You know spring training is already in full swing when Ned Yost is giving out snarky quips to reporters like it’s candy on Halloween. It sort of seems like it’s going to be a fun year of listening to Ned snap at questions that he doesn’t deem are worth his time. Maybe it’s because he fell out of a tree and almost died or maybe it’s because he’s pretty sure this is his last season. Either way, it’s entertaining. Unless he’s directing it at you. Then it’s not so entertaining. I asked Yost in pre-game a few years ago if Greg Holland would be available that night. He looked at me like he was the dumbest human being on the face of the earth and told me the answer is always yes even if the real answer is no. Okay then.
- It was back in September in this very space where I first mentioned the idea of Whit Merrifield playing center field for the Royals in 2018. It made sense then when my idea was for the Royals to find a veteran to put at second base to pair with the young Raul Mondesi. At the time, my fear was that they’d move Merrifield to center and still bring Alcides Escobar back and either put Mondesi at second base or do something worse. Well, at least one of the three things in that scenario have come true as Escobar has a hold on the starting shortstop job. The talk in camp is that Mondesi could push Merrifield off second base and into a super utility type role where he can play first, second, third and outfield, but I think if Mondesi pushes Merrifield to a different role, it’ll be center almost exclusively. And that would be perfectly fine, I guess, given the options. But I have this sinking fear deep inside me that instead of Mondesi pushing Merrifield to center, it’ll be Ryan Goins and he’ll play second just about every day and form a true noodle bat double play combo with Escobar. I guess if you’re rooting for losses, there are worse things in the world for the Royals, but man, I really don’t want to watch that every day.
- We’ll obviously learn a lot more soon enough, but for now, it’s all about speculation when it comes to the roster. After trading away Scott Alexander and Ryan Buchter, the Royals left-handed strength in the bullpen is pretty much gone. What that leaves is Brian Flynn as the leader in the clubhouse to be the top lefty in the bullpen in 2018. PECOTA projects him to post a 4.70 ERA, 4.89 DRA and 1.43 WHIP, so I guess you could say there’s some trouble on that front. He was much better than that in 2016, posting a 2.60 ERA (3.82 DRA) in 55.1 innings pitched. I actually like Flynn, so I think he has a good chance to beat the projection by a fair amount. Still, Flynn is one of those guys who is fine as a fourth or fifth option in the bullpen, but if he’s a second or third option, there’s trouble. Eric Stout and Tim Hill are both candidates to pitch out of the bullpen in 2018 as lefties, but the best bet for real success is likely Richard Lovelady. He only has 33 or so innings at AA, but his projection is a fair amount better than Flynn’s, and the upside is pretty significant. As I said the other day, though, I certainly wouldn’t rush him to the big leagues in a lost season. It’s not about service time, but rather about making sure he’s actually ready for the big leagues. In the meantime, you can probably throw Eric Skoglund in the mix as a lefty, though I don’t think he’d be much more than a long reliever if he’s in the majors as a reliever.
- Even though he’s yet to show a ton in the big leagues, I’m at the very least intrigued by what Cheslor Cuthbert can do this season. In limited action in AAA the last couple years, Cuthbert has been excellent. Yes, it’s only 175 plate appearances, but it’s still quite a showing. On top of that, he’s shown a reasonable walk rate and a very good strikeout rate, which could bode well for him if given a shot at full time action. I don’t think nearly as much of Cuthbert as some in the Royals organization do, but I do believe he can be serviceable enough to contribute to a good team. I’m not sure how much of a blip the 2017 season was for him as a player who had never really been a part-time player, but I’m excited to find that out. As a 23-year old in his first full-time job in the big leagues, he hit .274/.318/.413, which isn’t great, but it’s certainly something to build on. No, players don’t always improve as they get older and sometimes a slightly below average rookie season isn’t a precursor to becoming a slightly above average player, but this is the perfect season to find out if Cuthbert can improve and become a solid bat in the future.
- I’m a little worried that Jake Junis might not end up in the big league rotation to start the season, and I’m worried about that because I think he has a chance to be the team’s second or third best starter. I loved what I saw from Junis over the final couple months of the season and would love for him to get a full season in the majors. As it stands right now, given some recent comments, I wonder if he’s on the outside looking in with Danny Duffy, Jason Hammel, Ian Kennedy, Jesse Hahn and Nate Karns in the rotation to start the year. There is plenty of time to go before the start of the season and these thing tend to work themselves out, but at this point, I think Junis might be out. I was on 810 last night and mentioned that I’d much rather he start in the minors than reliever in the majors just so he doesn’t have to get stretched out again when he’s inevitably summoned back to the rotation, but if I had my choice, he’d be starting for the Royals all season long.