On Tuesday, the KC Royals announced their non-roster invitees to spring training in Surprise, Arizona. There are 17 of them: nine pitchers, three catchers, and five infielders (no outfielders because there are ten of them on the 40-man roster). One of the infielders can play every position (except catcher).
Pitchers and catchers report on February 18th, with full workouts beginning on February 23rd.
Five of the Royals invitees were signed this offseason. They invited veteran lefties David Huff and John Lannan, veteran right-handers Dillon Gee and Chien-Ming Wang, and minor league veteran Cody Decker.
If Gee is healthy, he could push his way into the Royals rotation. Huff could find himself as the Royals lone lefty in the bullpen, especially if Tim Collins isn’t 100 percent healthy. Not sure Lannan has a chance, but he should provide depth in Triple-A (much like Joe Blanton did in 2015). Wang is a dark-horse, but maybe pitching coach Dave Eiland can work his magic. Decker is also another longshot (I honestly see Cheslor Cuthbert as a better option).
The three catchers the Royals invited: Parker Morin, Zane Evans, and Cam Gallagher, provide extra man power in spring training to catch all the pitchers in camp (27 of them). I expect Morin to start the year in Triple-A, with Evans and Gallagher teaming up in Double-A. With two big leaguers vying to be the backup to Salvador Perez (Drew Butera and Tony Cruz), none of the three have a chance right now.
Of the four other infielders the Royals invited, two made their big league debuts in 2015. Dusty Coleman‘s debut was rocky, yet he still re-signed this offseason. He could fill Christian Colon‘s role if CC were to win the second base job. Coleman began the 2015 season in Double-A, but lasted just 26 games as he hit .341. With Triple-A Omaha, he hit .275 while playing second, short, and third.
The other is Orlando Calixte, who cleared waivers when he was designated for assignment earlier in the offseason. He has been mostly playing second base in the Dominican Winter League.
Despite two awful showings in Double-A, Hunter Dozier received an invite. Maybe hanging around Mike Moustakas will help Dozier when he returns to NW Arkansas to start the 2016 season? Being in big league camp helped Bubba Starling last year.
Utility man Whit Merrifield can play anywhere and I would love to see him make the Royals out of spring training. He has yet to be given a chance, despite two solid seasons in Triple-A. It helps that he makes contact, has good speed, and is a solid defender wherever he plays. He played well the last two spring trainings.
Now to the pitchers.
I already mentioned the four veterans that may get the longer look in spring training. However, the five rookies could open some eyes in March.
The one that should already be on the Royals radar is right-hander Brooks Pounders. I’ve written a good amount about him since his return to the mound this summer (just search his name with my site). Finally healthy, he has been a workhorse and dominated in 2015 from High-A to Double-A to the Arizona Fall League and finally in the Premier 12 Tournament playing for Team USA. Though he may be blocked by some of the recent Royals signings and so-called prospects, Pounders may force his way into the Royals plans this year.
Following last spring, I thought right-hander Christian Binford was a sure bet to be in the big leagues this season (and he still could get there). But then he took a HUGE step back in 2015 (even with more velocity) and then was shut down due to injury (his last game was August 15th). He walked more in 91.1 innings with the Naturals (23) then he did in all of 2014 (22 combined walks at three levels). If Binford can regain his control, with the added velocity, he could be back on the fast track.
Lefty Jonathan Dziedzic dominated the Texas League in the second half of 2015, much like he dominated the Carolina League in the first half of 2014. If only Dziedzic can put it all together for a full season.. Though he rarely touches 90 mph with his fastball, he commands pitches well and knows how to get outs. In a start last spring against Seattle (and many of the Mariners big leaguers), Dziedzic dominated over four innings (he did not allow a hit).
Fellow lefty Sam Selman is such a head scratcher. When he throws strikes, he is virtually unhittable (or at least he doesn’t get hit hard). The problem is that he has a hard time throwing strikes. A move to the bullpen in 2015 did not help (42 walks and 56 hits allowed in 56.1 innings). However, if he can better command his pitches, he is a dark horse candidate for a bullpen spot (lefties hit .211 against him in the Texas League in 2015). Or Selman can at least put himself at the top of the Royals list for a callup.
Right-hander Aroni Nina has electric stuff, but cannot command it. With NW Arkansas last season, he walked 46 in 50.2 innings (he did strike out 50). Add that to the 47 hits he allowed and there were a lot of base runners. Nina did however pitch well in the final two months, allowing just an unearned run (three total) on 11 hits and seven walks over 14 innings. He struck out 16.
Last year, some of the Royals non-roster invitees made quite the impression. Do you think any of the above could be this year’s Ryan Madson?
*Remember, the Royals still need to make a roster move to add starter Ian Kennedy, so whoever gets designated, could also be invited if he clears waivers.