Spring training battles: infield

The KC Royals starting infield figures to be Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Omar Infante, and Eric Hosmer from left to right. The right side of the infield has been somewhat injury-prone, especially Infante (who showed up at camp with an arm issue).

Even if the following players don’t make the club out of spring training, they could see time at some point.

Royals infielder Christian Colon warming up in Cleveland July 2014 (Jen Nevius).

Royals infielder Christian Colon warming up in Cleveland July 2014 (Jen Nevius).

Utility man Christian Colon is the favorite to possibly be the only backup infielder on the roster. I really think CC could push Infante for playing time at second base (fingers crossed that it happens).

The Royals have another utility fielder in camp and that would be Whit Merrifield, who can play anywhere on the field. Despite his Player of the Year season with Triple-A Omaha in 2014, he never received a big league callup.

Merrifield headed to Mexico for winter ball, but a wrist injury limited him to a week of games. He received a good amount of playing time in big league games last spring and I would love for him to capitalize on playing time this spring. He could be a useful bench player, considering he can play ANYWHERE.

Back to the infielders on the 40-man roster.

The Royals brought shortstop Orlando Calixte and third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert to camp. Calixte missed all of spring training last season due to a visa issue. That set him back, but he still was a late addition to the Texas League All-Star team (mainly because he hit .306 in May). Unfortunately, he hit just .241 overall in 2014 with 92 strikeouts in 96 games (compared to just 27 walks). Calixte’s on-base percentage was just .288, but he did hit 15 doubles and 11 home runs.

Cuthbert’s defense has been an issue throughout his career and with Hunter Dozier moving quickly, the Royals moved Cuthbert to second base and first base a bit last year. Why are they always trying to make guys into utility players?¬†He committed 19 errors at third base with NW Arkansas in 60 games and two more with Omaha in 15 games. At second base with the Naturals, Cuthbert committed two errors in three games and three errors at first base in 28 games.

Cuthbert returned to Double-A to start the 2014 season and hit a respectable .276 with 19 doubles and ten homers before a promotion to Triple-A. With Omaha, he hit .264 with five doubles, two homers, nine walks, and 12 strikeouts in 91 at-bats.

Neither should make an impact at the big league level this year, but will provide insurance in case of injury. Both are still young (just 22).

Now to the non-roster invitees.

Third baseman Hunter Dozier with the Blue Rocks on April 24, 2014 (Jen Nevius).

Third baseman Hunter Dozier with the Blue Rocks on April 24, 2014 (Jen Nevius).

I mentioned the quick rise of third baseman Hunter Dozier, who is still learning the position. After struggling to start the 2014 season in Wilmington (.235 in April with no home runs and ten RBIs), Dozier stopped getting himself out and put up solid numbers (.304 in May and .344 in June with four combined home runs and 34 RBIs).

Unfortunately, he changed his approach after his promotion to Double-A and struggled for the first time in his career (.192 in July and .191 in August with with a combined 57 strikeouts and just 16 RBIs). Dozier went to the Arizona Fall League and seemed to get out of his funk towards the end of his time there.

Dozier is picking the brain of Moustakas this spring (WHY?) and says he put on some weight/muscle over the offseason. However, he admitted that sometimes he lifts too much (which means he will lose athleticism). He also said he is looking to hit for more power (meaning we should expect an increase of strikeouts).

I expect Dozier back with the Naturals to start the season, but if he hits, he could be knocking on the Royals door by the end of the season (especially if Moose continues to not hit).

Many wondered why the Royals did not promote first baseman Matt Fields last season. He has the one tool the big league club is lacking: power. He hit 29 doubles and 28 homers in 125 games with Omaha, while driving in 81. Problem is, the strikeouts are alarming (156, which was down from 181 in 2013).

The last two years I have visited Surprise during spring training, Fields has gotten the opportunity to play in some big league games. However, he did not take advantage. Hopefully he can this March.

The Royals picked up Ryan Jackson this offseason and then designated him for assignment later on (but he cleared waivers). He missed most of the 2014 season due to injury. I don’t know much about him, but he did play against the Royals last spring for San Diego.

The infielder played a combined 20 games between 2012-2013 with St. Louis, hitting .083 (2-for-24). In the minors with the Padres in 2014, he went 3-for-16. In 2013, Jackson hit a respectable .278 with 19 doubles and 52 walks (though he struck out 91 times in 121 games).

Jackson predominantly played shortstop, but he also played second base, third base, and left field. Most likely, he will provide insurance at Triple-A.

Blue Rocks shortstop Raul Mondesi during a game on May 12, 2014 (Jen Nevius).

Blue Rocks shortstop Raul Mondesi during a game on May 12, 2014 (Jen Nevius).

Shortstop Raul Mondesi is the Royals best defensive minor league infielder. He could probably play defense at the Major League level RIGHT NOW. Problem is, he hasn’t shown that he can hit.

Mondesi has always been one of the youngest players at each level and he is easily overmatched at the plate. He fell behind in counts a lot in 2014 and was left flailing at pitches out of the strike zone (122 strikeouts in 110 games).

He had a back issue in 2014, so he went out and bulked up this offseason (which was shorter considering he played in the AFL). Somehow, he gained 20+ pounds in about two months. I just hope the extra weight doesn’t slow him down (12 triples and 17 stolen bases in 2014) and make him think he is a power hitter.

Another invitee I do not know much about is Gabriel Noriega. He hit .281 at Triple-A with Seattle last season with 21 doubles and 36 RBIs. He only walked ten times compared to 86 strikeouts in 101 games.

With Tacoma, he played second, short, and third, committing seven errors in 154 chances at third base and five errors in 93 chances at shortstop.

Noriega played winter ball in his home country of Venezuela, hitting a respectable .264 in 59 games. He did strike out 47 times to just five walks.

Ryan Roberts, otherwise known as “Tat Man”, exploded onto the scene in 2009 with Arizona, hitting .279 as a rookie in 11o games. However, he has struggled (only a big league average of .250 once) and bounced around since (to Tampa and then Boston).

He did hit a respectable .277 in 2014 with Boston’s Triple-A team (along with 22 doubles and seven home runs).

Roberts is another utility option (he has played everywhere except catcher, centerfield, and pitcher) with big league experience.

The Royals brought in 15 infielders to big league camp with a plan of only carrying six to start the regular season. It will be interesting to see where the rest end up (or if they even stay in the organization).

 

Tomorrow, I will look at the outfielders, as the Royals Cactus League season begins against Surprise complex partner Texas.

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About Jen Nevius

I first became a KC Royals fan way back in 1995 when I attended my first Wilmington Blue Rocks game. I fell in love with minor league baseball then and began following the Royals as former Blue Rocks clawed their way to the big leagues. 3+ years ago I started covering the Royals for Aerys Sports, but since the site has been shut down, I am going out on my own.
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One Response to Spring training battles: infield

  1. Pingback: Spring training battles: outfield | Drinking the Royals Blue Aid

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