Pitching Staff Taking Shape

The Royals were rained out this afternoon in Surprise but the front office was busy setting things up for the season.

As expected, Luke Hochevar will be the opening day starter.  Whether or not he’s an ace, he gets the nod on March 31st against the Angels.  Jeff Francis, Bruce Chen and Kyle Davies round out the rotation for the first couple weeks of the season and Vin Mazzaro will be the fifth starter once the Royals need one.

That puts Sean O’Sullivan into a long-relief role to start the season.  With Joakim Soria and Robinson Tejeda as the only true locks in the bullpen, the Royals are going with a 12 man staff (according to Bob Dutton).  That leaves four spots remaining.

Mike Montgomery was reassigned to minor league camp today as well, so we know he won’t be in the bullpen.  That’s the right move for him, regardless of if he starts the year in Double A or Triple A.

Greg Holland and Blake Wood were optioned to Omaha, so they won’t be in the running to start the season either.

Still, that leaves eight options for four spots.  Some pitchers have been surprises, some have performed as one would expect.  I think they all have a shot.

The two lefties remaining in contention are Tim Collins, who’s almost assured a spot at this point, and Robert Fish.  If Ned Yost wants two lefties, as he’s said multiple times, they’ll both make it.  If it’s just one, I can’t see a scenario where Collins doesn’t open up in Kansas City.  Fish was a Rule 5 pick so he has to clear waivers to go to the minors, assuming the Angels don’t take him back if the Royals offer him up.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that just Collins gets in.  Another Rule 5 guy, Nathan Adcock has pitched well enough to secure a spot, and since he has the same circumstances as Fish, it’s tougher to sneak him into the minors.

After a season where he was demoted from Double A to High A, Aaron Crow is the long shot to make it, but he’s pitched like a first-rounder so far.  If the Royals didn’t have plenty of capable bullpen arms to slot into the opening day roster, he might be a guy who could get his feet wet in a long relief role and eventually make some starts.  I think they still view him as a starter, and he’s more likely to be a Double A guy with a fast track to Triple A and hits Kansas City late this summer.

Part of the reason they don’t have to worry about fitting Crow in is because Louis Coleman has been dominating and Jeremy Jeffress has dialed up the radar guns.  They’re the best names remaining in contention to be in the bigs – both are on most prospect lists and have performed accordingly.

The surprises are Kanekoa Texeira and Luis Mendoza.  I’d almost feel bad if Mendoza pitched the month of his life in spring training and still started up in Omaha.  Almost.  The career ERA above 8.00 tempers that sympathy.

If I had to name the bullpen sweepstakes winners right now, I’d say Tim Collins is in.  Jeffress is in.  Adcock is in and Robert Fish is in.  I want Coleman to get in there, but I think Yost wants to stick with that two lefty setup and Collins can get righties out too, anyway, so Fish can be more of a situational guy if they need him.  Mendoza and Texeira have thrown well but neither are long-term options and can both be stashed in the minors.

That’s a factor in who the Royals eventually pick.  Adding Coleman or Collins to the roster would require somebody be moved off the 40-man.  If Jason Kendall‘s injury is recovering slowly enough to necessitate a 60 day DL stint, that opens up a spot for one, but the other could still be left out.  It probably comes down the a Fish or Coleman decision and finding a way to send a player to the minors to accommodate Coleman may be too risky, especially when there’s a fitting option already on the 40 man.  He’d have to be the first option called up in the event of an injury, though.

With each day, the Royals get a little closer to finalizing their roster.  By the end of the week, we should know who’s made the cut.

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Tags: Aaron Crow AL Central Baseball Jeremy Jeffress Kansas City Royals KC Louis Coleman Luke Hochevar Mike Montgomery MLB Royals Tim Collins

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