Photo courtesy of Minda Haas
Following the Royals’ decision to send Brandon Finnegan to the minors to develop as a starter, and their apparent decision to put Alex Gordon in the second spot in the order, the team seems likely to make yet another smart move, which is to opt for a fourth bench player, rather than breaking camp with eight relievers. It never made much sense to have an eighth reliever when the seventh reliever won’t even see a ton of action, so getting another bat on the bench is the correct call.
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While Omar Infante‘s health makes it seem like having an extra utility player would be the best fit, Ned Yost says he would rather have an extra outfielder. So even with Ryan Jackson‘s strong spring, and Ryan Roberts‘ solid track record, the two main competitors for the 25th roster spot appear to be Paulo Orlando and Moises Sierra.
Orlando is on the 40-man roster already, so he likely has a leg up on Sierra, but let’s take a look at each player’s profile to figure out who could provide the most value to the Royals. Neither one would play all that often, so a thorough breakdown is probably unnecessary because I don’t think it would be an awful decision either way, but I don’t have anything else to do, so let’s get to it.
As a 29-year old, Orlando is no spring chicken, but considering he is from Brazil, baseball didn’t come to him until a bit later in his development. There is a sense among Royals’ officials that he still has room to grow. He was ranked by Baseball America as the organization’s 29th-best prospect following a terrific 2014 campaign in which he hit .301/.355/.415 in 554 plate appearances for Triple-A Omaha.
According to BA, he’s an above average center fielder with a plus arm and plus speed, and from my viewings of him, he has no problem playing at any of the three outfield spots. That speed also has allowed him to steal 55 bases in the last two seasons, including 34 bases at a 79% success rate in 2014.
He’s got an average hit tool, but he doesn’t walk much, meaning his on-base percentage is tied to his BABIP. He also has below average power, so a lot of his offensive value is in that batting average. You don’t usually want to rely on luck from the BABIP Fairy to be successful, although Orlando does hit line drives and ground balls to all fields, so his BABIP shouldn’t sink too low. He also does a good job of making contact, with a strikeout rate of 15.5% last season.
Orlando would likely serve as a pinch runner and defensive replacement, since his bat probably isn’t quite what you’d want from a pinch hitter. His .770 OPS last year looks great on its surface, but in the Pacific Coast League, it’s basically average. He is off to a good start this spring, with a 1.103 OPS and 4 extra-base hits in 26 plate appearances.
One quirk about his bat is that he had an extreme reverse platoon split last season, with an OPS 200 points higher when he faced right-handed pitchers. But in 2013, he had a normal split of 150 points. In 2012, he had a reverse split of 230 points. He had the reverse split of about 100 points in 2011, but in 2010, it was a normal split of more than 200 points. MAKE UP YOUR MIND, PAULO. I have literally no idea what to expect from him on a platoon basis.
The same cannot be said for Sierra, who has historically been better against lefties, both in the minors and the major leagues. The 26-year old has spent time in the Blue Jays and White Sox organizations, and he’s amassed a .243/.296/.383 line in 449 big league plate appearances. Simply by looking at that, you might assume he’s an inferior hitter to Orlando, but there’s certainly more to the story.
Sierra had a poor debut in 2012 before putting up a .290/.369/.458 slash line in 122 plate appearances the next season. Much of that success was driven by a .385 BABIP, but he also walked in 11.5% of his trips to the plate and had 15 extra-base hits in 35 games. Unfortunately, Sierra was not able to follow that up in 2014.
Last year, he made 35 plate appearances with the Blue Jays, and I’m not sure they could have gone much worse. He went 2-34, with 1 walk, no extra-base hits, and 9 strikeouts. That comes out to a slash line of .059/.086/.059. Don’t stare at the those numbers too long or your eyes might start to bleed.
All was not lost for Sierra, however, as he was claimed off of waivers by the White Sox in May, and he went on to hit .276/.311/.417 in 135 plate appearances the rest of the way. He still wasn’t great, but that’s certainly a respectable improvement.
His hit tool is probably below average, as Sierra strikes out about a quarter of the time, and that lack of contact drives his above average raw power down into the average range in game situations. He has some speed, though it hasn’t translated into stolen bases at either the majors or minors. Sierra did collect 7 infield hits with the White Sox in 2014, which suggests he can run a bit.
In the field, Sierra profiles as a right fielder, with a plus arm and average defense for the position. Defensive metrics aren’t incredibly reliable, but they suggest Sierra has gotten better in each of his three big league seasons. If he has a chance to work with Rusty Kuntz, I wouldn’t be surprised if that continues.
So who will the Royals choose? Orlando has better defense and baserunning, while Sierra brings a superior bat and power profile. All things being equal, I would probably slightly lean toward having Sierra’s bat on the bench, even though I love Orlando’s glove work and speed. I like having an extra bat for pinch hitting, even though Yost doesn’t use that tactic often.
And that’s probably why Orlando will get the nod. He can handle all three outfield spots, and could be used as a pinch runner, giving Yost a bit more flexibility. There aren’t many guys on the roster who will be replaced on the bases or in the field, and they do already have Jarrod Dyson, but the Royals love athletic speedsters, and Orlando fits that bill.
It also helps Orlando that he’s on the 40-man, so no roster move would be necessary, whereas someone would need to be designated for assignment in order to make room for Sierra. The same could be said for Jackson and Roberts, for that matter. Since the 25th man isn’t going to get a ton of playing time, the Royals probably don’t want to worry about fitting a non-roster guy into the mix.
Orlando was added to the 40-man roster this winter, and while he isn’t destined for All-Star status, he does have some skills that can help the Royals this season, even when used in a very limited role.