Spring Training has begun, with the Royals convening on their complex in Surprise, Ariz., to prepare for the 2021 season. It doesn’t look the same as in typical years, but excitement about what this season could bring is still in the air.
“You look at what this club was able to do last year, and what we saw inside those walls, and how the group as a whole was getting better on a very consistent basis and clicking right when you were hoping they would click,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “Unfortunately, we had to sit and watch other teams make the playoffs, and that gives you a little bit of an edge, too, especially after you’ve been playing well and after 60 games, you’re not tired. You’re watching us catch momentum.
“Overall, I think it was something that you saw just kind of building. That to me is the vibe. Positive momentum forward. Jump on, let’s go. Then it’s, ‘Let’s get better every single day.’ They’re going to hear that every day. You can’t help but sense the vibe of excitement because of some of the momentum that we have.”
Here’s what you need to know as Spring Training gets started:
Given the pandemic, how is Spring Training going to be different this year?
Many of the COVID-19 protocols that teams went through in 2020 have been implemented at Spring Training complexes in '21. The arrival of players for daily workouts is staggered to limit interaction, and when they arrive, they’re greeted with tents outside the clubhouse for things like eating. Most of the weight room has been moved outside, and the team is operating out of two clubhouses and two training rooms to limit the volume of people in one room.
Matheny said his goal is to limit the amount of time a group is standing around together, so each meeting and drill is limited to 15 minutes. He has his timer set for when meetings start, and when the 15 minutes are up -- even mid-sentence, he said -- the group disperses.
Mask-wearing is essential when players aren’t on the field, and players, coaches and staff will be tested every other day.
When is the first Spring Training game?
The Royals kick off their spring slate against the Rangers on Feb. 28 at 2:05 p.m. CT. Kansas City will be the home team at Surprise Stadium.
How can I watch/listen/follow Spring Training games?
Fox Sports Kansas City and the Royals Radio Network will broadcast a certain number of Spring Training games. There should be an announcement coming this week on the schedule.
On March 5, ESPN will broadcast the Royals’ spring game against the Dodgers. First pitch is set for 2 p.m. CT at Surprise Stadium.
What are the key roster battles to watch?
The Royals made moves to meet their offseason goals, but the roster battles will pick up in the spring. In the infield, a few players will be fighting for bench spots. Hanser Alberto signed a Minor League deal and can provide depth in the middle infield. Ryan McBroom and Ryan O'Hearn will compete for the backup first baseman, corner outfield or designated hitter spots, while Emmanuel Rivera, a non-roster invitee, could make a case for backup third baseman.
As for the outfield, Nick Heath’s speed could help off the bench, while Edward Olivares could see some time there, too. The key outfielder to watch this spring, though, is Bubba Starling, a non-roster invitee who signed a Minor League contract with the Royals. His defense in center field keeps him in the game, but his offense needs to improve. This season could provide critical answers about the former first-round Draft pick’s future with Kansas City.
Despite having five starters heading into camp, the Royals do still have rotation battles to work through as well. It remains to be seen what the starters’ workloads will look like to open the season, so a six-man rotation might be one method to keep pitchers healthy after an unprecedented 2020 season. Ervin Santana signed a Minor League deal and could help to start the season. Prospects Carlos Hernandez, Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar could push themselves into the mix with impressive springs.
Finally, the bullpen makeup offers tons of competition, even with the Royals returning most of their relievers. Jakob Junis could find himself in the back end, helping in late-game situations. Wade Davis could be there if he’s healthy and gets back to where he was a few years ago. And the way that Jesse Hahn, Kyle Zimmer and Josh Staumont follow up on their strong seasons last year will be something to watch for in Spring Training.
Who are some prospects to keep an eye on in camp?
Lynch and Kowar were mentioned above because they are the most likely of the top prospects -- ranked No. 3 and 4, respectively, in the organization, according to MLB Pipeline -- to break camp with the club. Their performances will be worth watching all spring long.
Left-hander Asa Lacy, the Royals’ first-round Draft pick in 2020, will be able to showcase to a larger audience the strides he made in his first summer with the organization.
When is Opening Day and who is the opponent?
The Royals open the 2021 season on Thursday, April 1 at Kauffman Stadium against the Rangers. First pitch is set for 3:10 p.m. CT. Friday, April 2 is an off-day before finishing the series with Texas.
Who is the likely Opening Day starting pitcher?
Brad Keller was slated to be the Royals’ Opening Day starter in 2020 before the season was delayed and he tested positive for COVID-19. But the right-hander came back strong and put together an ace-like season, with a 2.47 ERA across nine starts (54 2/3 innings). He won the club’s award for Pitcher of the Year. Keller ranked fifth in the AL in ERA, and he recorded his first career shutout in the Royals’ 11-0 win over Pittsburgh on Sept. 13.
At Kauffman Stadium, Keller went 4-0 with a 0.27 ERA in 2020 -- and the Royals open the '21 season in Kansas City against the Rangers.
What is the likely Opening Day lineup and rotation?
LHP Mike Minor
LHP Danny Duffy
RHP Brady Singer
LHP Kris Bubic
1. Whit Merrifield, RF
2. Andrew Benintendi, LF
3. Salvador Perez, C
4. Carlos Santana, 1B
5. Jorge Soler, DH
6. Adalberto Mondesí, SS
7. Hunter Dozier, 3B
8. Michael A. Taylor, CF
9. Nicky Lopez, 2B
Is the team planning to sell tickets to regular-season games?
The organization is working on the best way to safely sell tickets, but it is planning on having some fans in the stands in 2021. More information will be available at https://www.mlb.com/royals/tickets closer to the season opener.