Blaine Hardy and Louis Coleman hang out in the dugout with their backstop Cody Clark. (Minda Haas)

Kettle of Fish: Bullpen Battle Royale

Blake Wood, doin' his thing. (Minda Haas)

Well, it’s that time again. In the final installment, I want to just briefly touch on the major competitors for bullpen spots in Kansas City this year and who to watch for in Spring Training. The new signing of Jeff Francis has cleared up the starting corps picture a bit, so it’s easier to get a look at potential relievers with the rotation filled out.

As you might guess, there are a ton of reliever candidates that will make appearances in the Royals’ Spring Training camp. Just from a passing glance, here’s the total list:

  • Joakim Soria
  • Robinson Tejeda
  • Blake Wood
  • Gil Meche
  • Greg Holland
  • Jesse Chavez
  • Nathan Adcock
  • Aaron Crow
  • Dusty Hughes
  • Jeremy Jeffress
  • Kanekoa Texeira
  • Louis Coleman
  • Tim Collins
  • Blaine Hardy
  • Luis Mendoza
  • Zach Miner
  • Steven Shell
  • Does that give you enough options? I’ll note that Blaine Hardy has been a partial starter with Omaha, so he might get a pass on relieving. Miner has been both a starter and a reliever with the Tigers and could be in line for a chance at a starting spot if injuries or down performances occur. Guys like Henry Barrerra, Kevin Pucetas, Danny Duffy and Gaby Hernandez might get some looks as potential relievers, at least for a short time. Nonetheless, there are a bunch of options for the bullpen. It’s nice to see so many young guys in the running for spots.

    Now, some of these guys are obviously locks to make the Royals’ roster. I would file Soria, Tejeda, Meche, and Hughes in this category. Wood, Texeira, and Holland are near-locks. Given that the bullpen will be either seven or eight deep to start the season, this makes a huge dent in the number of free spots.

    If we take those seven guys out of the list, I would rank the likelihood of the remaining pitchers making the roster in this order:

  • Jeremy Jeffress
  • Tim Collins
  • Blaine Hardy
  • Louis Coleman
  • Jesse Chavez
  • Nathan Adcock
  • Aaron Crow
  • Zach Miner
  • Luis Mendoza
  • Steven Shell
  • The last four guys are all candidates for the Omaha rotation. Since Mendoza pitched fairly well as a starter there last season, he could easily return to that role. I don’t really know what to think of the Royals’ thoughts of Miner and Shell, but I would guess that they’ll have to perform very, very well in Spring Training to merit a spot in the young bullpen.

    Aaron Crow is, well, Crow. He had a solid first Spring Training in 2010, but managed to underwhelm at both Northwest Arkansas and Wilmington, so it’s hard to know what to expect from him. I would suspect that he’ll also have to pitch extremely well to reach the Royals. While he is a starter, many fans and media folk have proposed that he could be a strong bullpen candidate in the future. He should have a bounceback year in 2011, but Northwest Arkansas is his likely home.

    I’m not really sure what to make of Adcock, and that’s why he ended up in the middle of the ranking. He was the Royals’ Rule 5 Draft pick in December and thus has to stay on the Royals’ roster all season if they are going to hold on to him. He’s a 6’5″ 22-year-old right-hander that’s never pitched above high-A. He was drafted in 2006 and was in high-A throughout both 2009 and 2010. He has a solid strikeout rate of 7.2 per 9 innings over his career and had a K/BB ratio of nearly 3.00 in 2010. He hasn’t given up many home runs and gives up about 9 hits per nine innings. If they’re going to keep him in Kansas City, it almost has to be as a reliever. With the more deserving arms in Omaha right now, however, it should be difficult for him to earn a spot with the Royals. It’s worth watching, but I just have no idea what will happen there. It’s possible that he gets the same treatment that Edgar Osuna did last season, but that’s only a guess.

    Jesse Chavez is the type of guy that shouldn’t make the roster. He was hit hard and gave up a lot of walks in 2010 after joining the Royals, showing a WHIP of 1.538. While he had some decent outings, as all relievers do, he just doesn’t have the stuff to be a quality reliever. That probably means he’ll get a call if other guys fail to pitch well in Kansas City, but Chavez really doesn’t deserve to be a Royal at the outset with some of the other options at hand.

    The top four guys are all young guns that have some potential for the Royals in the coming years. It’s really a toss-up over who gets the call and who doesn’t, but adding a guy that could be a solid middle reliever would be a good call. Blaine Hardy would be that guy, from my perspective.

    I already mentioned Hardy being a starter with Omaha, but again I’m not sure how the Royals see him for the future. He only started 8 of his 28 appearances in Omaha in 2010, so he obviously is still seen as a relief option. He would be a middle-innings guy, so the potential of a solid innings-eater like Hardy would be nice for the Royals. He threw well in 2010, starting the year as a shutdown reliever for Northwest Arkansas. His time in Omaha wasn’t as smooth, but if his Spring Training appearances are solid and he shows he can pitch well in tough scenarios, he could likely get the call.

    I see Coleman and Collins as being in similar situations to one another. Both are late-innings guys that you look to to hold a lead and keep the other guys off the basepaths. They have high strikeout rates, though Coleman has the better walk rate of the two. They both allow just under six hits and around 0.5 home runs per nine innings. Since Coleman is 24 to Collins’ 21 and seems to have just slightly finer control than Collins, he may get the call to start the season. They could both make the cut, but it could depend on who looks the best in Spring Training. Both would be fun to see in Kansas City, though.

    Jeremy Jeffress is the newly-acquired player that came over from the Brewers in the Zack Greinke deal. He’s a fireballer who has been clocked up in the triple digits and is a major strikeout pitcher. The biggest issue is that Jeffress tends to have problems with his control, as you can tell with his six walks in ten major league innings in 2010. His walk rates have been all over the place throughout his time in the minors, but they averaged out to 5.5 per nine innings. The Brewers sent Jeffress straight from AA Huntsville to Milwaukee last year, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get him some AAA experience at Omaha before plunging him back in. Still, he has the stuff if pitching coach Bob McClure and others can help him refine his control a bit. I would guess the Royals get him some experience at Omaha to start the season, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he shows up in Kansas City.

    Based on the bullpen holdovers from 2010, there are three or four spots open for the Royals’ relief corps. Texeira, Wood, and Holland have the fast track for those spots. Those four guys I just mentioned are likely next in line. I would expect the Royals to take someone they feel confident could pitch at least two innings with success to offset the starting rotation. Alternatively, Shell or Miner could get a good look as middle relievers, but I would suspect the young guys are given more chances than either of those two.

    No matter what happens with this group, it will be a different look to the bullpen and definitely an interesting battle in Spring Training. With all the young talent to watch, make sure you don’t lose track of these capable young relievers in the process.

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    Tags: Aaron Crow AL Central Baseball Blaine Hardy Jeremy Jeffress Jesse Chavez Joakim Soria Kansas City Royals KC Louis Coleman Luis Mendoza MLB Nathan Adcock Royals Steven Shell Tim Collins Zach Miner

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