2017 is a new year which brings on a new season. The KC Royals are hoping it is a much better season than 2016, especially in the minor leagues. All four full-season affiliates had losing records and finished last in their respective divisions (even NW Arkansas, who made it to the Texas League finals). Two of those affiliates had the worst record in their respective leagues (Triple-A Omaha and Low-A Lexington).
Triple-A Omaha was the last team to release their rosters today. They have quite a bit of Major League experience and quite a few returnees. The pitching could be VERY good.
The new faces include new faces to the organization: relievers Al Alburquerque and Bobby Parnell, catcher Brayan Pena, infielders Dean Anna and Garin Cecchini, and outfielder Peter O’Brien.
The Storm Chasers rotation looks to include Josh Staumont, Jake Junis, Luke Farrell, and Jonathan Dziedzic (the lone lefty starter). They have no other starters on their roster, though Yender Caramo has done it in the past.
Omaha has quite a few options to pitch late in games: Mark Peterson, Kevin McCarthy, Malcom Culver, lefty Scott Alexander, and Andrew Edwards. Alburquerque and Parnell could also close.
Lefty Eric Stout is the only other newbie on the pitching staff. Veteran Chris Withrow will start the season on the DL.
Cam Gallagher made great strides on offense last season and was back to playing stellar defense behind the plate. Expect him to get the bulk of the catching duties, with veteran Brayan Pena backing him up.
Expect Ramon Torres and Corey Toups to anchor the middle infield. Not sure where Whit Merrifield will play, but he can play anywhere. Slugger Ryan O’Hearn gets the bump to play first base despite a disastrous second half in Double-A last year. I expect Cecchini to get the bulk of the playing time at third base and Anna will back up both Torres and Toups.
Home run hitter O’Brien joins speedster Billy Burns, Bubba Starling, and Jorge Bonifacio in the outfield. Bonifacio is coming off a great spring training and maybe Starling will finally put it all together.
Double-A NW Arkansas was the first to release their Opening Day rosters, mainly because manager Vance Wilson made contact with beat write Paul Boyd, who was kind enough to tweet out the roster. Right now, they have a 26-man roster, so someone (besides Andy Ferguson) will need to be placed on the DL.
On offense, there are quite a few familiar faces. After spending the 2016 season in Triple-A, catcher Parker Morin returns to the Naturals. He joins Zane Evans, who is coming off an injury-riddled season.
In the infield, corner guys (and reigning Texas League All-Stars) Frank Schwindel and Mauricio Ramos return, along with Samir Duenez, who joined the team late in August. Shortstop Humberto Arteaga joins light-hitting middle infielders Jack Lopez and Carlos Diaz. That just goes to show how thin the Royals system is in terms of middle infield depth.
In the outfield is where you will find some new faces. Speedster Donnie DeWee (who was acquired this offseason from the Chicago Cubs for Alec Mills) and minor league free agent signee Ruben Sosa will debut with returnees Logan Moon and Alfredo Escalera.
Oft-injured Kyle Zimmer is expected to anchor the Naturals rotation with returnees Miguel Almonte and Christian Binford. Newbies Zach Lovvorn, Matt Tenuta, and Corey Ray round out the rotation. There was an addition to the original list, as lefty Eric Skoglund is also in the rotation (he was expected to be in Omaha).
The only new face in the Naturals bullpen is Jake Newberry, who could slide into the closer role. He will join Pedro Fernandez, Ashton Goudeau, Evan Beal, Reid Redman, and lefties Sam Selman and Tim Hill.
High-A Wilmington was next up in releasing their Opening Day rosters Monday afternoon. There is some Latin flair, with eight players hailing from either Mexico, Venezuela, or the Dominican Republic.
The Blue Rocks pitching staff is left-handed heavy, with seven of their 13 pitchers being lefties.
