KANSAS CITY, Mo. —A look at five Royals players to keep an eye on this spring training.
Peguero, acquired during the off-season from the Mariners, could be the most interesting man in camp. Built like a 3-4 defensive end at 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, Peguero probably has more raw power than anyone on the roster, according to Royals officials. But he will be in for a serious battle with Justin Maxwell and Jarrod Dyson to win a spot on the 25-man roster — actually it likely comes down to Maxwell vs. Peguero for the final backup outfield spot because the Royals want Dyson around to back up oft-injured Lorenzo Cain in center.
One American League scout recently described Peguero to me as a guy who could break out the same way Jose Bautista once did.
"He has the power to be a 40-homer guy, maybe more," the scout said. "He just has never had the chance to show it. He’s also been through too many hitting coaches (in the Seattle organization) and everyone has tried to change him. Some team will just let him be himself and be rewarded with a special talent."
Royals right-hander James Shields knows a little bit about Peguero’s power. Peguero has faced Shields five times and homered off him three times with six RBI.
Peguero and Maxwell (and Dyson) are all out of options, so this roster decision will be a tricky one for the Royals come the end of March. Peguero is left-handed, which means if he makes the team with Dyson, the Royals would have two lefties off the bench, and two right-handers (Danny Valencia and Ramon Hernandez/Brett Hayes).
The Royals don’t figure to do a lot of pinch-hitting, at least not as much as in the past, because they feel confident with the order one through eight. Manager Ned Yost has been reluctant to pinch-hit for Alcides Escobar in the past — that’s another story — but might do so more this year, especially if a power-hitting beast such as Peguero makes the team.
Peguero, 26, hit 31 homers in 2009 at Class A, and hit 19 homers last season at Triple A. He also has nine homers in 219 plate appearances in three brief big-league stints.
Royals officials continue to stress that Valencia wasn’t acquired (for David Lough) from Baltimore to be inserted into a platoon situation with Mike Moustakas at third base. But what Royals officials won’t say publicly is that Valencia simply could take over the job if Moustakas struggles like he did in 2013 and, of course, Valencia can prove he has his career back on track.
The Royals likely will use Valencia as a backup, too, behind Eric Hosmer at first base, providing a big defensive upgrade over designated hitter Billy Butler. Royals officials still see in Valencia the player who won the third-base job in Minnesota in 2011 and performed OK — hitting 15 homers and 28 doubles with 72 RBI.
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Valencia struggled mightily out of the gates in 2012, and eventually was shipped to Boston.
"He has all the skills," said an AL scout. "He’s got a little bit of swagger, maybe too much so for a guy who hasn’t done much. But a good move by the Royals to see if he’s got his act together."
Valencia, 29, could be the type of low-risk, high-reward acquisition that small-market teams must thrive on.
We’ve written quite a bit about the battle for the final rotation spot, but realistically, the competition will come down to Ventura vs. Luke Hochevar. The Royals are still a little wary of Danny Duffy’s elbow issues from last September and might use caution with him this spring, meaning he could be ticketed for Omaha.
And yes, Wade Davis officially is in the running for a rotation spot, too, but the gap between his effectiveness as a reliever and his ineffectiveness as a starter is simply too vast to ignore.
And that leaves Hochevar vs. Ventura, both of whom the club sees as good fits in the rotation because the Royals would like another upper-velocity addition to the rotation already filled by finesse throwers Bruce Chen and Jason Vargas.
Club officials would love to see Ventura simply snatch the job, but they also have always believed in Hochevar’s stuff and are curious to see if Hochevar can transition what he learned in the bullpen (pacing himself) back into the rotation.
"If he can make that transition," one club official said, "then we’ve got the guy we always thought could be a front-line starter."
There was probably good news for Coleman over the weekend when Yost reiterated that he isn’t locked into carrying two left-handers in the bullpen.
The Royals will carry seven relievers, and if Yost indeed goes without two left-handers, the group likely could be Greg Holland, Aaron Crow, Davis, Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera, Hochevar/Ventura and Coleman.
We should note that if Hochevar beats out Ventura for a rotation spot, there’s always a chance Ventura winds up at Omaha in order to continue his development as a starter.
But the picture would be brighter for Coleman if the Royals stick with one left-hander (Collins). Coleman certainly is deserving after going 3-0 with a 0.61 ERA and a 0.843 WHIP in 2013.
Hernandez, a former All-Star, will be in a battle for the backup catcher’s spot with Brett Hayes, and that could be a spirited competition.
Club officials like the idea of having a veteran Latin presence to work with Sal Perez. And they are not concerned with Hernandez’s age (37) because they don’t expect him to have to catch more than 30 or so games.
Of course, there are some logistical issues — Hernandez isn’t on the 40-man roster and Hayes is, and it’s iffy whether the Royals could sneak Hayes through waivers. The Royals see value in Hayes and don’t want to lose that.
The long-term backup role could belong to 24-year-old Francisco Pena (son of former Royals manager Tony), who will go to Omaha this year. The Royals are intrigued by Pena’s defensive skills, and the feeling is that Hernandez could provide a one-year stopgap at the big-league level until Pena is ready to be mentored by Perez into a backup role.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email firstname.lastname@example.org.