The exhibition game schedule is almost two weeks old and Opening Day is just about three weeks away. Here are some thoughts about some present and former KC Royals, with a few other tidbits thrown in.
The KC Royals play their last Cactus League game in 17 days, then head north to Milwaukee for a pair of exhibition games before opening the season March 26 in Chicago. Here are some midweek thoughts about some former Royals trying to hook on with new clubs, backup catchers, and other things while awaiting the first roster cuts…and the Royals’ regular season.
No fans for this former Royal…or anyone else. Unable to find suitable employment in the U.S., former Royal Alcides Escobar has taken his talents to Japan. But there haven’t been fans to watch him–Escobar’s Tokyo Yakult Swallows recently played exhibition games before an empty house. Teams were compelled to play in empty stadiums as part of Japan’s efforts to minimize exposure to the coronavirus.
Could the Royals see an old friend Opening Day? Say what you will about Cheslor Cuthbert‘s glove while he was with the Royals, but he was a serviceable utility infielder from 2015-19 and filled in nicely at third base after Mike Moustakas went down with a knee injury and missed most of 2016. Cuthbert is vying for a job with the White Sox and the Royals might just see him when they open the season in Chicago–in nine games, he’s slashing .250/.455/.500 with a .955 OPS, a home run and four walks.
Royals-Rockies connection. Depending on what media report you read, former KC Royals’ closer Wade Davis will be, or probably will be, Colorado’s closer. Davis saved 43 games in 2018, his first with the Rockies, but only 15 last year, a decidedly un-Davis like performance attributable to injury, an 8.65 ERA, and the loss of the closer’s job in August. Although Colorado is a tough place to pitch–his Coors Field ERA was 11.10–an 8.65 ERA is still more than awful for any reliever. But Davis, one of the best closers in the business during his KC run, deserves a shot.
Whether the Rockies put their faith back in Davis will be up to manager Bud Black, himself a former KC hurler who spent almost half his 15-year major league career with the Royals, winning 17 games once and 10 twice. He’s 898-951 in 12 seasons as a manager–nine with San Diego and the last three with the Rockies.
Former Royal Drew Butera is making the most of his invitation to the Colorado camp. He’s 3-for-7 with a home run and five RBI in four games and is competing for the backup catcher’s job against Dom Nunez. A well-respected reserve catcher and teammate, Butera saw action with the Rockies the past two seasons after spending four with the Royals.
And last but not least, Chris Owings (yes, that Chris Owings) is hitting .263 after a perfect 3-3 game against the Cubs Tuesday.
Mixed results for ex-Royal Reds. Two former Royals are trying to make Cincinnati’s Opening Day roster. (Mike Moustakas’ roster spot is more than secure). Brandon Finnegan, who made the historic leap from college ball to the World Series in the same season (2014) but was dealt to the Reds as part of the Johnny Cueto deal the next season and hasn’t fared particularly well since, has pitched three scoreless innings in three Cactus League appearances. Christian Colon‘s seven-game slash of .100/.286/.200 probably won’t be enough to earn a roster spot.
Medical report. Trevor Rosenthal missed a scheduled pitching outing with a tight calf but bounced back with a 1-2-3 inning last Friday, then struck out three in one inning Tuesday night. New third baseman Maikel Franco, fortunately, suffered no lasting effects after a batted ball struck him in the face. Jakob Junis has a back strain. Rule 5 selection Stephen Woods Jr. left his last game after appearing to twist an ankle. And under close watch as he returns from Tommy John surgery, the only medical issue slowing Salvador Perez was a dental procedure that forced him to miss a start.
Backup backstops. Speaking of Perez, it remains to be seen whether the KC Royals will carry one or two backup catchers to start the season. Teams often keep only one catcher in reserve, but manager Mike Matheny is sure to be cautious with Perez and the position and may opt to use two backups, at least early in the campaign. The Royals relied last season on Cam Gallagher, Meibrys Viloria and Nick Dini after they traded Martin Maldonado; all three are good defensively and Viloria is the best at throwing out runners.
Their bats aren’t giving Matheny a clear choice, either. Not a one of the three distinguished themselves at the plate in 2019; through Tuesday’s games, Gallagher, Viloria and Dini were all hitting .333.
In the end, Dini, who’s in camp as a non-roster invitee, will likely be the first man out. He played sparingly with the Royals late last season and Gallagher and Viloria have more experience. Viloria may get the nod if the club goes with a single backup for Perez–he threw out 41% of would-be base-stealers last season (9-22); Gallager has never exceeded 27% in parts of three seasons with KC (5-20 in 2019). Defense is more important than offense for reserve catchers.
Yasiel Puig is still looking for work. As of Tuesday evening, slugger Yasiel Puig had no team to play for. My answer is still no.
As always, there’s much to think about when it comes to the KC Royals. We’ll have more Midweek Musings next week.