The Blue Rocks rotation could be a strong suit, especially if the returnees pitch better than last season. AJ Puckett, the Royals second round pick last June, is being aggressively pushed to High-A, and looks to anchor the staff. Scott Blewett, who was a second round pick in 2014, will join returnee and 2014’s first round pick Foster Griffin. Griffin has to be better than last year, right? Lefty Colin Rodgers looks to stay healthy. Fellow lefty Cristian Castillo gets the bump from rookie level Burlington and most likely fills the fifth spot, though it is an aggressive push for a guy who signed out of Mexico in December of 2014.
Lefty Luis Rico returns for his third season in Wilmington. He will be joined in the bullpen by new-to-the-organization Jared Ruxer, who the Royals received from the LA Angels this offseason for Brooks Pounders.
Lefty Emilio Ogando could slide into the rotation, much as he did last season in Lexington. Richard Lovelady, a 10th round pick last June, dominated rookie level Idaho Falls, will most likely pitch late in games (though we don’t usually see a closer this early in the season).
Jake Kalish, who I felt was the Blue Rocks best reliever after his promotion from Lexington last season (before getting hurt and missing the last few weeks of the season), is back. Latin guys Yunior Marte, Andres Machado, and Franco Terrero round out the bullpen.
The Blue Rocks have three catchers on their active roster, including prospect Chase Vallot. Colton Frabasilio, who saw a little time in Wilmington last season, can play first base and catch. Nathan Esposito, a late round pick in 2015, will most likely split time with Vallot behind the plate, making the aggressive jump from rookie level Burlington.
The Blue Rocks infield should be better than last season, with fifth round pick in June Nicky Lopez at shortstop and DJ Burt aT second base. Third base could be manned by a combo of returnee Wander Franco, and newbies Travis Maezes and Jecksson Flores. Maezes can also play second base, while Flores can also play second base and shortstop.
The Blue Rocks outfield has familiar faces, two of which are hoping the third time is a charm in Wilmington. Brandon Downes, the new Blue Rocks record holder for strikeouts in a season, and Elier Hernandez return. Roman Collins, who started last season with the Blue Rocks, begins the 2017 season back in Wilmington. Anderson Miller, who was a mid-season callup, is also back.
Low-A Lexington has a mix of newbies and returnees to start the 2017 season. They also have some Latin flair, with nine players coming from VZ, Columbia, the DR, and Puerto Rico.
Behind the plate will be reigning Pioneer League MVP Meibrys Viloria, who had the chance to represent his home country of Columbia in this year’s World Baseball Classic. His backup will be returnee Nick Dini.
The Legends infield is all new faces. Expect 2016 draft pick (eighth round) Chris DeVito to man first base, with Manny Olloque or Emmanuel Rivera over at third base. Rivera won the Clemente League batting title this past winter (Puerto Rico). Ricky Aracena and Angelo Castellano will most likely man the middle infield positions. Gabriel Cancel can play any infield spot.
The interesting note in the outfield is Marten Gasparini, who has thankfully been moved off shortstop (he made 49 errors there last season). Two 2016 Royals draft picks join Gasparini in the outfield: Khalil Lee and Kort Peterson. Lee jumps all the way from the AZL Royals, while Peterson played in Burlington. Returnee Amalani Fukofuka rounds out the outfield, as he hopes a repeat of his 2015 season.
On the pitching side, Nolan Watson, Gerson Garabito, and Julio Pinto are the only returnees. The Legends staff is the opposite of Wilmington’s: they are right-handed heavy, having just three lefties. Six pitchers drafted last June join the Legends staff, including fourth rounder Jace Vines. They include Travis Eckert, Grant Gavin, David McKay, Walker Sheller, and lefty Vance Tatum.
The other lefties are Garrett Davila and Andre Davis, fourth and eighth round picks in 2015. Ofreidy Gomez and Jose Veras round out the Legends staff.
Who is excited for Opening Night in the minors? I’m hoping the rain holds off in Wilmington.
*There are A LOT Of players missing from the above rosters (quite a few who ended the season in Wilmington) so I’m guessing they are either in extended spring training or were released.