The Royals got off to a nice start yesterday, winning their spring training opener 6-1.  Billy Butler hit a home run, Lorenzo Cain went two for two, Luis Mendoza pitched two scoreless innings and it was apparently a super great day in Surprise.   If one wanted to, one could delve at great detail into what transpired on the diamond yesterday, but it would mostly be a waste of time (although it’s sure nice to have a box score to look at again, isn’t it?).  

Instead, let’s reset the Opening Day roster and narrow the focus on what the real battles this spring are.

Several weeks back, Ned Yost intimated that he would likely break camp with a twelve man pitching staff, which opens up one additional bench spot for the position players.   There is not much math to be done here as the Royals are as set in the field as probably any team heading into the season.

The catchers will be Salvador Perez and Brayan Pena.   While Pena was the odds on favorite to win the backup job even before Manny Pina was injured, he is a lock now.  We will probably see Pina in the majors at some point this season, but it won’t be in April.

First base and designated hitter are locked down by Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler, while the left side of the infield is also locked in with Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar.   Even the utility infield spot is a certainty with free agent signee and everyone’s favorite Royal Yuniesky Betancourt back in the fold.    I have grown to accept this signing and will find it tolerable  as long as Betancourt’s name is on a lineup card two times or less per week.

The remaining infield spot, second base, is Johnny Giavotella’s to lose.   As long as Johnny hits the ball hard regularly this spring and does not boot every grounder hit to him, he will be the Opening Day second baseman.  If he flounders horribly, then Chris Getz will get the nod.   There is a theory out there that Betancourt will end up playing second more than anyone else this year and it might well come true, but it won’t happen in April.   It will be Giavotella or Getz and, given both have options, the loser will be the opening day second baseman for Omaha.  

The outfield is set as well:  Gordon, Cain and Francoeur with Mitch Maier all but assured of the fourth outfield spot.  Maier is proof positive that if you work hard, keep your mouth shut and not mope about playing time, people will like you.  When people like you, they are happy to let you be their fourth outfielder.

If you are doing the math, you know that leaves one open spot for a position player.  The odds on favorite is Jarrod Dyson because he brings crazy, silly ability to the basepaths.  Although the Royals’ starting three all are viewed as plus defensive outfielders (in one fashion or another), Dyson is also a tremendous defender.  The last bench spot is really Dyson’s to lose with his only real  competition coming in the form of Chris Getz (assuming he loses the battle Giavotella) and possibly Kevin Kouzmanoff. 

I really do not believe the club will keep Getz on the big league roster to start the year, simply because he only plays second base and, again, has an option left.  It makes more sense to play Getz every day at second in Omaha while the club gets a good look at Giavotella.   With regard to Kouzmanoff you have a good deal of big league experience at third base and a right handed hitter to give Moustakas a break against tough lefthanders, but he also brings little versatility to the table positionally speaking.   Besides, how often do you really want to sit Mike Moustakas this year anyway?

Truthfully, it is Jarrod Dyson on the bench with Maier, Betancourt and Pena and the only real roster question is Giavotella or Getz.  You can watch all the other guys who get into games after the fifth inning all you want and listen to Yost and Moore discuss all their options to your heart’s content, but in the end there is not much left to be decided here.

Now, onto the pitching.   What happens with the last two spots of the starting rotation will have a tremendous effect on who makes the team as relievers.   Many/most of us believed that when the Royals announced that Aaron Crow would get a look at starting that the likely result would be that Crow would end up in the Omaha rotation to start the season.  The club, however, has indicated that should Crow not make the big league rotation, then he will break camp in the big league pen.

In addition, Dayton Moore seems to have a bit of an obsession over having lost Philip Humber one off-season ago and seems driven to make sure the out of options Luis Mendoza does not surface in Minnesota or Pittsburgh or wherever as a decent fourth or fifth starter.  Given that, should Mendoza not win a starting rotation spot, it seems very likely that he would also break camp in the bullpen.

We are getting ahead of ourselves, however. 

The rotation will have Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen and Jonathan Sanchez.   Some of you may debate whether that makes sense, but the Royals have already locked these three in.   From there, rather curiously, they have not assured Felipe Paulino a spot, despite the fact that he probably had as good or better 2011 than any of the top three.    While the organization will regale us with a long, long list of potential candidates, you can pretty much focus on five names:  Paulino, Mendoza, Crow, Danny Duffy and Mike Montgomery.

Five names, two spots and, quite honestly, four names for one spot as I think Paulino is a double secret lock for the number four spot.  Keep in mind, Paulino is out of options and has been a disaster working out of the bullpen in his major league career.    All indicators would point to Paulino being all but a lock for the fourth rotation position.

That leaves one spot open with Danny Duffy the leader for this spot.  He could certainly pitch his way out of it and is not quite in the ‘his to lose’ position, but Danny has the inside track.  Should Duffy not win the fifth spot (and keep in mind, the Royals need a fifth starter basically right away to start the season), he almost certainly goes to Omaha and not to the pen.  Ditto for Mike Montgomery, who will have to blow everyone away to make the team out of camp.

Basically, this will be the most hotly contested spot on the 25 man roster this spring.   Again, while the Royals are likely to throw a whole bunch of names at us over the next month, the competition is really just Duffy, Montgomery, Crow and Mendoza.   Which brings us back to the bullpen.

In my opinion, there are four locks in the pen:  Joakim Soria, Jonathan Broxton, Greg Holland and Louis Coleman.    That leaves three spots open, with one of those almost certainly going to a lefty.   The enigmatic Jose Mijares has the inside track, but I would not consider him a lock.   His competition is Tim Collins and Everett Teaford.  The Royals did not spend enough to sign Mijares to make it prohibitive to cut him and both Collins and Teaford have options.   The club can quite honestly award the first, maybe only, lefty spot in the pen to the whomever pitches the best.

Now, we are down to two bullpen spots and should Danny Duffy win the fifth starter spot, you can pretty much hand both of those to Aaron Crow and Luis Mendoza.   Additional competition here comes in the form of Kelvin Herrera, Blake Wood and the other two lefties mentioned above.   Again, we will be inundated with all sorts of names this spring, but the battle really comes down those mentioned above.

If you are willing to concede second to Johnny Giavotella,  a rotation spot to Felipe Paulino and a bench spot to Jarrod Dyson, you can then narrow your focus on camp battles to the fifth starter, left handed reliever and two other bullpen spots.  

It is spring training, where the box scores generally include twenty players, so hopefully this will let you zero in on the guys who are really battling for a big league job.   While there are not a lot of open jobs, it does not mean that this spring will be boring.  In fact, this is certainly the most exciting spring in many years.  It has been a long time coming.

xxx