SURPRISE, Ariz. — Jostle your way past the mute guys with cameras on the Royals’ conditioning field for one of manager Ned Yost’s pre-workout news briefings. You’ve got questions regarding the roster and competition in camp for jobs.
Who’s going to be the starting second baseman? Who is going to be the fifth starter in the rotation? How many utility players are you keeping? One or two backup outfielders? Who is the backup catcher? The last guy in the bullpen?
Good questions, but Yost doesn’t yet have the answers – and he turns the tables to illustrate the point.
“Who’s going to be the next president?” he asked. “I want to know. I’m not asking you to guess. I want to know. And I want to know now…”
Yost pauses to let that sink in.
So…Chris Getz or Johnny Giavotella at second base? Unknown. Fifth starter? To be determined. How many utility guys? Probably two, which is how it seemed when camp opened.
Backup catcher? Last reliever? Neither is likely to be decided until late in camp. Not now in late February.
“There are too many variables that you have to consider to see what happens,” Yost said. “When you get there, you get there. You sit here, and you analyze – and you overanalyze it. You know what? You have to let it play out.
“When you get to a (certain) point, you see where you’re at, you make a decision and you go. But you can’t start filling your mind with preconceived ideas because it starts to prejudice your thinking.
“You can’t have that. You have to leave your mind open until you get to the point you need to make a decision. Then you make it and go.”
It’s clear from Yost that the Royals aren’t close to that “point,” but it’s still possible to spot some trends for each of the above questions.
Getz or Giavotella?
The competition is mano-a-mano. Elliot Johnson, Miguel Tejada, Irving Falu and Christian Colón are not in the mix.
“It’s primarily a two-man thing,” Yost confirmed. “The other guys, they’re going to be utility-type guys. At this point, I see that one of those two guys is going to be able to handle that position.”
There is no reason to expect a quick decision, but only one is likely to break camp with the club because neither projects as a good fit for a utility role. The loser probably goes to Triple-A Omaha.
“Johnny’s strength is offense,” Yost said, “but he’s really improved his defense. The key is Johnny has got to hit, but we all know that he can. He hasn’t proven that he can hit here, but he’s going to hit here. He’s just too good of a hitter (not to).
“But Getzie needs to stay healthy. That’s the other thing. He’s never been able to do that and establish himself. He’s had the opportunity to, but he’s never stayed healthy enough to be able to do it.”
The competition is among Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen and Luis Mendoza — and, from all appearances, the Royals don’t appear too concerned with it.
In part, that’s because all three figure to make the club. Also, the Royals will only need a fifth starter once in their first 21 games, although Yost might choose to roll five starters rather than pitch his front four on regular rest.
“Is it important in terms of the fifth starter?” Yost said. “Yeah. But it doesn’t matter what those guys do, they’re on my team.”
Utility infielders and backup outfielders?
The Royals signed Tejada and acquired Johnson by trade from Tampa Bay in the expectation that both would make the club. That’s not absolute, but it seems a clear preference and would force Falu back to Omaha.
“My plan in the spring,” Yost said, “is to look at Tejada mainly at first and third but some short and second. I want to use Elliot Johnson mainly at second and short but some first and third.”
If the Royals keep two utility men, that leaves room for just one backup outfielder and means a seven-man bullpen. Barring injuries, that backup outfielder figures to be Jarrod Dyson. His speed is an appealing late-game weapon, and he’s out of options.
The competition between George Kottaras and Brett Hayes, each acquired through offseason waiver claims, figures to heat up next week when Salvy Perez departs to play for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.
“They say Kottaras is an offensive catcher,” Yost said, “and Brett Hayes is a defensive catcher. Brett has looked very good behind the plate, but he’s looked OK in swinging the bat. George has looked good at swinging the bat, but he’s looked OK behind the plate.
“I haven’t seen enough for that to play out. They both are solid guys. They both have major-league experience. Both are perfect backup guys. I don’t want to label them as having a backup mentality, but they understand the role. They get it.”
Adam Moore is a darkhorse candidate, but he’s on a minor-league contract. That puts him at a severe disadvantage.
Last man in the bullpen?
Six of seven bullpen spots are set (barring injuries). There are what Yost calls his “back four” of closer Greg Holland and setup relievers Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins and Aaron Crow.
The Royals also seem committed to keeping two long relievers from the Hochevar-Chen-Mendoza competition. Whichever two guys don’t win a spot in the rotation go in the bullpen.
That sets up fierce competition for one spot among (in alphabetical order) Francisley Bueno, Blaine Boyer, Louis Coleman, J.C. Gutierrez, Donnie Joseph, Guillermo Moscoso, Brian Sanches, Atahualpa Severino, Everett Teaford and Dan Wheeler.
It’s possible that one guy could simply produce a lights-out spring that forces his way onto the roster. More likely, if it’s at all close, it will come down to who can be optioned or reassigned to the minors.
Bueno, Coleman, Joseph and Teaford are on the 40-man rosters but have options remaining. Boyer, Sanches, Severino and Wheeler are in camp on minor-league contracts.
That leaves Gutierrez and Moscoso.