The back end of the vaunted KC Royals bullpen is pretty much set (barring injury) even without Greg Holland (who the Royals are still rumored to want to bring back). There’s closer Wade Davis, flame thrower Kelvin Herrera, and returnee Joakim Soria. You also cannot forget Luke Hochevar, who is fully healthy from Tommy John surgery.
But what about those days when you don’t need the four-head monster or the starter gets knocked out early? Who fills those roles?
Of the pitchers in camp, about 18 of them could do the job. This is probably where there is the most competition and one or two of the spots could come down to who doesn’t win a spot in the rotation. I won’t talk about the lefties in camp (there are nine of them) because I think manager Ned Yost will only carry one left-handed reliever and I’ll delve into that battle tomorrow (Yost could always carry a second lefty if Danny Duffy does not win a rotation spot).
Let’s say Yost decides to go with an eight-man bullpen. Four of those spots are locked and then one goes to a lefty. That leaves three open spots. I’m not going to include Kris Medlen (or Chris Young) here because I think he wins a rotation spot.
As much as this kills me, I think the newest non-roster invitees are the favorites.
*Peter Moylan: I think the submarine-throwing Aussie is finally healthy and he sure looked nasty in both winter ball and in the World Baseball Classic Qualifier for Australia. Moylan has done a little bit of everything when it comes to pitching roles in his career and he could be the Ryan Madson of the Royals bullpen in 2016.
Check out this interview with Moylan via the Kansas City Star.
SIDE NOTE: Seeing Moylan make the Royals Opening Day roster will be exciting for me because I saw him pitch in the first WBC when he signed out of the tournament with Atlanta and began his big league career.
*Dillon Gee: With his early opt-out date, he will be added to the roster if he looks good and healthy during the first few weeks of camp. If not, he will walk. Gee could fill the long relief role well, especially early in the season when the starters will have shorter leashes.
Check out Rustin Dodd’s article on Gee in the Kansas City Star.
*Ross Ohlendorf: He didn’t pitch much in the big leagues in 2015 (21 games), but he made the Texas Rangers playoff roster after being a September callup and pitched well. Ohlendorf has pitched well since making the move to the bullpen. His opt-out date is March 20th.
50-50 chance (or long shots):
*Chien-Ming Wang: I’m not really sure what to expect from Wang. Maybe pitching coach Dave Eiland can work his magic being reunited with Wang. Wang hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2013 and struggled in the minors to keep his ERA under five in the minors. Wang has only made 14 career relief appearances.
*Miguel Almonte and Kyle Zimmer: No one knows what the Royals are going to do with both Almonte and Zimmer. Will they start or will they relieve? I talked about this yesterday when discussing if either could win a rotation spot. If Almonte doesn’t get better command of his pitches, he will be a reliever. If Zimmer continues to have arm problems, he will be a reliever. Both could be shut down relievers.
*Aroni Nina: He’s only made two starts since 2014, so he is accustomed to the relief role. While the strikeouts are high (50 in 50.2 innings in 2015), so are the walks (46) and his ERA (5.15). Nina hasn’t had an ERA under four since 2011.
*Brooks Pounders: Finally healthy, Pounders could fit perfectly as a long man for the Royals if he doesn’t fit into the rotation, though he has only made nine relief appearances since 2013. Opponents have hit .248 against him in his career (481 innings) and he has struck out 441 compared to 161 walks.
*Christian Binford: Until adding extra velocity to his fastball last offseason, I would never envision the control specialist to be a reliever. But then 2015 happened and Binford lost his control. He walked 38 in 119 innings (16 more than he walked in 21.1 less innings when compared with his 2014 season). Opponents also hit .311 against him. Binford has only made four career relief appearances (all with Triple-A Omaha in 2014).
My picks: Moylan, Ohlendorf, and my surprise pick, Almonte.