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Who might make Royals' Opening Day roster?

@FlannyMLB
January 7, 2020

KANSAS CITY -- Royals general manager Dayton Moore wasn’t kidding when he said he and his staff would be searching for a value-based third baseman on the free-agent market. And with Moore’s signing of free agent Maikel Franco, the former Phillies third baseman, the Royals’ projected roster for 2020 changed

KANSAS CITY -- Royals general manager Dayton Moore wasn’t kidding when he said he and his staff would be searching for a value-based third baseman on the free-agent market.

And with Moore’s signing of free agent Maikel Franco, the former Phillies third baseman, the Royals’ projected roster for 2020 changed significantly.

Here’s an early look at the projected Opening Day roster. And remember, rosters expand to 26 this season.

Catcher
Lock: Salvador Perez
Possibilities: Cam Gallagher, Meibrys Viloria

There will be strong competition in Spring Training between Viloria and Gallagher. Both have options. There can be an argument made that Viloria has the higher ceiling and therefore would be better off getting more playing time in the Minor Leagues, but the Royals also believe that Viloria could handle limited playing time at the big league level and learn behind Perez. Gallagher is a solid backup.

First base
Locks: None
Possibilities:
Ryan O'Hearn, Ryan McBroom, free agent

The camp battle for the starting job will be between O’Hearn and McBroom. It's possible that the Royals keep both O'Hearn and McBroom and platoon them, though Kansas City also has Hunter Dozier available to play first as well. Both O'Hearn and McBroom have options.

Second base
Lock: Nicky Lopez
Possibility: Whit Merrifield

Nicky Lopez likely showed enough during the final few weeks of 2019, even with an injured hand, to prove he can handle the job. The Royals know he can defensively, for sure. He made strides down the stretch at the plate. And, of course, Kansas City always has Merrifield, who is likely ticketed for center field, if Nicky Lopez falters.

Shortstop
Lock: Adalberto Mondesi
Possibilities: Lopez

There is some uncertainty here, because Mondesi’s left shoulder surgery after the season puts his readiness by Opening Day somewhat in doubt. If he can’t go by then, Nicky Lopez will go to shortstop and Merrifield will take over at second base.

Third base
Locks: Franco, Dozier
Possibilities: None

Dozier’s breakout season offensively and defensively last season seemingly made him the third baseman of the future. The Royals, though, like Dozier’s versatility, and they will float him somewhat like they do Merrifield. Franco gets the everyday job.

Utility
Locks: None
Possibilities:
Humberto Arteaga, Matt Reynolds, free agent

The Royals already have a super-utility man in Merrifield, so this position isn’t really that necessary unless Mondesi can’t go by Opening Day. Arteaga and Reynolds are possibilities to fill it if that’s the case, or Kansas City could shop in free agency.

Outfield
Locks: Merrifield, Dozier, Jorge Soler, Bubba Starling, Brett Phillips
Possibilities: Alex Gordon, Khalil Lee (Royals' No. 4 prospect), Nick Heath, free agent

Gordon presumably will return for one more season, though nothing is official yet. If that’s the case, he will be back in left field. Dozier will start in right, with Merrifield in center. Starling and Phillips are out of options, and the Royals really need to find out if they are part of the future; each will get some playing time, because even if Gordon comes back, chances are he won’t play close to every day. Soler likely will DH more than anything else.

Starting pitchers
Locks: Brad Keller, Danny Duffy, Jakob Junis, Mike Montgomery
Possibilities: Glenn Sparkman, Jorge López, Jesse Hahn, Eric Skoglund, free agent

There has been some internal talk of moving Junis to the bullpen with the thinking that his slider is more effective just once through the order. Hahn is back from right elbow repair surgery, so it will be interesting to see how he fares in camp. The Royals still are trying to get the gifted Jorge López on track, but one wonders how much patience they’ll have. Moore said at the Winter Meetings that Kansas City’s bullpen could be better off with Jorge López and Sparkman in it. Moore certainly will be looking for cost-efficient free-agent starters as well. Yes, it’s possible that a prospect -- such as Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, or Daniel Lynch -- will blow away new manager Mike Matheny at camp. But generally, the Royals prefer to make such promotions after the season has started.

Relievers
Locks: Ian Kennedy, Scott Barlow, Jorge López, Tim Hill
Possibilities: Hahn, Kyle Zimmer, Kevin McCarthy, Randy Rosario, Jake Newberry, Heath Fillmyer, Richard Lovelady, Josh Staumont, Gabe Speier, Trevor Rosenthal, Chance Adams, Stephen Woods Jr., free agent

Jorge López, Hahn, Zimmer and Rosario are out of options, which will give them possibly a slight edge going into camp. But the guess here is that the competition will be wide open, and it will surely include a free-agent signing. Matheny will be reunited with Rosenthal, who will get every chance to make the squad. Some prospects who could win a job include Daniel Tillo (No. 30).

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @FlannyMLB.