It’s about this point in the spring when things start to get a little more serious. Opening Day is now less than three weeks away and the rosters are starting to become clearer. Most good teams come to camp with maybe three or four open spots that can be won during the spring, and that’s the case with the Royals. The last couple spots in the bullpen were up for grabs, maybe a bench role and second base. What I find interesting about spring are the players who do enough for themselves to maybe not make the team out of camp, but to put themselves in the conversation for a promotion later in the year.
Before we get into that, let’s look back on the previous articles in the Spring Training Questions series.
Who has increased their stock during spring training?
I’m going to start with Mondesi even though I already wrote about him. He might not only be setting himself for the future but for the now. He’s on this list because I think he was the longest of shots among the four competing for the starting second base job, and now the consensus is that he might have the job almost locked up to start the season. We’ll see how he fares after coming back from his collision the other night, but the Royals love him. While I disagree with the idea that he’s ready for the big leagues because of a handful of spring at bats, he is the one guy of all the players battling for a job who could actually be a difference maker.
Joel Sherman tweeted over the weekend that the Royals might be interested in making up for the lost athleticism with the Jarrod Dyson trade, and that makes some sense to me. I’d love to be wrong here, and I think Mondesi is doing everything he can to win over the coaching staff to get him on the big league roster today.
If you listen closely, and sometimes not even that closely, you can hear guys who the coaching staff and front office falls in love with during the spring. Last year, Matt Strahm was that guy. I figured he’d find his way up at some point in a relief role based on both his performance and what was said about him. This year’s talk is about Caramo. At a glance, his peripherals are about as unimpressive as can be, but he did pitch to a shiny 2.45 ERA in 114 innings last year at Northwest Arkansas. The issue is he only struck out 67 batters. You’d really like your relievers to have more swing and miss capabilities.
Where Caramo excels is in his control (just 23 walks in those 114 innings) and in getting the ground ball, which is a nice weapon to have out of the bullpen. Sometimes you just need a guy who can coax a double play. The control is a wonderful bonus. You’d definitely prefer to get the strikeouts out of the bullpen, but as a sixth or seventh reliever, Caramo could be valuable and the Royals are talking him up like he’s a guy to watch during the season. As someone who has started, he could be a long relief option beyond 2017 as well, which has value too. He’s a guy who’s done a lot for his stock during camp.
It might be a little weird for someone on a big league contract paying him $4 million to be on this list, but given the expectations, I think it’s fair to say he’s earned his way onto it. When camp started, I wasn’t willing to include him on the big league roster, but all he’s done is thrown six shutout innings with four strikeouts and one walk and has looked really good. Barring injury (which is always a concern with Minor), he’s ticketed for the big league bullpen and I think could be a really big weapon for the Royals this year. If he can even prove to be an above average middle reliever, he’ll earn that salary and then some.
Bonifacio has seemingly been in the Royals system since the Herk Robinson era, but it hasn’t really been that long. He made some strides last year, hitting .277/.351/.461 in Omaha and he’s still just 23. What he’s done in the first few weeks of spring has put him on the map to be one of the first guys up in case of either injury or ineffectiveness. His defense has shown well in Surprise and .429/.455/.714 mark through 21 at bats in spring hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Bonifacio isn’t likely to be a star, but after hitting .240/.305/.416 in Northwest Arkansas in 2015, he needed a strong 2016 and a strong spring to really get back on the radar for the Royals as a guy who can contribute down the road either this year or in the future.
There’s talk now that Alexander may be able to make the club out of spring training, which makes sense considering he’s thrown 6.2 scoreless innings with six strikeouts and just one walk. I’ve always been a fan of Alexander and I think Ned Yost has too, so this isn’t really much of a surprise, but it’s nice to see him take hold of the opportunity. It also appears that he’s got his health issues under control, which helps. Alexander has seen big league time in each of the last two seasons and has a 3.60 ERA in 21 games with 6.8 strikeouts per nine and 3.6 walks per nine. He’s been easier to hit than I’ve expected, but I think he could be a nice weapon as a potential third lefty out there.
I debated putting him on this list, but he’s done a lot of really good things this spring, not the least of which is showing off power that this organization has probably never seen. O’Brien will strike out and he will strike out a lot, but I think that might just be one of those things you have to live with. He’s worked three walks so far this spring, which is something he struggled with in the past. The power, though, is undeniable. I’ll keep talking about that until he’s no longer in the organization.
I don’t think the Royals see O’Brien as a piece that they necessarily need in 2017, but I do think they are intrigued by the potential and have a chance to add a real weapon to the offense if someone goes down or isn’t performing well. He’s helped himself quite a bit.
Andrew Edwards, Luke Farrell and Eric Stout
I group these three together. I haven’t heard much about Edwards and Stout, but I’ve been impressed. Both have shown that they have good enough stuff to pitch in a big league bullpen and I wouldn’t be surprised if either or both are up at some point and contributing. Stout at 6’3″ could be a really imposing lefty out of the bullpen and is coming off a decent season in AA. Edwards throws very hard and sometimes even knows where it’s going. Both could be really solid pieces at some point and have had good springs heading into Monday’s action. Farrell is a guy who we hear about a lot, but I just don’t see the stuff there to be anything more than a AAAA guy. I guess there’s value in that, but his name is mentioned enough that I suppose we should mention him here too.
There’s still a couple weeks left of spring training for more to prove themselves, but these are a few players who have improved their stock to the point that I think they’re great candidates to contribute to the 2017 Royals.