Never mind the Pollocks...
After yesterday's intra-squad game at Salt River Fields, where he faced Opening Day starter Zack Greine, A.J. Pollock has said he's healthy and "ready to go" for Opening Day, even though he has not appeared in a Cactus League game for over three weeks, leaving questions over whether he has had enough spring at-bats to be ready. He said, "I faced Zack today for four at-bats. I think that’s worth about 30! I had some tough at-bats... For me, four at-bats off of him is huge. I had one bloop single; another one that was kind of, maybe, an Arizona Cactus League hit up the middle. Felt good, felt pretty competitive against him, which is good. Just feels good to be playing."
Manager Chip Hale didn't see it, but seemed encouraged, and hopes to get Pollock in action for the games on Friday and Saturday at Chase against Kansas City - even if doing so could be risky, as it'd remove the possibility of backdating any necessary DL stint. "He's feeling better every time he goes out there and plays, more confident, that's what we're looking for. My gut tells me he's going to be ready for Opening Day, but he has to feel he has enough at-bats under his belt that he can compete at the highest level." If Pollock is ready, Socrates Brito would likely return to being the team's fourth outfielder.
One bullpen spot or two?
On the other hand, we have not-so-good health news. It has generally been thought that six of the bullpen spots were locked down, with the likes of Silvino Bracho, Enrique Burgos and Jake Barrett fighting for one place. However, it appears that Josh Collmenter's struggles this spring may have a physical cause behind them - probably a good thing, given the five home-runs he has allowed in his 13 Cactus League innings If there wasn't, he would likely get the benefit of the doubt because, as Hale put it, "Guys like him, he's established himself as a major leaguer, he knows how to pitch," though the manager acknowledged Josh's inability to hit his spots has been problematic.
But it now appears that he may not be 100% physically. After giving up five runs over Sunday in three innings of an intra-squad game, Hale reported today that Collmenter "felt tightness in his right shoulder to the point he couldn't fully extend his arm." Tests showed up nothing more than mild inflammation, and Josh was taken out action for a few days, but combined with the poor spring performances, it's enough to cast doubt on the roster spot for our Opening Day starter last season. "Is he going to start the season with us, on the DL?" asked Hale, pre-empting the obvious question, then answering with the equally obvious: "That's a decision we have to make."
If Collmenter is unavailable, it appears likely the team will then go with two of the four men deemed most likely to be in contention for a spot: in alphabetical order, they are Jake Barrett, Silvino Bracho, Enrique Burgos and Evan Marshall. Here's how the four stand up, in terms of spring performances - again, in alphabetical order:
Something to be said for all of them, one way or another - though, damn, Barrett's peripherals look very nice, don't they? - and I doubt there'll be rioting in the streets regardless of which one, or two, of them make the final roster.
Back of the bench
Presuming a healthy Pollock, and Brito moving to back-up, that appears likely to give the team a bench of Tuffy Gosewisch, Phil Gosselin, Chris Owings, Brito and one other. Obvious candidates included the ones looked at last week, but a potentially significant wrinkle is the recent unexpected release of left-handed reliever Matt Reynolds. With Hale saying the team will carry 12 pitchers rather than 13, it means there is a 40-man roster spot open. That would appear to be boost the chances of those outside the current 40-man list, such as Ricke Weeks' Jr, because their addition would no longer require a player to be dropped, and potentially lost to the team.
In the poll on our article, Brandon Drury was the fan favorite for the final spot, getting half of the votes, and it's interesting to note Drury did start in the outfield a couple of days ago. Flexibility is certainly a plus when it comes to those last spots on the roster. Just as a Swiss Army Knife may not be great for slicing bread, but it still is useful to have in your pocket, sometimes a player who can handle multiple positions fairly well, is more valuable than a player who is better, but limited to a single spot. This may help the case of Chris Herrmann, who is also out of minor-league options. Preston made the case for Herrmann recently.
The time is now
With Hale wanting to get everything finalized before the Royals' contests, time is running out. We have one last game at Salt River Fields tomorrow afternoon, so it wouldn't surprise me if the announcement of the final winners and losers is made either following that game, or early Friday morning. Will there be surprises? Shocks? An unexpected omission? Peter O'Brien instead of Yasmany Tomas? You heard it here first.... Unless it doesn't happen, in which case - never mind. Probably nothing too big, actually. But it'll be nice to have everything locked in, in lieu of speculating how the wheels are turning in Chip's mind...