A really, really early look at who makes the Royals’ 25-man roster

If Flanny's instincts are on target, Luke Hochevar will be returning to a rotation near you.

Peter Aiken/Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Yes, this will be a ridiculously early projection on who will make the Royals’ 25-man roster coming out of spring training. But hey, that’s what we do when it’s late January and we want to think baseball.

These projections are based on my own (highly suspect) analysis as well as on conversations with club officials. But I reserve the right to change or alter this 25-man list numerous times between now and Opening Day.

That vague enough?

Here we go:

ROTATION (5): James Shields, Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie, Danny Duffy, Luke Hochevar

The top three spots are a given, barring injury.

As much as the Royals would love either Kyle Zimmer or Yordano Ventura to make the rotation out of spring training, they likely will want Ventura to work on his command a bit more at Triple A and Zimmer to face at least a few Triple-A hitters before he earns a spot in the bigs.

The organization believes it has enough depth in the bullpen to put Hochevar back into the rotation, even though Hochevar was outstanding in the ‘pen last season. Look for the Royals to give Hochevar at least through April and early May to see if he has readjusted enough to be a reliable starter. If not, the call to Ventura, Zimmer or Brad Penny will come. The club says Duffy will have to "earn" his way into the rotation, and even though Duffy has minor league options, the No. 4 spot is his unless he blows up in the spring.

Penny will get a long look in the spring, but he already has indicated he would be willing to go to Omaha to work on his command after taking a year off. That’s where he’ll end up to start the season, most likely.

BULLPEN (7): Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Donnie Joseph, Luis Coleman

Skipper Ned Yost probably would like to carry 13 pitchers this season (I can see him going all Tony La Russa on us this season), but 12 will have to be the max because of roster concerns with the position players. And actually, carrying 11 would be ideal, as you will see later when we discuss the backup infield decisions.

Holland, of course, is the closer. The Royals will cross their fingers that Herrera has a bounce-back year because, let’s face it, he has dynamic stuff. Davis was more effective as a reliever, by far, and he will share setup duties with Herrera, Collins and Crow, who faded badly down the stretch and also needs to have a bounce-back year. Coleman was outstanding last season (0.61 ERA, 0.843 WHIP) and could move up in the pecking order if Herrera, Crow or Davis falters.

Joseph will likely win the No. 2 lefty role over Francisley Bueno. Yes, Bueno is out of options. But the Royals released Bueno before when he was out of options and got him back. They’re not worried.

CATCHERS (2): Sal Perez, Ramon Hernandez

The backup spot behind Perez will get pretty interesting as spring training wears on. Hernandez is not on the 40-man roster; Brett Hayes is. And Hayes is out of options. Hmmm. So, for Hernandez to make the team, the Royals would have to send Hayes through waivers and possibly lose him.

If Hernandez shows them anything in Arizona, they will take that gamble. Club officials like the idea of having a veteran Latin presence working with Perez — that’s why Hernandez was signed — though they also concede that Hayes knows this staff pretty well and showed a little bit of offense last season. It will be interesting to see how this roster spot competition plays out.

INFIELD (5) : Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Omar Infante, Eric Hosmer, Danny Valencia

The starting spots are set with Hosmer at first, Infante at second, Escobar at shortstop and Moustakas at third. The intrigue is how the bench is stocked.

This will be another interesting spring training development: Seeing if the Royals enter the season without a true backup middle infielder. Where is Emilio Bonifacio, you say? Well, likely traded by the end of spring. Granted, the Royals would be a better team with Bonifacio still on it. But Bonifacio lost his starting job when the Royals signed Infante, and Bonifacio still views himself as a starter, meaning he won’t take kindly to any super-utility role (the source of his unhappiness in Toronto). The Royals already know this and will wait for the best possible deal through the spring before dealing him.

Pedro Ciriaco is the other backup middle infielder candidate, and he is out of options, so if the Royals carry five infielders (Valencia, a corner infielder, is a lock), Ciriaco will be subjected to waivers. The Royals would be willing to take that slight gamble (there are other Ciriacos out there) just so they can carry 12 pitchers. With so many open dates early in the season, the Royals don’t see a huge need for a backup middle infielder, at least not early on. In an emergency, Valencia could fill in until help is called up from Omaha.

OUTFIELD (5): Alex Gordon, Norichika Aoki, Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, Justin Maxwell

No surprises here. Gordon in left, Cain in center, Aoki in right. Dyson and Maxwell are both out of options, so the Royals have to carry five outfielders. Don’t want to lose value.

DH (1): Billy Butler

The one and only Billy Butler should be set to have a better year, though his 2013 season wasn’t bad at all — it just never seemed like a real Billy year. Billy is not likely to get much backup playing time at first (he won’t be amused by that) because Valencia is the better defensive alternative there.

You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email jeffreyflanagan6@gmail.com.