SURPRISE, Ariz. -- There will be scarce position battles expected in Royals camp this spring, other than Ryan O’Hearn vs. Ryan McBroom at first base.
And there is some intrigue with whom manager Mike Matheny and his staff will pick as their fifth starter, though that decision can wait until at least April 8 because of early off-days in the schedule.
But where will there be the most intense competition? In the bullpen.
“I’m really looking forward to that competition,” Matheny said. “We have a lot of pitchers in camp (39) and everyone brings something a little unique to the situation. It will be interesting.”
Here’s a rundown of the bullpen competition -- there likely will be eight spots to fill:
Locks: Right-hander Ian Kennedy, left-hander Tim Hill and right-hander Scott Barlow.
Inside track: Right-handers Jorge López, Glenn Sparkman, Trevor Rosenthal, and Greg Holland.
On the bubble: Right-handers Kevin McCarthy, Jake Newberry, Stephen Woods Jr., Jesse Hahn, Chance Adams, Kyle Zimmer, Josh Staumont, Braden Shipley, Tyler Zuber, Heath Fillmyer, and Scott Blewett; left-handers Randy Rosario, Daniel Tillo, Richard Lovelady, and Gabe Speier.
And actually, there are many more young prospects who could crack the 26-man roster, though it is unlikely as most are ticketed for the Minors.
The Royals seem set with the back end of their bullpen. Kennedy was 30-of-34 in save opportunities in his first year as a closer in 2019 and likely will be even better this year after a year under his belt.
Barlow had a 1.77 ERA through mid-May before falling into a dreadful slump. But Barlow finished strong (1.71 ERA over his last 23 games) and rival scouts say he probably has the best overall stuff in the bullpen. The Royals have high hopes they will see a dominant Barlow in 2020.
Hill, too, had his ups and downs in 2019. But like Barlow, Hill finished strong with a 2.38 ERA in September. And Hill can get righties out (.238 batting average against in 2019), which is a big factor with the new three-batter minimum.
Matheny and his staff seem committed to using López and Sparkman in the bullpen. Lopez is out of options, meaning he is pretty close to a lock. Sparkman has two options left, but the Royals believe he can bump his velocity up to the upper 90s in a bullpen role and are curious to see if he is a fit there.
Rosenthal and Holland are veterans hoping to have bounce-back years, and both seem like they would have to virtually pitch themselves off the roster during camp. Matheny wouldn’t concede that, but said, “That experience certainly factors in.”
If Rosenthal and Holland grab spots, that might mean a dozen or so pitchers are fighting for one final spot in the eight-man bullpen -- provided Sparkman is not optioned out.
The decision will be even more fascinating because some of those contestants, such as Hahn, Rosario and Zimmer, are out of options.
“Those factors always play into it,” Matheny said.
And Woods is a Rule 5 selection, meaning he either makes the team or must be offered back to Tampa Bay. But the Royals don’t feel obligated to hang onto a Rule 5 pick like they did with Brad Keller two years ago unless Woods is so good he gives them no alternative.
McCarthy and Newberry have experience but both have options, as do Lovelady, Staumont and Speier.
“It’s going to be perhaps the most interesting part of Spring Training,” Matheny said, “to see which of these guys steps up.”
Salvy gets thumbs up
Catcher Salvador Perez, who had Tommy John surgery last March, was examined by his surgeon, Dr. Neal ElAttrache, on Thursday. All indications are that Perez is on schedule to start on Opening Day.
“It was an excellent report,” Matheny said. “Very positive and no restrictions.”