It’s folly to read anything specific into a spring training lineup. Especially when the calendar still reads February.
Still, it’s not difficult to notice a trend on Ned Yost’s lineup cards through just four games into the Cactus League season. This is the card from the opener.
Today’s lineup pic.twitter.com/03xlex3i94
— Jeffrey Flanagan (@FlannyMLB) February 24, 2018
This is the lineup the Royals rolled out on Tuesday.
Royals lineup. pic.twitter.com/8xIfUr4Q46
— Jeffrey Flanagan (@FlannyMLB) February 27, 2018
It’s not about who is in the lineup or where someone is batting. This is about what’s missing. Namely, the presence of more than one left-handed bat.
With the departures of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Brandon Moss this is a lineup that leans heavily to the right.
Last summer the Royals sent a left-handed hitter to the plate 2,515 times. (That’s a tally that includes switch hitters batting from the left side.) Eliminating pitchers from the total because who really wants to see those guys swing the bat, the number drops to 2,506 plate appearances by left-handed hitters.
|Batter||PA as LHB|
It’s a simple table, but one that underscores the issue Yost and the Royals will have constructing a balanced lineup for the upcoming season. The franchise has lost four of the top five players when it comes to plate appearances from the left side. To put it in starker terms, the Royals have lost 74.2 percent of their left-handed plate appearances from one year ago.
Roster churn happens, so this isn’t necessarily a big deal. Except the Royals haven’t moved to replace any of those plate appearances.
Sure, there have been moves. They added left-handed bats in minor league free agents Cody Asche, Tyler Collins and Ryan Goins. All three are in camp as non-roster invitees. The Royals have spoken highly of Collins in recent days as an option in the outfield. No matter how much the club loves his toughness, his career .235/.299/.380 with a .236 TAv make him a difficult option to envision. Asche is in camp after being cut loose by the White Sox. He’s moved between third base and left field and has played some in right and at first. His versatility could make him palatable, but his career high TAv of .260 was posted four years ago. Goins has the worst career TAv of the three at an abysmal .217, but seemed for a moment he could land a backup spot. Then the Royals inexplicably spent money to bring back Alcides Escobar.
The most promising of the new left-handed bats is their most recent addition, Michael Saunders. Saunders hasn’t logged an inning of his big league career on the infield and last played center in 2014. If the Royals are serious about seeing what the kids can do, it would reason they are looking at handing maximum playing time to Jorge Bonifacio and Jorge Soler between the non-Alex Gordon corner outfield spot and designated hitter. It’s difficult to see where the 31 year old Saunders fits into this roster jigsaw puzzle.
The last three names from the table above are all switch hitters. Adalberto Mondesi figured to get a long look at shortstop before the return of Escobar. Now, he’s fighting for limited at bats up the middle. He’s off to a torrid start to the spring, but you know, Arizona. Torres picked up a couple of starts last season when Whit Merrifield was moved to the outfield and remains an underwhelming option with the bat. Billy Burns didn’t start a game for the Royals last year and hit .285/.369/.328 in 414 plate appearances in Omaha. The on base percentage looks promising until you realize in 899 big league PAs he owns a .308 OBP and .241 TAv.
You can see from the Flanagan tweets above there are other names listed in red. Donnie Dewees, Samir Duenez, Nicky Lopez, Ryan O’Hearn are, for one reason or another, long shots to log major league time this summer. In his prospect guide (buy it here for only $5!) Clint Scoles has Dewees listed as the Royals 15th best prospect. Duenez is 20 and O’Hearn is 27. The inventory is there, but their impact would be on par with the non-roster invitees listed above. Lopez is ranked seventh, and is the most promising of the bunch, but is still at least a year away. Besides, he’s a middle infielder. Escobar, you know.
Of course, we’re just four games into the exhibition schedule. These kinds of problems have ways of solving themselves. Maybe Collins is the answer. Perhaps Gordon could be deemed the best option in center, opening a spot in left for Saunders. Burns is out of options and could get the majority of starts in center. Or Merrifield could move to center, opening a spot for the switch-hitting Mondesi.
Yeah, going back and rereading the previous paragraph it all seems rather far-fetched. It’s difficult to find clarity at the moment, but that’s what Yost will be attempting to do this spring. No matter how the roster dominoes fall, this is a lineup that figures to feature mostly right-handed bats when they break camp at the end of March.