Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and infielder Matt Duffy have been informed that they’ll be on the Royals’ Opening Day roster, tweets Anne Rogers of MLB.com. Both were in camp as non-roster invitees, so they’ll need to be added to the 40-man roster. Designated hitter/outfielder Franmil Reyes, also in camp on an NRI, is “likely” to make the roster, Rogers continues, adding that outfielder Edward Olivares and utilityman Nate Eaton are both going to be on the Opening Day squad as well. Olivares and Eaton are already on the 40-man roster. The New York Post’s Jon Heyman first indicated over the weekend that Bradley was expected to make the roster.
Bradley, 33 in April, has long been considered among the best defensive outfielders in the sport, having collected a whopping 58 Outs Above Average since the start of the 2016 season, including a +3 mark in 2022. His history at the plate is far more complicated, however. From 2015-2020, Bradley oscillated between being a decently above average (118 wRC+ in 2016) and slightly below average (89 wRC+ in 2019) bat from year to year, ultimately posting a 102 wRC+ in 709 games over that six-year period.
Since then, however, Bradley has been nothing short of brutal at the plate: In 266 games in the past two seasons for the Brewers, Red Sox, and Blue Jays, Bradley has slashed just .182/.245/.285, good for a wRC+ of 46 that indicates Bradley was 54% worse than the average major-league hitter over that timeframe. Looking at the underlying metrics, it’s easy to see that Bradley’s struggles are borne of regression in virtually all aspects of his game since his days as an average bat with the Red Sox. Notably, his walk rate has dropped from 9.6% to 6.5% while his ISO has plummeted from a solid .191 down to just .103.
Even with his strikeout rate staying mostly stagnant (it ticked up slightly from 24.6% during the 2015-2020 season to 26.2% the past two years), that loss of power and declining ability to elicit free passes leaves Bradley highly unlikely to contribute meaningfully to the Royals with the bat in 2023. Still, with Drew Waters expected to open the season on the injured list and Michael A. Taylor getting shipped to the Twins in trade earlier this offseason, Bradley will provide the Royals with valuable depth in center field behind Kyle Isbel.
As for Duffy, he’ll give the Royals a veteran utility presence who can handle any of third base, shortstop and second base. The 32-year-old spent the 2022 season with the Angels, for whom he posted a .250/.308/.311 batting line in 247 plate appearances. Duffy’s right-handed bat could be a natural complement to left-handed-hitting second baseman Michael Massey, and his versatility provides some insurance in the event that Hunter Dozier’s struggles continue and/or Massey needs further seasoning in Triple-A Omaha.
Duffy once rated as a plus defender at the hot corner but has posted closer to average defensive grades around the infield in recent seasons. He’s never hit for much power, but the limited pop in his bat has dwindled as well. The diminished defensive ratings and power are perhaps partially due to foot and ankle injuries that have taken their toll on him over the years.
Reyes, 27, certainly isn’t lacking for power. He boasts a pair of 30-homer seasons and has clubbed 106 long balls in 2013 Major League plate appearances dating back to his 2018 debut with the Padres. However, strikeouts have become an increasingly problematic issue for the slugger, evidenced by last year’s career-worst 33.2% mark. If Reyes walked at the rate one might expect for someone with his prodigious power, the lack of contact might be more forgivable, but he drew a free pass in just 6.3% of his plate appearances between the Guardians and Cubs in 2022 — more than two percentage points worse than the league average. He also saw his power output curiously drop off, resulting in a career-worst .221/.273/.365 slash.
Assuming Reyes indeed makes the roster, he’ll likely be used as a designated hitter, a righty bat off the bench and perhaps an occasional option in the outfield corners, though he grades as a poor defender and the Royals have plenty of alternatives. Reyes, who hit .372/.438/.674 with three homers and four doubles in spring training, will need to keep up an above-average level of production as he hopes to fend off prospect Nick Pratto, who was optioned to Triple-A last week. Pratto and Vinnie Pasquantino give the Royals a pair of powerful first basemen, but to this point in their careers it’s Pasquantino who’s proven better equipped for big league pitching. Still, if Pratto’s raking in the minors and Reyes is again struggling, there’s room for both Pasquantino and Pratto to share time at first base and designated hitter over the long term.