As of right now, there are few questions about the Royals heading into Spring Training. Ned Yost has already named his lineup, and the first four starters are pretty much set at this point. James Shields is once again going to front the rotation, with Jason Vargas expected to slide in as the Royals second starter. Jeremy Guthrie and Bruce Chen are going to be the third and fourth starters, leaving the fifth spot in an open competition.
Right now, that appears to be a five way battle. Wade Davis, Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Luke Hochevar and Brad Penny. Each candidate has something different that they bring to the table. Ventura and Duffy bring potential upside to the rotation, which it is sorely lacking. Penny brings another experienced arm, but has been out of baseball for a year and is trying to work his way back. Davis and Hochevar have been failures as starting pitchers previously in their careers, so this may be their last chance to prove that they can perform in that type of a role.
Penny is an extreme long shot, so it is probably safe to eliminate him from contention. Davis has proven on several different occasions to be far more effective as a reliever, so that is likely the best role for him on the Royals. However, his salary is far more than any team would willingly pay for a middle reliever, so the Royals may be inclined to attempt to shoehorn Davis into the rotation yet again. Hopefully, the Yost does not suffer from amnesia, and remembers the general disaster that Davis is as a starter.
That leaves Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura and Luke Hochevar. Duffy, despite his experience as a starter, had all of eight starts at the AAA level prior to being added to the rotation in 2011. Duffy has also struggled once he has gotten past the second inning, so it may be possible that he could use some time in Omaha to work on pitching deeper into games.
Now the decision is between Hochevar and Ventura. Hochevar completely reinvented himself in relief last season, virtually eliminating his sinker by the end of the 2013 campaign. Primarily using a fastball and cutter with the occasional curve, Hochevar was a revelation in the bullpen. The biggest question is whether or not he could carry that success over to the rotation. Ventura, meanwhile, is considered by some to need to work on his secondary pitches and does have the specter of the arbitration clock starting early. Yet, Ventura likely has more upside than any of the other candidates. For a team that is looking to win now, would it not be best to start the player that could do the most to achieve that goal?
Yordano Ventura has already been told to go into Spring Training as though he has a spot in the rotation locked up. With the most upside of the candidates, it would make sense to start him in the rotation at the beginning of the season. He certainly looked as though he may be ready last year, performing admirably despite being thrown into the midst of a postseason charge. For a team that wants to win, the Royals may be best served to see if Ventura is truly able to take that fifth starter spot.
What do you all think? Who would you tab to be the Royals fifth starter this season?