4 Royals storylines to watch entering camp

June 30th, 2020

KANSAS CITY -- Back in March, when Spring Training was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Royals still had several curious ongoing storylines.

One of those storylines -- how injuries would affect shortstop Adalberto Mondesi and catcher Salvador Perez -- has since been resolved, thanks to the extra months of healing.

Royals manager Mike Matheny said last week that Perez, coming off Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, wouldn’t have to be brought along slowly now and should be capable of a full workload. Mondesi, coming off left shoulder surgery in the fall, was a big question mark for Opening Day in March. But he isn't anymore for the season’s reset.

Here’s a look at some of the storylines that remain open-ended as the Royals begin workouts Friday and start the process of formulating their 30-man roster for the new Opening Day of July 23 or 24.

1. Who will win the first-base job?
Matheny had raved all offseason about the potential of Ryan O’Hearn, his hard-hit rates and his willingness to stay more positive about himself. It seemed Matheny was virtually awarding O’Hearn the job.

Then along came Ryan McBroom, picked up from the Yankees late in the 2019 season. McBroom wowed Matheny and the coaching staff with a torrid spring, posting a 1.026 OPS with three home runs and three doubles.

But O’Hearn was even better, posting a 1.252 OPS with five home runs.

The battle will continue in Summer Camp, but now with a 30-man roster, it seems clear that Matheny won’t have to chose one or the other to make the Opening Day roster. They both will.

2. Who will be the fifth starter?
When the Royals left Spring Training, Matheny wasn’t all that concerned about naming a fifth starter -- that spot in the rotation wasn’t going to come up until two weeks into the season because of off-days. His approach likely will change, however, with a new schedule that will squeeze 60 games into basically two months.

Interestingly, right-hander Brady Singer, the Royals' No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, was still in camp when Spring Training was suspended. He still could be a candidate for that fifth spot.

There isn’t a ton of depth of potential starters past the top four -- Brad Keller, Danny Duffy, Jakob Junis and Mike Montgomery. Matheny talked, too, about getting creative with the No. 5 spot, meaning he could go with an opener and have his long-relief guys such as Jorge López or Glenn Sparkman piggyback.

3. Bubba or Maverick at first?
Backup outfielders Bubba Starling and Brett “Maverick” Phillips were in an intense battle for possibly one spot on the then 26-man Opening Day roster. And both Starling and Phillips are out of options, which was testing the Royals’ practice of holding on to inventory.

With a 30-man roster -- it will go to 28 two weeks after Opening Day, then to 26 two weeks later -- the Royals can probably buy some time with the Starling vs. Phillips issue.

Starling was having a superb camp with a 1.208 OPS, three doubles and three home runs. After a slow start, Phillips was coming on toward the end, raising his OPS to .733.

Because center fielder Whit Merrifield and right fielder Hunter Dozier can also play the infield, and may be asked to do so regularly, the Royals may want to go with both Phillips and Starling and essentially carry six outfielders -- including Jorge Soler, who will primarily play at designated hitter.

4. What about the final bullpen spots?
Again, having a 30-man roster to start might free up some decision-making, though Matheny said he doesn’t expect to use the four extra spots just on pitchers.

But there are some things we know, starting with right-hander Trevor Rosenthal, who was so dominant in spring (9 Ks, no walks and no runs allowed in five outings) that the Royals plopped him on the 40-man roster late in March. Rosenthal now is a lock to the make the 30-man, along with Ian Kennedy, Scott Barlow, López (out of options) and most likely Tim Hill.

The final five or six spots on the staff get intriguing. Randy Rosario and Jess Hahn are both out of options; the Royals have a chance with the new roster limits to keep inventory there. Greg Holland was having a solid spring minus one shaky outing, but he will have to be added to the 40-man roster. Power righty Josh Staumont was impressive, striking out 10 in six outings with a 0.00 ERA. Rule 5 Draft right-hander Stephen Woods Jr. showed some promise before a high left ankle sprain shut him down, but he’s healthy now. Lefty Richard Lovelady was having a fine camp, striking out six in five outings with a 0.00 ERA.

Righty Tyler Zuber (8 Ks, 1.50 ERA in five outings) certainly has a shot at cracking the 30-man, as does lefty Daniel Tillo, though neither are on the 40-man roster, which is full.