On a 1-0 pitch from Luke Hochever to Melky Cabrera in the bottom of the 7th inning, the Kansas City Royals lost the contributions of two 2015 All-Stars from their lineup.
Mike Moustakas has been ruled out for the season (torn ACL) and Alex Gordon is expected to miss roughly a month with a fractured scaphoid bone in his wrist.
This collision is the type of thing that could ruin a season, but, the Royals have more depth than some in the national media are giving them credit for.
The Royals cannot possibly find another Moose or Gordo out of nowhere, but what they do have is several young players set to be given an opportunity to shine.
Starting at third base, the Royals have Cheslor Cuthbert, Hunter Dozier, and Whit Merrifield who could replace Moose in the lineup.
Cuthbert has received most of the reps at third so far and has been serviceable. His .254/.266/.349 slash line in 16 games so far is not particularly impressive, however, he has flashed a plus glove at the hot corner while holding his own against Major League pitching.
The other more tantalizing option is the possible arrival of the 8th pick in the 2013 MLB draft in Dozier. Dozier, who has struggled at times in his minor league career, looks to be putting it all together in 2016.
In 44 games so far this season in the minors Dozier has already hit 12 HR’s and driven in 36 runs while slashing .300/.367/.582.
Cuthbert rightfully will get the first opportunity at third base. If he fails to seize the job, or struggles at the plate, the Royals will pull the trigger on Dozier and give the youngster a chance to showcase his power at the Major League level.
Another option at 3rd base could be the super utility man Merrifield. In his first seven major league games Merrifield has hit an impressive .370 while logging starts at second, third, and in left field.
Merrifield made a strong push for a bench job out of spring training before falling short to Reymond Feuntes and Terrance Gore to start the season. Now given the chance to contribute at the major league level amid injuries, the 27-year-old rookie looks poised to make the most of his opportunity.
Dozier has the highest upside of the bunch, and if he continues to mash in Omaha he will certainly force the Royals hand. If that ends up being the case, Cuthbert and Merrifield could help take over the second base job where veteran Omar Infante’s contract continues to look like a mistake.
Moving on to shorter void that Alex Gordon’s injury has opened, the Royals also have several options at the corner outfield spots.
Currently on the big league roster Jarrod Dyson, Brett Eibner, Merrifield, and Paulo Orlando are all capable of playing both corners and should fill in well in Gordo’s absence.
Jorge Bonifacio and Fuentes are also producing well in AAA and even Dozier has logged 8 games in left field in 2016.
The former Brazilian track star Orlando has been destroying the baseball of late. Seen mostly as a role player, although this could just be a hot streak, Orlando is trying to prove he deserves and everyday job with his .390 batting average and solid defense in right field.
Dyson, who is also probably best suited as a role player, is a known quantity at this point. He provides elite speed on the base paths and elite defense in the outfield while providing zero pop with the bat. He may be best suited as a 4th outfielder, but he’s nothing to scoff at as an everyday player either because of those 2 elite tools.
Eibner, who went 1-3 in his major league debut with a run scored, has proven that he can hit AAA pitching with great numbers at the highest level of the minors over the past 2 seasons. Finally it was enough for the Royals to give him a chance, and should he harness his power, he could end up as the everyday right fielder even after Gordo’s return.
Looming in the minors is Bonifacio who was once regarded as one of the Royals better prospects. After several down years in the minors, Bonifacio looks to finally be putting in together with AAA Omaha this year.
Through 45 games he has crushed 9 HR’s and driven in 37, all while hitting .318. Much like Dozier at the hot corner, Bonifacio has the highest upside of the list of potential corner outfielders, and should he continue to hit in AAA, will be given the opportunity to showcase his skills in the Royals lineup.
The foul pop up off the bat of Cabrera could have been devastating for the Royals. Instead, because of the impressive depth that Dayton Moore has compiled, it is an opportunity to see what else the Royals have to offer.
With question marks at second base, third base, and in the corners of the outfield the Royals have plenty of options to find consistent production.
The infusion of new players could be exactly what the Royals, who are off to a sluggish start in their World Series defense, need. With several options at each key opening, someone should take reigns of the open big league jobs.
It’s matter of who will emerge, not a matter of if someone will emerge for the now crippled 2016 Royals.