Let’s take a look at all the KC Royals pitchers in Surprise. By my count, they have 32 pitchers in big league camp, though Kris Medlen will not be ready until the weather warms up during the regular season.
Barring injury, the rotation is set with some combination of Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Jason Vargas, and Jeremy Guthrie pitching once every five days. Medlen could slip into the rotation around the All-Star break.
Every team needs depth when it comes to pitching because it is rare to have a team with the same five-man rotation from Opening Day to the final game of the regular season.
Who could be called on for a spot start or someone who could fill in for an injury or a struggling starter?
Right-hander Aaron Brooks impressed the coaching staff during spring training in 2014 and was called on early in 2014. Unfortunately, his big league debut was forgettable and he was not called up again despite his dominance during the Pacific Coast League playoffs.
Now Brooks looks to re-impress the Royals this spring so that they have confidence to call on him again.
I don’t know much about lefty Brian Flynn, who the Royals acquired from Miami for Aaron Crow. For Triple-A New Orleans in 2014, he was 8-10 with a respectable 4.07 ERA in 25 starts. He gave up a ton of hits (169 in 139.1 innings), but he kept it in the ballpark (13 home runs) despite pitching in a hitter’s league. He allowed 39 hits to left-handed batters in 148 at-bats, but just six went for extra bases.
Flynn is also being looked at as a lefty reliever.
Lefty Brandon Finnegan already impressed enough to stick with the Royals through the postseason in 2014. He could end up back in the bullpen, but he could also end up in the Royals rotation quickly after a stint in the minors. It will depend on how durable Finnegan can be (he only pitched four innings twice) and how he handles seeing a lineup more than once in a game, which is something he only did twice during his brief minor league stint in 2014.
Fellow lefty John Lamb seems to be on the outside looking in, as he continues to recover from Tommy John surgery. In 2013, he lacked velocity (and arm strength during the first half of the season) and left too many pitches in the strike zone. His offspeed pitches did look good though. In 2014, the velocity came back, but he lacked command. In both seasons, he did not pitch in the postseason for Omaha nor did he garner a September callup.
2015 is the year for Lamb.
The Royals signed right-hander Yohan Pino for depth. He has a little big league experience (11 starts in 2014 for Minnesota) and could make the team as the long man to keep Ventura and Duffy fresh early in the season.
Pino gives up his share of hits (66 in 60.1 big league innings), but he only walked 14 compared to 50 strikeouts. He is a contact pitcher who could benefit from having the Royals defense behind him.
Those five are just the potential rotation candidates on the 40-man roster. There are six more non-roster invitees, though three of them could also be bullpen options.
Right-hander Casey Coleman and lefty Buddy Baumann have both started and relieved over their career and had success in both roles. The Royals used Coleman in 2014, but didn’t call up Baumann despite his solid Triple-A numbers (an ERA under 3.21 over the last two seasons).
Fellow lefty Chris Dwyer has struggled with both injuries and inconsistency throughout his career. Command has always been an issue (308 walks in 613.2 minor league innings), though a shift to the bullpen in 2014 did not help. Left-handed hitters collected just 19 hits against Dwyer in 81 at-bats in 2014, but 12 of them went for extra bases.
The other three rotation candidates are youngsters Christian Binford, Miguel Almonte, and Sean Manaea. All three are on the fast track to the big leagues and could be in the Royals rotation full-time in 2016, which is why they were invited to big league camp.
Binford reached Triple-A in 2014 and seems to be the more polished of the three, despite not having a blazing fastball.
Almonte followed up an inconsistent 2014 season in Wilmington with a dominant Arizona Fall League stint and winter ball performance in the Dominican Republic. Manaea put it altogether in the second half of 2014 with the Blue Rocks.
I cannot even begin to predict the rotations for the minor leagues because there are so many potential candidates for the upper levels (this does not even include guys like Clayton Mortensen, Andy Ferguson, Glenn Sparkman, and Brooks Pounders).
Tomorrow, I will take a look at the plethora of relievers in camp.
*Despite being a starter his entire career, veteran Joe Blanton (who has not pitched in a year), is ONLY being looked at this spring as a reliever.