Analyzing the good, bad and upside of the Royals opening day 25- - KCTV5 News


Analyzing the good, bad and upside of the Royals opening day 25-man roster

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Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy grabs the rosin bag during the first inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas, Monday, May 11, 2015. (AP Photo/LM Otero) Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy grabs the rosin bag during the first inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas, Monday, May 11, 2015. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Spring training’s over, the weather’s heating up and allergy season is kicking into full form.

Three signs that baseball season is also in the on deck circle, with fans chawing at the bit to officially hear that wondrous crack of the bat.

With gates opening at Kauffman Stadium in less than 24 hours, here’s a look at how the final Royals’ opening day 25-man roster will look.

Catchers: Salvador Perez*, Drew Butera, Cam Gallagher

After winning it all in 2015, the combination of Perez and Butera is the only unit still remaining three years later. Royals fans have counted on Perez to serve as the rock behind the plate for five years now, but he now faces the first major injury of his professional career.

Manager Ned Yost announced the All-Star catcher will miss four to six weeks with a grade two MCL sprain. He will start the season on the disabled list, while Butera starts and Gallagher backs up.

When he does return, Perez has increased his home run total every season of his major league career, hitting a personal best 27 home runs at age 27 last year. He also set new highs in RBIs and slugging percentage, and Kansas City will count on Perez to be an anchor in the middle of a lineup looking to replace production from Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain.

Butera’s batting average dropped from .285 in 2016 to .227 last season, but the veteran’s rapport with the pitching staff still has great value. The key factor to watch behind the plate this year is just how many games Perez and Butera play.

Perez has caught 698 games over the past five years, more than any other catcher in baseball, and Kansas City will need a fully healthy Perez when their next window to contend comes around. Sending him out there 140 games in a rebuilding season may not be in the best long term interest, but with how important he is to the team and city, it may be hard to keep him down.

Infield: Lucas Duda, Whit Merrifield, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Cheslor Cuthbert, Ryan Goins

Prove it. That’s simply the mindset each of these infielders will likely have throughout 2018, and could result in surprising seasons. Duda hit 30 home runs last season but no team offered him more than one year in the offseason. Moustakas made the All-Star game and set a franchise record for home runs in a single season, yet didn’t get offers outside of a one-year deal.

There’s no such thing as a bad one-year contract, because the player is heavily motivated to produce at a high level in order to maximize their return in the winter, and if it fails, you’re not locked in long-term. Duda, Moustakas and Escobar, also on a one-year deal following a sub optimal 2017 campaign, will all have this motivation to turn in career years. Whether or not they’ve peaked remains to be seen.

The motivation for Cuthbert is different, as even though he’s had tangible major league success, this is his first real opportunity as a main contributor. This year serves a season where Kansas City has to find out what young players they’re going to build around, and how Cuthbert performs will determine his fate. Same goes for Merrifield entering his first season as an opening day starter.

Outfield: Alex Gordon, Jon Jay, Jorge Soler, Paulo Orlando

While there’s reason to feel actually optimistic about the infield, the outfield situation should be more of a hopeful optimism, rather than one rooted in fact. Jay could fit very nicely into a spacious park where his speed and gap hitting approach can flourish, and the Royals will count on his career .355 OBP to show up again at the top of the order.

Perhaps this is the year that Soler puts it all together and consistently showcases that raw power, without a strikeout every game, or perhaps Orlando recovered from his injury and can serve as an average starting player at age 32. And perhaps Gordon’s dreadful spring training average of .127 and steady decline over two years will halt this year, but there’s no strong evidence to support that any of that will be the case in 2018.

Starters: Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Jason Hammel, Nate Karns, Jake Junis

The unquestioned strength of the team has the sneaky ability to really push this team past common expectations, if healthy. Duffy at age 29 has the talent to put together an All-Star caliber season, which he’s shown signs of in the past, while Karns and Junis appear to be on the upswing of their young careers as well.

Hammel and Kennedy are just a year removed from great seasons with sub-3 ERA’s, and both battled different hurdles last season that they feel will not appear again in 2018. But both are in their mid-30s, Karns has never stayed healthy, Junis has just half a season of major league success and Duffy has never reached 180 innings pitched in a season.

Every starter has undeniable flaws and there’s valid reason to doubt they’ll reach their potential in 2018. But, if there’s any group that has the ability to reach or even surpass their perceived ceilings, it’s the starting rotation. If everyone stays healthy, it could be these five players that have the Royals in better shape come July than one might originally have thought.

Relievers: Kelvin Herrera, Brandon Maurer, Brian Flynn, Justin Grimm, Blaine Boyer, Brad Keller, Wily Peralta, Burch Smith

Just as the infield gives reasons to hope and the outfield is more of a prayer, the starting rotation gives reasons to hope and the bullpen is more of a prayer. The good news is that leading up 2017, general manager Dayton Moore had always shown the ability field an above average bullpen, even when losing 90 or more games.

Of course the 2014-2015 bullpens, arguably the greatest back end of all-time, will not be appearing in Kansas City this year, but Moore has cleaned house from last season and fans should have at least some kind of trust that he hasn’t lost his bullpen touch.

Herrera struggled at times in 2017, but the back of his baseball card says that he should return to form in his 28-year-old season. Maurer and Grimm have back end bullpen stuff, but have never put it all together. Both are candidates to surprise and settle into a 7th or 8th inning role, while the rest is a mix of young and old hoping to capitalize on a pitcher’s park and top defense.

Roster depth: Jorge Bonifacio, Bubba Starling, Hunter Dozier, Eric Skoglund, Jesse Hahn, Trevor Oaks, Ramon Torres, Kyle Zimmer, Kevin McCarthy, Tim Hill, Richard Lovelady, Heath Fillmyer

Bonifacio returns after an 80-game suspension, and following a somewhat breakout rookie campaign, figures to slide into a close to every day role in place of whoever is struggling the most. Dozier, Zimmer and Starling are former first round picks that have lost some of their original luster, but still could reach the bigs in 2018.

Skoglund, Hahn and Oaks are the three most likely candidates to enter the rotation whenever an injury occurs, while McCarthy and Hill are the most major league ready arms whenever the bullpen needs a shot in the arm.

First pitch for opening day on Thursday is set for 3:15 p.m. at Kauffman Stadium.

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