KANSAS CITY -- The Royals begin the 2022 season with new faces on their roster, as well as the veteran core. Some will be making their Major League debut in their first appearance -- Bobby Witt Jr. and Collin Snider -- while some will be making their Royals debut, with Amir Garrett and Taylor Clarke coming on as offseason acquisitions.
And one will be making his Royals return -- 12 years after he left. Zack Greinke will head to the mound Thursday as the Royals’ Opening Day starter, facing the Guardians at 3:10 p.m. CT.
Teams can carry 28 players (29 for doubleheaders) on their rosters from Opening Day through May 1. There is no limit on how many pitchers a team can have active during that time, but on May 2 they must cut back to 26 players with a maximum of 13 pitchers.
The Royals chose to have 15 pitchers and 13 position players. Here is the roster breakdown:
First base (1): Carlos Santana
Santana will be the Opening Day first baseman, with Hunter Dozier as the designated hitter. As the season moves along, it seems likely that Dozier will rotate between first base, right field and DH, based on days off for other players and how his own bat is performing. Ryan O’Hearn, listed as a bench option below, will also be able to play first base as needed.
Second base (1): Nicky Lopez
The Royals’ plan for their infield is to move Lopez back to second base and Whit Merrifield back to right field because that best accommodates Bobby Witt Jr. at third base. The backup plan, dictated by health or performance, would be to have Lopez at shortstop and Merrifield at second, and both saw playing time at those respective positions this spring.
Third base (1): Bobby Witt Jr.
The Royals made official what had long been expected by naming baseball’s No. 1 prospect to the Opening Day roster. Witt Jr. will make his debut at third base, and it’s the Royals’ preference to have him stay at that position for now as he settles into the Majors. He’s a natural shortstop and still viewed as one long-term, so if the Royals need him to move around the infield, he’ll be available to do so.
To make room for Witt Jr. on the 40-man roster, the Royals designated lefty reliever Daniel Tillo, who was expected to start the season in Double-A, for assignment.
Shortstop (1): Adalberto Mondesi
Before Cactus League games started, manager Mike Matheny acknowledged that the Royals’ best infield has Mondesi at shortstop. Matheny also emphasized that statement is subject to change because the Royals can’t ignore Mondesi’s past -- he played just 35 games last season because of two oblique strains and a hamstring injury. Mondesi is healthy as the regular season begins, and the 27-year-old can be an elite and dynamic player when he’s on the field. The big question is if this will be the season that he puts it all together.
Designated hitter (1): Hunter Dozier
In the first week of last season, Dozier jammed his thumb, came back too soon and changed mechanics in his swing, which led to a .680 OPS and a season worth putting behind him. Now, Dozier is coming off a red-hot spring and looking to bounce back while playing wherever the Royals need him -- DH, first base, right field or even third base if necessary.
The Royals will also use the DH spot to get Perez, Santana and other players off their feet while keeping their bats in the lineup.
Outfield (3): Andrew Benintendi, Michael A. Taylor, Whit Merrifield
Merrifield is the Opening Day right fielder, barring any injuries, but there will be times this season that he plays second base, whether to account for health or if someone in the infield needs a day off. Benintendi and Taylor are the two returning Gold Glovers in left and center, respectively, and are locks for the Opening Day lineup, with both entering their second year in Kansas City.
Bench (3): Ryan O’Hearn, Edward Olivares, Kyle Isbel
The Royals cleared a path for both Olivares and Isbel to make the team when they optioned third baseman Emmanuel Rivera to Triple-A on Wednesday. Both outfielders are coming off standout springs, essentially forcing their way onto the Opening Day roster. Both can handle all three outfield spots defensively and Isbel offers a lefty bat off the bench, while Olivares is a righty bat.
O’Hearn, who will be paid $1.3 million this season, will get opportunities where the Royals can find them, hoping to show that this is the year he can show consistency at the Major League level.
“Oli had one of the most impressive offensive springs that we’ve seen in a while,” Matheny said. “I think Izzy had a better spring this year than maybe he had last year when he made the team. Both of them did everything they could do. Now it’s going to come down to finding the right opportunities.”
Pitching staff (15): Zack Greinke, Brad Keller, Kris Bubic, Carlos Hernández, Daniel Lynch, Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Taylor Clarke, Josh Staumont, Jake Brentz, Scott Barlow, Amir Garrett, Gabe Speier, Collin Snider, Dylan Coleman
The rotation for the opening series will be Greinke, Keller, Bubic and Hernández, in that order. Lynch will be the fifth starter and will likely open the series against the Cardinals on Tuesday.
The back end of the bullpen seems to be set with Staumont, Barlow, Brentz and Garrett pitching high-leverage innings. Clarke has impressed this spring and could be a multi-inning reliever, while Snider could earn more high-leverage innings as the season progresses. He had an excellent spring and impressed with his sinker-slider combination -- one that could prove reliable for Matheny to turn to in tight spots.
Kowar and Singer will be in a “hybrid” role, Matheny said, appearing in long relief or in shorter stints with the chance to earn a start based on their performance.
“He’s taken significant steps forward,” Matheny said. “The messaging was just, 'Be prepared to pitch.'”
Coleman, a high-velocity arm with a biting slider, made the team because right-hander Joel Payamps, who is out of Minor League options, was placed on the Family Medical Emergency list on Thursday. Coleman was behind in workload during camp, but during his final Cactus League outing against the Reds on Monday, he showed what the Royals had hoped to see, flashing 100 mph and commanding the ball extremely well.
“You talk about a high-powered, high-velocity guy, and there were some things he needed to get resolved, so we slow played it,” Matheny said. “I didn’t know if he’d get enough looks or enough touches on the rubber in a Major League spring game to really feel comfortable. We went right down to the wire. … He brings something to this club.”