The Kansas City Royals start the 2019 season on Thursday and we have a pretty good idea of the position players even though details are a little blurry. General Manager Dayton Moore emphasized speed and defense when building this year’s roster and then he signed Lucas Duda at the end of spring training. Let’s look at the position players and how they might be used.
March 5, 2019 was a bad day for Royals fans. That’s the day we learned that Salvador Perez was going to undergo Tommy John surgery. He had surgery the following day and is expected to be ready for Spring Training in 2020.
With that terrible news the Royals were looking at Cam Gallagher and Meibrys Viloria as their catchers for the 2019 season. Then on March 11 Dayton Moore signed veteran catcher Martin Maldonado to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. He can earn an additional $1.4 million if he catches 100 games.
Maldonado is expected to give the Royals top-notch defense but not much in the way of offense. Gallagher will likely play more games than he would have if Perez was not injured but the Royals clearly felt he was not ready to be the regular catcher, even in a development year. In limited major league action Gallagher has not done much offensively so it would appear that the catcher spot in the order will leave a lot to be desired. Without having a quality offensive catcher, and with the young pitchers on the Royals’ staff, Maldonado is the clear choice behind the plate.
The signing of Maldonado means that Viloria can get the regular work he needs in the minors. Should Maldonado or Gallagher get injured, Viloria will likely be the catcher that gets called on to help the big league club.
Ryan O’Hearn is the regular first baseman. O’Hearn appeared in 44 games for the Royals in 2018 and was terrific at the plate. He had a .950 OPS with 12 home runs in 149 at bats. The big questions with O’Hearn are how will he hit left-handed pitchers over the course of a season in the majors and will he provide better defense in 2019? Some teams don’t worry about defense at first base but Ned Yost says he is big on defense there. The Royals really need to have quality defense all around the diamond but not at the expense of a quality bat.
Hunter Dozier is another option at first base from the right-hand side. Dozier posted just a .673 OPS in 102 games and 362 at bats. To get playing time for Chris Owings, Dozier will likely see several games at first base when O’Hearn gets the day off.
At the end of Spring Training the Royals signed Lucas Duda. Duda is entering his age 33 season. He’s nothing special on defense but won’t kill you. He can only play first base and designated hitter. It’s a little confusing as to why the Royals chose to sign Duda with this being a developmental year. He could be an insurance policy in case O’Hearn struggles. We should learn relatively soon the role Duda will play. He could also be the first player dropped when the Royals make a roster change.
We thought that this was going to be the year that Whit Merrifield would become the regular second baseman and be able to settle into one position. All of that changed when Lucas Duda was signed and three of the outfielders battling for the right field job did not make the team. Because of all of this it is very possible that Whit Merrifield will see time in right field in addition to second base.
The Royals signed utility player Chris Owings in the offseason to help fill in several positions. Some have said that Owings could be as good for the Royals as Ben Zobrist was in his short stay in 2015. Owings could fill in at second base, shortstop, third base and in the outfield. The Royals told Owings that he would get regular at bats when they signed him as a free agent. So, expect Owings to be in the lineup almost every day but you won’t necessarily know which position he will play on any particular day until the lineup is posted.
Minor league shortstop Nicky Lopez should push for a job in the major leagues sometime this season. When he does arrive in Kansas City he is expected to be the regular second baseman. That would give the Royals a pretty nice middle of the infield. Lopez had a .799 OPS in 130 games in 2018 between Northwest Arkansas (AA) and Omaha (AAA). Lopez will likely force the Royals to promote him sometime in 2019. Regardless, expect him to be the second baseman when the team starts play in 2020.
Adalberto Mondesi. Is there anything else to say about this position? Mondesi should be fun to watch in 2019. He has a chance to get the attention of all baseball fans, not just Royals fans. Mondesi has all of the tools to be an MVP. He’s as fast as they come. He plays great defense. He can hit and hit with power. Enjoy his time with the Royals. If he fulfills his potential he will be incredibly tough to sign as a free agent. If he gets off to a hot start this season the Royals would be wise to lock him up to a contract that covers his first few seasons of free agency if possible.
Mondesi won’t play every day. When Mondesi take a day off, Owings will likely get the start at shortstop. The Royals really don’t have anyone else they can put there although it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Whit Merrifield filled in there in a pinch.
Hunter Dozier is the third baseman. As mentioned earlier, Dozier could see some time at first base when the Royals face a tough left-handed pitcher. When Dozier isn’t at third base expect Chris Owings to fill in here. Are you catching a pattern? Owings will fill in at whichever position needs him that day.
Currently the Royals have just four outfielders on their active roster. Alex Gordon will be the regular left fielder. Billy Hamilton will handle center field. Jorge Soler will play right field.
Terrance Gore is the fourth outfielder on the active roster. Many are expecting Gore to be a pinch runner but it seems crazy to think they can use a roster spot on just a pinch runner. I think Gore has to see some time in the outfield. Find out what he can do at the major league level. His speed should be an asset in the outfield.
Whit Merrifield and Chris Owings will also see some time in the outfield, especially right field. Ned Yost recently said that Merrifield will spend more time in the outfield based on how the roster is currently constructed.
Did Frank Schwindel make the opening day roster or not? George Brett reportedly said that he did when the Royals were in Omaha for their game against their AAA affiliate. Frank does not currently appear on the Royals’ active roster on MLB.com. It would be nice to see Schwindel get an opportunity with the big league team. Honestly, I would prefer to see Schwindel instead of Lucas Duda on the roster. We will have to wait and see what happens with Schwindel.
When will Nicky Lopez make his major league debut? The hope is that he gets off to a fast start in AAA and forces the Royals to promote him. However, will the Royals want to start his clock this season or are they thinking 2020 for Lopez? Hopefully he arrives when he’s ready and money doesn’t play into the decision.
Can Billy Hamilton breakout this season? His approach in Spring Training is improved over any time he was with the Cincinnati Reds. If Hamilton can get on base it will be a huge signing for the Royals.
Will Alex Gordon improve on his offense from 2018? The Royals cannot afford for him to struggle offensively like he did last season. This is likely his last season with the Royals. Enjoy watching him this season regardless of how he plays. He should be in the Royals Hall of Fame at some point.