Whatever your thoughts about the front four of the Royals 2013 rotation, barring injuries, they are set on December 26. Some order of James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis will most likely make up 80% of the Royals rotation and hopefully for most of the season. That leaves one spot to be filled to fill the traditional five-man rotation. Aside from statistical analysis that may or may not prove the Royals will be choosing the correct four to head the top of the rotation, it’s pretty exciting that we’re not even in the new year and the biggest battle in the rotation is for a pitcher who the Royals will only need twice in the season’s first month. I think the other exciting thing is that a few of the candidates have been opening day starters or opening day starter candidates in past seasons.
Three players the Royals had mentioned as potential starters prior to the end of the 2012 season were from the bullpen and they are Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera and Tim Collins. I’m not sure I ever fully believed they were committed to giving any of these players a shot at the rotation, but their acquisitions of Shields, Santana and Davis along with the re-signing of Guthrie pretty much sealed the deal that those three will make up a big part of a very good bullpen. They all should be mentioned in this spot, though, because if injuries hit, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see any of them at least discussed during spring training. I think the chances are less than 2% that any of them start in 2013 as more than just a spot start, but the names need to be mentioned.
The way I see it, the Royals have four serious candidates in house for the fifth starter position, one pitcher who they really want to go to AAA and two long shots that I just don’t see happening. Let’s talk about those long shots first. The longer of the two shots is Nate Adcock who posted a 2.34 ERA in 34.2 innings last season. On the surface, that looks great, but for a pitcher who doesn’t miss bats, I just don’t see a future for him as a starter in the big leagues. I think he has a chance to be a swing man in baseball for quite some time as he has a lot of value to a staff, but I just don’t see a future in the rotation. The other long shot is Everett Teaford who put himself on the prospect map with some added velocity a couple years ago in the minors. I see Teaford as very similar to Adcock in his value to a team. Where Adcock has value in his ground ball tendencies, Teaford has value has a lefty. Neither are likely, but they’ll be considered candidates.
Added thanks to commenter, RoyalRon: Will Smith flashed serious potential last year in his time in the Royals rotation, but the Royals seem like they really want to get him more minor league seasoning before he becomes a part of the Royals future. Two years ago, I thought Will Smith had absolutely no future, but after seeing him pitch and seeing what he’s capable of, I think he has a chance to be a very good back end of the rotation starter. I believe the Royals really want to get him some more time in the minors to develop a little more and see if he can be even more than a back end guy. I personally don’t think he’ll ever be more than a fringe three at best, but having a guy with big league experience ready to go in AAA is not a bad thing at all.
The next longest shot is Guillermo Moscoso. The Royals signed Moscoso to a minor league deal before their big trade to shore up the rotation. Moscoso is a 29 year-old righty who has had some sporadic minor league success with very good strikeout numbers. Of course, as he climbed the ladder in the minors, his numbers got worse which often happens because the competition improves. For most of his big league career, Moscoso pitched mainly in relief, but in 2011, he got a chance to start 21 games for the Oakland Athletics and he really impressed with his numbers putting up a 3.38 ERA in 128 innings pitched. Of course, a lot of that was a boost from the pitcher’s ballpark as his FIP was 4.23 and his xFIP 5.02. He gives up a large amount of fly balls and that plays well in a park like Oakland. Of course, it also would play well in Kansas City. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but I like him for some reason that I can’t put my finger on.
Moving on, the next most likely pitcher is probably Luis Mendoza who was actually the Royals best starter over the course of 2012 going 8-10 with a 4.23 ERA in 30 games and 25 starts. After moving into the rotation full time following Felipe Paulino’s injury, Mendoza went 6-7 with a 3.83 ERA in 122.1 innings. In that time, he gave up 122 hits, struck out 85 and walked 34. What concerned me most about Mendoza was his inability to miss bats. Well, in those 20 starts at the end of the year, he struck out 6.3 batters per nine and walked just 2.5. With his ground ball ability, that’s a number that is definitely workable, especially at the back of a rotation. Averaging six innings per start with those kind of peripherals tells me that Mendoza could be one of the better fifth starters in the league.
The final two candidates are very well known to all of you and they are, of course, Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar. I could go over my thoughts on both of these pitchers again, but if you’ve read me before, you know that I’m simply not a fan of either of them. For my money, Bruce Chen is the better of the two pitchers while Luke Hochevar gives you the opportunity for a dominant performance at any given time. So between these two, it’s simply a matter of preference between game to game consistency (but likely mediocrity or worse) and a guy who some days could match up with anyone and other days might struggle to beat a minor league team. Many think I’m crazy, but I still think that one or both of these pitchers is with another team by the time the season starts. Injuries happen and teams will be looking for relatively cheap replacements and Chen and Hochevar both fit that bill.
Right now, the Royals are mentioning that the real battle will be between Chen and Hochevar, and I think that’s smart of them. If they are indeed trying to trade one or both (and I think they really are), then it makes sense to at least try to boost their value a little bit by talking about them as a starter. I also think that of the three most likely candidates that Mendoza is the best option out of the bullpen. Of course, that’s not a great way to build a pitching staff because I also think he’s the best option for the fifth starter among this group of seven. I think there’s a very small chance that Wade Davis can pitch himself out of the rotation in spring training and two of these pitchers make it, but I think to say that’s a small chance is an intense understatement.
If I had my druthers, I’d set up the rotation (combining my opinions with what I’m pretty sure the Royals are going to do) with Shields, Guthrie, Santana, Davis and Mendoza. I think if Chen and/or Hochevar is on the roster come Opening Day that one of those two will be in the rotation. I hope that isn’t what happens because if the Royals are truly going for it now, neither of those two are the best option and the Royals would be decreasing their chances to win every fifth day. When you want to win a division, every single game counts, so I’m hopeful they make the right choice. And boy did I never believe I’d be a champion for Luis Mendoza, but that day has arrived. Spring training for the Royals will be somewhat dull in terms of positional battles, but the one for the pitcher to round out the rotation will be one of the most interesting to watch.
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