Spring Training 2.0 should tell us whether two KC Royals stars will be ready to play, who will win the first base job and what the outfield will look like.
Hanging over the heads of the KC Royals when spring training started was the uncertain status of two lineup staples. Veteran catcher and team backbone Salvador Perez suffered a UCL injury before 2019’s spring training ended and missed the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery; Adalberto Mondesi, an emerging star at shortstop, hurt his shoulder twice and required offseason surgery.
The club moved cautiously with both as spring training progressed. Perez appeared as a DH but was preparing to catch, and Mondesi was scheduled to play for the first time the day MLB shut down spring training.
Perez appeared in 13 games and was batting .250 with a home run, six RBIs and a .717 OPS. Although Mondesi just missed playing, that the Royals deemed him ready bodes well. Both should be ready for full action after over three months of additional recovery time.
Ryan vs. Ryan. The uncertainty clouding first base also haunted the club when camp opened in February. Incumbent Ryan O’Hearn won the job with a good 2018 rookie season, but a disastrous 2019 (.195/.281/.369 and a remedial trip to the minors) hurt his chances to keep it. KC acquired first baseman Ryan McBroom from the Yankees in late August; he played himself right into the Royals’ first bag picture by hitting .293 in 23 games.
Spring training did little to resolve the matter–O’Hearn slashed .343/.395/.857 with a 1.252 OPS and hit five homers in 13 games while McBroom was .314/.368/.657 with a 1.026 OPS and three homers in 15 games.
Whether O’Hearn and McBroom will take up Friday where they left off in March remains to be seen. If they do (or even if they don’t), Matheny will have a tough decision to make. Only one can play first at a time, but there’s been talk of a platoon. If the players don’t give their manager a clear choice, O’Hearn’s incumbency may give him the upper hand.
New outfielders. Whit Merrifield moves to center field this season and the winter acquisition of former Philadelphia third baseman Maikel Franco forced Hunter Dozier to right. Both were struggling at the plate when spring training stopped, Dozier at .192 in 10 games and Merrifield at .172 in 11. Neither, however, should slump long or have trouble adjusting to the outfield–Merrifield saw plenty of outfield action in the minors, and 148 games in the outfield (47 in center) since debuting with KC in 2016, and Dozier has 29 big league games in right.
Starling and Phillips. With the returning Alex Gordon joining Merrifield and Dozier in the outfield, only the question of backups remains unanswered. Utter 2019 disappointments Bubba Starling and Brett Phillips were battling for at least one spot when baseball stopped. Starling had the edge with three homers, a .367 average and 1.208 OPS in 12 games; Phillips hadn’t homered in 13 games and was hitting .269.
The club needs to finally determine both players’ futures, although the short season may give them a reprieve. And with the expanded roster, both may make the team…at least until the cut-down dates.