bubic has seemed to benefit from new pitching coach Brian Sweeney, as he has struck out seven while allowing zero runs in five innings of work this Spring. In addition, he has only walked three and allowed four hits in three outings, and his slider has been more frequently seen this Spring after getting tabled at the start of the 2022 campaign.

I think Bubic starts in Omaha so he can continue to refine and gain confidence with his slider in 2023. That said, he’s been surging as of late, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Quatraro utilize him in perhaps a “swingman” role, especially with Ryan Yarbrough struggling with minor injury issues this Spring.

Relief Pitchers: Scott Barlow; Aroldis Chapman; Dylan Coleman; Taylor Clarke; Amir Garrett; Josh Staumont; Carlos Hernandez; and Josh Taylor

I’m leaving Yarbrough off this list because I don’t think he’s totally healthy, and I could see the Royals starting him on the IL to begin the 2023 season. That could open up an opportunity for Bubic to get that role, but I see that this Royals organization is valuing long-term development over just meeting short-term needs. That is refreshing considering how they did the inverse a year ago with Brady Singer or Jackson Kowar.

Originally, I had Nick Wittgren making it and I still think he has a shot considering his familiarity with Sweeney. However, he hasn’t had a great Spring (3.60 ERA in five appearances), and I’m not sure he’s giving the Royals anything out of the pen that they couldn’t get with Clarke, Staumont, or Hernandez, with the latter two having great Springs in the Cactus League and the WBC, respectively, so far.

For the last spot in the bullpen, I went with Josh Taylor, who’s been hit around a bit in Cactus League play (3.18 ERA), but gives them a proven lefty who will limit walks on the mound.

One lefty I have been intrigued by is Richard Lovelady, who’s been spectacular this Spring. In seven outings and seven innings of work, he hasn’t allowed a run or walk and has also struck out nine batters to boot.

Lovelady was granted an extra Minor League option this offseason, so I think he starts in Omaha, especially after a year in which he only pitched four total innings due to recovery from Tommy John. He will be an early call-up candidate though, especially if Taylor struggles out of the gate.

Photo Credit: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


5 thoughts on “Predicting the Royals’ Opening Day Roster (Version 2.0)

  1. Mr. O’B, Do you think Carlos Hernandez has a future as a starter, and do you trust that Staumont will continue to flourish, what with the pitch clock in effect? Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think Hernandez will be back in rotation unless there’s an absolute emergency. His stuff plays better in relief and in shorter stints. The WBC and this Spring in limited Cactus League play has shown that.

      As for Staumont, it appears that he’s made the adjustment quite well with the pitch clock. David Lesky wrote about this, but it seems like Staumont’s long pitch time probably was detrimental. The shorter pitch clock has kind of forced him to work quickly, which so far has been a much better strategy for him. I can see it as well, as I think he’s a cereberal guy who can tend to over-think things. I remember at Fanfest back in ’20, he talked about the struggle of adjusting from a starter to a reliever. I think he’s going to benefit a lot from the new coaching staff as long as he stays healthy.


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