The Royals head into 2023 with a pair of infield spots sewn up. Bobby Witt Jr. and Vinnie Pasquantino are arguably the two most important players in the organization. They’ll be at shortstop and first base, respectively, on an everyday basis if healthy.
Who will fill in alongside them on the dirt is a key question for the front office and first-year skipper Matt Quatraro. The second and third base positions look fluid, and while there are perhaps a pair of early favorites for playing time, both will likely need to perform well early on to hold the job.
Massey, 25 next week, enters the season as the presumptive second baseman. The Illinois product was called upon in early August and got into his first 52 big league contests last year. Through 194 plate appearances, he hit .243/.307/.376 with four home runs. Massey only walked in 4.6% of his plate appearances while striking out at a 23.7% clip that was a little higher than league average.
It was a fine debut but not a resounding showing that’d firmly stake a claim to the job. A former fourth-round pick, Massey has generally been viewed by prospect evaluators as a well-rounded player but one without overwhelming upside. He’s coming off an excellent showing in the upper minors, though, hitting .312/.371/.532 in 87 games between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha.
Dozier is headed into the third season of a four-year contract extension. The first two years haven’t gone as the club envisioned, with the former eighth overall draftee hitting only .226/.289/.391 with a 7.4% walk rate and 26.7% strikeout percentage in more than 1000 plate appearances. Paired with a corner only defensive profile, Dozier’s production has checked in below replacement level over that stretch. He’s yet to consistently maintain the level he showed in 2019, when he connected on 26 home runs with a .279/.348/.522 slash.
Despite the past few seasons’ struggles, the Royals seem set to give Dozier another crack. General manager J.J. Picollo told reporters on the eve of Spring Training that the 31-year-old was likely to see regular work at third base (via Anne Rogers of MLB.com). He’s played primarily first base and the corner outfield since 2020. Public defensive metrics haven’t been particularly enthused with his glovework anywhere on the diamond.
Lopez has been in Kansas City’s Opening Day lineup in each of the last three years. That consistent playing time was due to his elite contact skills and defensive profile up the middle. Lopez has bottom-of-the-scale power and an offensive approach designed to hit the ball on the ground. He rode an unsustainable .347 batting average on balls in play to some success in 2021 but has otherwise been a well below-average hitter at the MLB level.
Even without much offensive impact, Lopez has shown some value in a bottom-of-the-lineup role. He’s a quality baserunner, an attribute that could be a bit more impactful than in years past thanks to the rule changes incentivizing more aggressive running. More importantly, he’s a strong gloveman at both middle infield spots. The division rival White Sox checked in on Lopez as part of their search for second base help in January, though K.C. was reportedly not eager to deal him for what’d have presumably been a fairly meager return. He’d likely be the first person up at the keystone if Massey doesn’t seize the opportunity early in the year.
The 26-year-old Eaton earned his big league debut last summer after hitting .295/.376/.510 in Omaha. He played regularly at third base down the stretch, getting into 44 games. Over his first 122 MLB plate appearances, Eaton hit a league average .264/.331/.387 and swiped 11 bases in 12 attempts. It was a strong showing from the former 21st-round pick that should earn him a roster spot out of camp.
Whether Eaton will get an everyday look at any one position remains to be seen. He’s played a decent amount of corner outfield in the minor leagues in addition to his time at third base. If Kansas City brass prefers him as an outfielder, they should have plenty of at-bats to afford him on the grass. He could also rotate through a handful of positions as a bat-first utility option from the right side of the plate.
García, 23, has just nine big league games under his belt. Aside from that cup of coffee, the Venezuela native split the 2022 season between the top two minor league levels. García hit .285/.359/.427 in 555 combined plate appearances, showing solid plate discipline and contact skills while stealing 39 bases.
Baseball America ranked him the #6 prospect in the organization this offseason. García only has 40 games of Triple-A experience and seems likely to start the year in Omaha but he could factor in at either second or third base in Kansas City before long. He’s played almost exclusively shortstop in the minors and will presumably start to branch out to other infield positions soon with Witt established at shortstop in Kansas City.
The Royals acquired the 24-year-old Taylor from the Blue Jays last summer as part of a two-player return for Whit Merrifield. Kansas City selected his contract this offseason to keep him out of the Rule 5 draft. That puts him on the radar for his first big league call at some point, though he could certainly start the year in Omaha. The former 10th-round selection had hit .258/.337/.426 with nine homers and 23 steals in 70 games for the Jays’ top affiliate before the deal. He didn’t appear in a game with Omaha after the trade because of injury but is now healthy and participating in Spring Training. BA slotted him as the organization’s #24 prospect, suggesting he’s likely to serve a utility role.
Matt Duffy/Johan Camargo/Matt Beaty
This trio of veterans is in camp on minor league deals. They’re all jockeying for a possible utility role in Spring Training, with Beaty and Duffy off to strong starts in exhibition play. Duffy is a high-contact hitter who probably has the highest offensive floor of the group. Camargo offers the most defensive flexibility with the ability to play shortstop. Beaty has shown an intriguing combination of power and contact skills at his best but isn’t a great defender anywhere and is looking to rebound from a Murphy’s law 2022 campaign.
Massey and Dozier look like the likeliest second and third base duo to start the season. Neither seems a lock to hold the job all year, though, raising the possibility for the club to go in a few different directions. Lopez offers a glove-first alternative off the bench, while younger players like García, Eaton and Taylor could play their way into opportunities if players above them on the depth chart struggle. García, in particular, seems like a potential long-term regular based on his defense and strike zone awareness.