With COVID-19 outbreaks still a concern, baseball will allow teams to carry five non-roster players – one of which has to be a catcher – on road trips in case a rostered player needs to be quickly replaced. The Royals embark on the first road series today in Cleveland and according to Anne Rogers of MLB.com they will bring catcher Nick Dini, infielders Kelvin Gutierrez and Erick Mejia, and pitchers Brad Brach and Ervin Santana on their “taxi squad.”
Dini spent 20 games with the Royals in 2019, hitting .196/.270/.357 with two home runs. The 27-year old has hit at every level in the minors since being drafted in the 14th round of the 2015 draft out of Wagner in 2015. Mejia is a utility infielder capable of playing all over the field The 26-year old switch hitter has hit .167/.244/.222 in 17 games with the Royals over the last two seasons. Gutierrez is a right-handed hitting third baseman originally acquired from the Nationals in the Kelvin Herrera trade. He has hit .244/.308/.329 in 24 games with the Royals over the last two seasons, including in four games last year. The 26-year old has had his career set back due to injuries but showed some power in spring training this year.
Brach was signed to a minor league deal in February after he was let go by the Mets. He is a 10-year Major League vet with the Padres, Orioles, Braves, Cubs, and Mets, and has a 3.39 ERA in 496 career relief appearances. The 34-year old right-hander is a former All-Star and throws from a lower arm angle to create difficult angles for the hitter. He had a 5.84 ERA in 12 1⁄3 innings in 2020.
Santana is a 15-year veteran who won nine games for the Royals in 2013. He last pitched in 2019, lasting just 13 1⁄3 innings with a 9.45 ERA for the White Sox, but was throwing 97 mph in spring training with 14 strikeouts and just 1 walk in 14 innings.
Players on the taxi squad do not need to be on the 40-man roster, and currently Gutierrez is the only player on the 40-man. A player not on the 40-man roster would need to be added to be placed on the active roster, although the Royals could likely open up a spot by moving left-handed reliever Daniel Tillo to the 60-day Injured List. Time on the taxi squad does not count as service time, nor do players get MLB salaries, aside from the MLB per diem amount of $108.50.
Manager Mike Matheny announced that third baseman Hunter Dozier will miss the series opener in Cleveland with a thumb contusion, but will take some swings to see how he feels. He also announced that Brad Keller will have his next start pushed back to Thursday against the White Sox, rather than his scheduled turn Wednesday against Cleveland. The starter for that game has not yet been announced.