SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Before Royals camp was suspended, the club was still monitoring several position battles that were crucial to the 2020 team.
Here’s a look at the four major position battles:
1. No. 5 spot in rotation
Spring Training didn’t reveal a lot in terms of who will be the Royals’ No. 5 starter. Because that spot wouldn’t have been needed until at least two weeks into the season, it wasn’t a high priority on manager Mike Matheny’s list of things to do. When camp was suspended, it seemed right-hander Jorge López, ticketed for long relief in the bullpen, was the most likely candidate to be stretched out for that job. But interestingly enough, Kansas City also had kept right-hander Brady Singer, the team’s No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, in camp. And Singer was scheduled to make at least one more start in Spring Training, suggesting that the Royals were seriously considering him as the No. 5 guy. That plan likely would have included having Singer stay in extended spring training to be stretched out if the season had begun on schedule. Kansas City has not been enslaved to roster manipulation in the past, meaning that even though having Singer join the rotation that early in April would have chewed up a year of his service time, the Royals are more concerned about winning now.
2. First base
Matheny raved about Ryan O'Hearn's potential all offseason, and O’Hearn proved worthy of that praise in camp, hitting five home runs in 13 games with a 1.252 OPS. When the season eventually starts, O’Hearn will be the everyday guy. Ryan McBroom's impressive spring (three homers, three doubles, 1.026 OPS) solidified his spot on the 26-man roster and also likely solidified his role in a soft platoon with O’Hearn, meaning that Matheny will protect O’Hearn against some tough lefties.
3. Outfield reserves
One of the big questions going into camp was what the Royals would do with backup outfielders Brett Phillips and Bubba Starling -- both of whom are out of Minor League options. Both are exceptional defensively and have above-average speed. But could Kansas City afford to carry both? After a slow start, Phillips had a respectable .387 on-base percentage. Starling had a 1.208 OPS with three doubles and three home runs. Before camp was suspended, it seemed more and more likely that the Royals would keep both Phillips and Starling on the Opening Day 26-man roster, mainly because the other 26-man candidate, utility man Erick Mejia, probably wouldn’t have been needed in that role early in the season -- and Mejia wasn’t on the 40-man roster anyway. Kansas City, like many MLB teams, tends to go with the philosophy that you don’t make roster moves until you absolutely have to -- meaning both Starling and Phillips probably would have made the roster coming out of camp. The situation could change when we resume camp.
4. Final bullpen spots
There were plenty of questions marks regarding the makeup of the bullpen going into camp. Here’s what we did know entering Spring Training: Closer Ian Kennedy and setup men Tim Hill and Scott Barlow were going to make the team, and López, out of options, also was a lock. As camp progressed, it became apparent that right-hander Glenn Sparkman, converted to the bullpen, was safe as his velocity spiked to 96-97 mph in a short relief role, that’s what the Royals wanted to see from him.
It also became apparent that non-roster invitees Trevor Rosenthal and Greg Holland would become valuable assets to the bullpen. That’s seven spots there. Right-hander Josh Staumont, who has Minor League options, has wowed the coaching staff with 10 strikeouts and no runs allowed in six outings. That could be eight spots. Because Kansas City wouldn’t have needed a fifth starter until at least two weeks into the season, it became evident that several pitchers were competing for a final ninth spot. Those in contention included two players out of options, Randy Rosario and Jesse Hahn, and Rule 5 Draft pick Stephen Woods Jr., along with others with options, including Kyle Zimmer, Kevin McCarthy, Jake Newberry, Richard Lovelady, Tyler Zuber, Chance Adams and Daniel Tillo. When camp was suspended, it appeared Rosario had edged into the lead for that final spot with a 1.42 ERA in six outings.