With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com takes a look at a different aspect of this year's Royals squad each day this week. Today's topic: Predicting the 25-man roster.
KANSAS CITY -- It's what every fan and reporter loves to do this time of year: An early projection of the team's 25-man roster come Opening Day.
How many outfielders will the Royals carry? Do they need six or seven bullpen arms? Who will be the fifth starter? As one would expect, that 25th and final roster spot and the final bullpen spot will be the interesting battles in camp.
Catchers: Salvador Perez, Drew Butera
Perez remains one of the best defenders in the game, and he also set a franchise record for home runs by a catcher with 22 last season. Butera provides a solid backup who signed a two-year deal after his .808 OPS and four home runs in 55 games in 2016.
First base: Eric Hosmer
Last year's MVP at the All-Star Game presented by MasterCard faded in the second half, but he still posted career highs in home runs (25) and RBIs (104).
Second base: Whit Merrifield
Merrifield is potentially a dynamic offensive player who has terrific speed and can play everywhere. He will battle Christian Colon for the starting spot.
Third base: Mike Moustakas
An ACL injury in May robbed Moustakas of a potentially big year (he already had seven homers). He is poised for a big comeback.
Starting outfield: Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Jorge Soler
Gordon's fractured right wrist from last May is completely healed now, he says. Gordon needs a big bounce-back year. A left hand injury virtually wiped out Cain's final six weeks last season and really impeded the Royals' playoff drive. Cain also needs a big year -- he could be headed to free agency after 2017. And all eyes will be on Soler and his potential power. Can Soler adjust to American League pitching?
Designated hitter: Brandon Moss
Yes, general manager Dayton Moore has said Moss won't be a primary DH, that he'll see time in the corner outfield or as a backup first baseman. But the guess here is Moss will see plenty of time at DH.
Bench: Colon, Cheslor Cuthbert, Paulo Orlando, Billy Burns
Colon lost eight pounds in an offseason training program. It will be interesting to see how it translates onto the field. He could be at a crossroads in the organization. Cuthbert is likely to see time at DH -- he also is out of options and has nowhere to go but on the 25-man roster or be traded. Orlando wants to build on his breakthrough 2016 season (.302, 24 doubles, 14 steals), but he will have limited opportunity as a fourth outfielder. A very early guess is that Burns steals the final spot. The Royals could go with the one-dimensional weapon of Terrance Gore there, too. They also could go with slugger Peter O'Brien as a DH/OF if he has a big spring. Or they could go with a 12th pitcher.
Rotation: Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Jason Vargas, Jason Hammel, Nathan Karns
Moore has called this his best rotation yet. Duffy, who signed a five-year, $65 million extension, is the ace and Opening Day starter. Kennedy proved durable (195 2/3 innings) and effective (3.68 ERA) in his first year as a Royal in '16. Vargas posted a 2.25 ERA in three September starts coming off Tommy John surgery. Hammel should be a solid addition to the rotation and has averaged over 170 innings the past three seasons. As for the fifth spot, should be a good battle in camp among Karns, Chris Young, Kyle Zimmer and perhaps Matt Strahm and others.
Bullpen: Kelvin Herrera, Joakim Soria, Strahm, Young, Mike Minor, Josh Staumont
Easily the biggest question mark on the team, which is strange to say about a Dayton Moore bullpen. Herrera is officially the closer now and he has big shoes to fill from predecessors Greg Holland to Wade Davis over the past few years. Soria? Man, he needs a bounce-back season. If the Royals are to have a shutdown bullpen again, they need Strahm as a setup guy -- he is simply too valuable here as a middle man. Minor, in the second year of a two-year deal, is coming off a lost season -- he will have his work cut out for him competing with Brian Flynn and Zimmer and all the non-roster veterans (Brandon League, Jonathan Sanchez, Chris Withrow, Al Alburquerque, etc.). Staumont isn't even on the 40-man roster, but the Royals believe he and his 100-mph fastball could be the surprise of camp.
Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.