Bullpen Picture Gets ... Less Fuzzy

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I can’t exactly say the Royals bullpen situation is more clear than yesterday since there are still a lot of prospective arms, but after cuts to Danny Duffy (sent to minor league camp) and Jesse Chavez (optioned to Triple A), it’s, well, less fuzzy than before.

Duffy had made five appearances during spring training, giving up 8 earned runs in 8 innings.  He struggled with his control, walking eight batters but gave up just five hits (though two were homers).  He was discussed as a potential bullpen candidate but should get more seasoning in Triple A.

Chavez gave up two runs in four innings over four appearances, giving up eight hits but walking just one.

The cuts leave 40 players in camp, with 32 of those on the 40 man roster.

What that means for the bullpen is that with Bruce Chen assured a starting spot (as you’d expect from his major league contract in the offseason), they have just three lefties in camp now – Rule 5 pick Robert Fish, Tim Collins and Mike Montgomery.  Ned Yost has said he’d like two left-handed pitchers in the bullpen.

As Bob Dutton speculates, that almost guarantees Tim Collins a spot in the bullpen – something he’s earned after six innings in five appearances where he’s given up just one run.  If Yost sticks with his two-lefty idea, one of Montgomery or Fish will stick around.

If going off pure talent and performance, Montgomery would be a lock.  The rules of baseball, however, complicate matters.  Despite 8 walks, Montgomery has surrendered just one run in nine innings of work, capped by a four inning, one run performance against the Reds last night.  Duffy carved up the Reds and showed the promise that has made him a top prospect.

The issue, however, is that Montgomery, who hasn’t pitched above Double A, is a non-roster invitee this spring.  Robert Fish, claimed on Sunday, is a Rule 5 pick and must stay on the active roster all year or be returned to the Angels.  He could still be assigned to the minors, but would have to clear waivers and the Angels would have to decline his return by the Royals.

It seems simple.  Just add Montgomery and return Fish, but then we get into the issue of service time.  If Montgomery waits until later in 2011 (like June or July) to make it to Kansas City, the Royals can retain his rights for an additional year while getting him half a season of big league experience.  Since he projects to be a #2 starter (or higher depending on who you ask), that’s a commodity the Royals want to keep at their disposal for the future.  Fish is more or less expendable, especially in a 2011 season where the Royals don’t expect to compete and he doesn’t fit as a piece of the future.

Also, while there are some benefits to getting Montgomery some experience in the big leagues an inning or two at a time, he projects as a starter and should start full time in the minors until he arrives.  Considering he’s yet to pitch in Omaha, a trip to Triple A isn’t the worst idea.

That could leave just two or three spots in the bullpen (depending on how the Royals construct their 25-man roster for opening day).  They have incumbents Kanekoa Texeira, Blake Wood and Greg Holland in the mix, as well as Luis Mendoza (I know, I know), Louis Coleman and former Brewers prospect Jeremy Jeffress.  There’s a very outside chance Aaron Crow is in the discussion too, as he’s pitched well in spring so far.  Coleman and Mendoza are non-roster invitees, so someone would have to drop off the 40-man roster to fit them in, making them less likely candidates (though Coleman’s 10-to-1 K/BB ratio in six innings deserves a shot).

Ten guys for maybe four spots.

Yeah, it’s still a bit fuzzy, isn’t it?

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Tags: Aaron Crow AL Central Baseball Danny Duffy Kansas City Royals KC Louis Coleman Mike Montgomery MLB Ned Yost Royals Tim Collins

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