Royals line up fairly set with Spring Training starting

Royals' Volquez

FEBRUARY 2015 – When the pitchers and catchers report Feb. 19 at Surprise, Arizona, expect little to no competition for jobs in the Kansas City Royals’ spring training.

Barring any injury, this roster has few vacancies outside of a backup infielder and a bullpen spot.

“It’s the mark of a good team,” manager Ned Yost said at the Royals’ FanFest. “There won’t be much competition. We’re pretty set. There won’t be a whole lot of battles position-wise. You’ll always get a surprise or two in spring – some in a good way and some in a bad way – but we’re pretty set.”

The Royals return nearly everyone from a club that won 89 regular season games in 2014, plus 11 more in the playoffs to win the American League pennant and pushed the San Francisco Giants to Game Seven of the World Series.

The major subtractions from 2014 are No. 1 starter James Shields, designated hitter Billy Butler, right fielder Nori Aoki and right-handed reliever Aaron Crow. Shields went 27-17 in his two seasons with the Royals, with ERAs of 3.15 in 2013 and 3.21 last season. He led the league with 228 2/3 innings in 2013 and threw another 227 innings in 2014.

Butler, who signed with the Oakland Athletics, had been the Royals’ primary designated hitter for several seasons, but after hitting .323 with 32 doubles, 29 home runs and 107 RBIs in 2012, his numbers declined the past two seasons. He hit .271 with nine home runs and 66 RBIs last year.

Aoki hit .285 with one home run – a grand slam Aug. 5 at Arizona – 63 runs and 17 stolen bases in 25 attempts in his lone season with the Royals. After a slow start, Aoki hit .317 after the All-Star break, including .379 with a .432 on-base percentage in September to help push the Royals into the playoffs for the first time since 1985.

Sponsor-RoyalsCrow, who went to Topeka Washburn Rural High and was the 2008 Big 12 pitcher of the year at Missouri, was an American League All-Star pick as a rookie in 2011. He had a 6-1 record in 67 relief appearances, but a 6.86 ERA after the All-Star break. Crow, who was left off playoff rosters, was dealt to the Miami Marlins.

While the Royals signed free agent right-hander Edinson Volquez to replace Shields in the rotation, hard-throwing Yordano “Ace” Ventura will likely be the Opening Day starter. Ventura shut down the Giants in Game 6 of the World Series and went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA as a rookie.

“We don’t need someone anointed with a sword or anything,” Yost said. “It will work itself out.”

Volquez went 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA last season for the Pittsburgh Pirates, striking out 140 in 193 innings.

“I think I made the right choice,” Volquez of signing with the Royals. “I saw what they did last year.”

Volquez will not feel slighted if Ventura is slotted as the No. 1 starter.

“I wish I could throw like that,” Volquez said.

Kris Medlen is an X-factor for the rotation. He did not pitch last year for the Atlanta Braves after his second Tommy John surgery, but expects to be at 100 percent this season and contribute. He likely would not be ready to pitch in the majors until late May, but he could be a nice pick up. He went 15-12 with a 3.11 ERA in 2013.

Kendrys Morales will replace Butler as the designated hitter, while Alex Rios will be the new right fielder. Both are coming off down years.

Morales, who sat out the first two months of the season while waiting for a contract, hit a puny .218 with eight home runs and 42 RBIs with in 98 games with Minnesota and Seattle. Morales hit .306 with 34 home runs and 108 RBIs in 2009 with the Angels. While he likely will not duplicate those numbers in 2015, he did pound 23 home runs and drive in 80 runs in 2013 with the Mariners, numbers the Royals would not mind seeing this year.

Rios hit .280 in 2014 with Texas, but only four home runs and 54 RBIs in 131 games. In 2013, Rios hit 18 home runs with 81 RBIs with the White Sox and Rangers. In 2012, Rios hit .304 with 25 HRs, 37 doubles and 91 RBIs with the White Sox. Those are the kind of numbers the Royals are optimistic Rios will provide.

Where Rios and Morales will bat in the lineup will be determined in spring training.

Jason Frasor, who the Royals acquired last July 16 in a trade with the Texas Rangers, took innings away from the ineffective Crow the second half of last season. He signed back with the Royals and will be part of a strong bullpen that includes closer Greg Holland and setups Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis.

One question that must be addressed in spring training is whether to keep Rule 5 pick Jandel Gustave. He is another flame-thrower that the Royals would like to add to their bullpen collection, but has never pitched above Class A. He was impressive in winter ball. The Royals have to keep him on the 25-man roster all season or offer him back to the Houston Astros, his original club, for $25,000.

But the Royals enter spring training with few question marks.

Article by Alan Eskew, Editor

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