The Royals 2018 roster is beginning to come into focus as they continue to scour the free agent market for relative bargains. From a pure value perspective, the relative pittance they’re paying Jon Jay and Lucas Duda can’t be looked at in any way but a positive. You can argue pretty easily that they shouldn’t be wasting their time with moves like these given the expectation for this team, but that’s a different argument than what Duda and Jay and anyone who they’ll sign in the coming weeks can provide for their salary. And after Tuesday night’s lineup was seemingly optimized for the television crowd (sans Jay, of course), we have a good idea what this club might look like when they take the field on March 29.
And you know what? If you squint and tilt your head, you can sort of see how this team will give you stretches of competent, to even good, baseball. With Jay likely ticketed for the top of the lineup with his .355 career OBP and .374 OBP last year, he’s another addition who can work a walk to go along with Duda. Jay and Whit Merrifield seem likely to be one-two in some order with maybe Duda and Salvador Perez behind them and then the Jorges – Soler and Bonifacio, Alex Gordon and Cheslor Cuthbert in some order after that. It’ll take Duda continuing to be what he’s been basically every year of his career, Bonifacio breaking out in the way I think he might, Perez giving his typical 20+ home run season and then at least one of Gordon, Soler and Cuthbert putting up solid numbers. If that all happens, you might not see the horrible offense most are expecting. If that seems like a lot to go right, it is. And that’s why signing Jay and Duda doesn’t take this team from my expectation of 70 wins or so to 85, but they will certainly help to make more games more watchable. Argue whether that matters or not, but that’s the reality.
I’ve been saying for awhile that part of what I think will help this team is the starting rotation having a chance to be pretty solid. The signing of Jay yesterday came along with placing recently acquired Jesse Hahn on the 60-day DL. That’s another black mark on Dayton Moore in the trade market, but the good that comes from that is it appears Jake Junis is now the likely fifth starter. I think that helps the rotation immensely as I believe he has a legitimate shot to be the team’s third best starter this season and have that not be embarrassing. He’ll go Wednesday in Surprise against the Brewers in his first action of the spring. I’ve talked a bit about Junis in the past, and Clint has as well, but what he did to end the 2017 season was so encouraging to me. I’m really curious to see how he builds on that and if he can continue to progress and maybe outperform the number four starter ceiling many have assumed for him.
- I said that Junis can be the third best starter, and that’s because Nate Karns, last night’s starter has a real chance to be second best. He looked okay enough last night. The fastball looked a lot faster than the radar readings, but that’s okay. The fact that he’s even on a mound right now is a good sign considering that some aren’t so lucky following Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery. Take Luke Hochevar for example. He had the surgery in 2016 and still isn’t even on a mound. It looked like Karns was doing okay with command of his fastball mostly, but his secondary pitches just weren’t terribly crisp. It was his first start back, though, and if he can progress and show similar stuff to what we saw from him before his season was ended so abruptly, the Royals might really have something. Injuries have always been his biggest issue, and I don’t think anyone should ignore that or forget it, so the Royals should be awfully careful with him and skip him when they can. Still, he’s a big key to this rotation being capable in 2018.
- I mentioned Cuthbert earlier, and he had a nice game last night with a home run and a sterling defensive play before giving way for the second string. It’s easy to see what he did in limited time in the big leagues in 2015 and what he did in a reserve role last year and write him off but it’s not that long ago that someone in the organization told me they thought he could be a .300/.400/.500 guy. I don’t buy that for a second, but I do think he can be a quality contributor and can even flash a plus bat at third base. He’s having a nice spring so far and with no real third base prospect on the horizon, he has a chance to earn the job for the foreseeable future with a nice season. His defense is certainly a fair question to ask about him, but I think he has the ability to be capable, especially if Adalberto Mondesi can take over shortstop in the big leagues and use his range to help Cuthbert in the coming years. I’m not predicting stardom for him or anything, but I’m cautiously optimistic that he can become a solid player and maybe even be on the next good Royals team.
- All in all, last night’s tilt was largely unspectacular. Other than Cuthbert, nobody really stood out in a positive way. I was pleased to get my first look at Rule 5 pick Brad Keller and came away less than impressed. The fastball jumped pretty well from his hand and topped out at around 95, but when he moved to the stretch, the velocity disappeared. I’m also skeptical his delivery is one that will lead to consistent success as it’s a very quick setup that can get out of whack very quickly. I imagine the Royals will either find an injury or try to work out a trade if they want to keep him because I just don’t suspect he’s big league ready. Of course, it’s just one spring game and I know how silly it is to jump to conclusions from that, but what I noticed is in line with some reports I’d read after the Royals picked him up.
- And finally, I said I’d give my report on Diego Pops in Scottsdale, and I’d definitely recommend it if you’re looking for some slighter bigger than normal street tacos. They have six sauces they provide with your food and I thought they were all great. I don’t have a ton more to add about it other than that it was pretty darn good and I’d definitely go back.