SURPRISE, Ariz. — The combination of Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura represents both an asset and a quandary for the Royals. They are two talented young pitchers the organization believes will be critical to their future. They are also critical in the present.
There is one spot open in the Royals rotation. Duffy and Ventura are two of the four main candidates, along with Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar. The dilemma for the Royals is where to place the pitcher who does not win that fifth spot. In the short term, each would be an asset for an already relentless bullpen. In the long term, each may be better served developing in the minor leagues and awaiting a call-up.
“I would lean towards one of them starting in Omaha,” general manager Dayton Moore said. “I would lean there. But I would be open to the debate.”
The debate figures to stretch the length of this camp. The fifth starter race holds the key to the composition of the team’s pitching staff.
For now, only three pitchers appear penciled into the bullpen: Closer Greg Holland, lefty Tim Collins and righty Aaron Crow. Hochevar starred in a relief role in 2013 and ended the season as a late-inning force. Davis has experienced more success as a reliever.
As the Royals peer into the future, they envision both Ventura and Duffy as starters. But when asked about the impetus using either pitcher as a reliever, manager Ned Yost referenced a “short window” that the team needed to strike within. The quandary for Moore is balancing the urge to succeed in this window and the need to lengthen the window as long as possible.
“It’s not win in 2014 or nothing,” he said.
It is far too early to make predictions for the competition. Yost explained on Tuesday he won’t begin evaluating players until the Cactus League games begin on Feb. 27. But he provided an interesting window into his thought process.
“Look, you’ve got short windows,” he said. “There’s not a lot of teams out there like the Braves that won 14 consecutive division championships, right? Windows, they tend to be two, three, four years long. And I think when you get in those windows, you better take full advantage of it.”
But successful teams also have depth in their starting rotation, Moore reminded. He said team needs at least eight viable starters in the system ready to contribute.
“We want to build a rotation that can compete over 162 games,” he said. “So it makes sense to have a few guys in Omaha that you can count on.”
Moore raves about lefty Chris Dwyer, who finished with a 3.55 ERA in 159 2/3 Class AAA innings in 2013. Former All-Star Brad Penny is willing to spend time in the minors. Before he underwent Tommy John surgery, John Lamb was considered a more precious prospect than either Duffy or Ventura. Lamb experienced a miserable 2013 as he continues his rehabilitation.
The presence of Kyle Zimmer is tantalizing, but still far from tangible. He has yet to begin his throwing program this spring. The organization backed off his work-load after he experienced some discomfort in his right shoulder while working out this winter. He is still projected to throw 150 innings in 2014, but a big-league arrival isn’t expected until midseason.
“It’s our job as a baseball operations department,” Moore said, “to have as much depth as possible.”