Whit and Charm

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With only two weeks until Opening Day, we are getting closer and closer to finding out just who will be the final survivors for the Kansas City Royals opening 25, since a few spots are still open. The Royals will probably start the season with four bench players and to this point a couple players seem fairly close to locks. One spot is the backup to catcher Salvador Perez and my money is on Drew Butera beating out Tony Cruz for that spot. Another spot is probably Christian Colon’s to have, as he would be the backup infielder assuming Omar Infante starts the year as the primary second baseman. That would leave two spots and there is a good chance Reymond Fuentes will win one of them, as he has had an excellent spring so far, hitting .375 with two home runs, 6 RBI’s and an OPS of 1.191. This would leave one open bench spot to divide between Clint Barmes, Travis Snider and Whit Merrifield.

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Merrifield is the most interesting name of the group this spring, as he has bounced around the Royals minor league system since he was drafted in 2010, and is probably past the point of being referred to as a prospect. But what he has done is gain twenty pounds this offseason as he tried to gain bulk on his frame and give himself a greater opportunity to make the Royals roster. The 27 year old began his college career playing the outfield but over the years has learned to play all four infield positions as well, which he did in 2015 for the Royals AAA team in Omaha( A year ago, he played 57 games at second base, 35 in left field, 15 at third base and 14 at first base). This versatility is what gives him an edge and could punch his ticket for a roster spot to start the year.

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It also doesn’t hurt that he has had a good spring, hitting .389 with an RBI and an OPS of 1.151. The Royals are known to keep a small bench so they can stash more arms in the bullpen, so a player like Merrifield would be invaluable, as he could fill in almost anywhere on the diamond other than behind the dish. He appears to be the kind of player manager Ned Yost loves, a scrapper who does the little things like moving runners over, bunting and stealing a base or two. It’s not a lock that Merrifield will win a roster spot this spring, but it has to be intriguing to Kansas City management to have a player like Merrifield stowed away for future use.

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Super utility players have become all the rage in baseball the last few years and the Royals have employed a few of the bigger name ones over the years. There was Ben Zobrist last year, Emilio Bonifacio in 2013 and before that Willie Bloomquist was plopped into that role in 2009 and 2010. Merrifield might not get the notoriety that those players have, but the Royals don’t need him to have his name up in lights. They just need him to fill whatever role is needed for that day and time. Those seven meals a day he threw down this past winter might give him the major league job he has coveted for years now…and the Royals could be better because of it.

Relying on Speed

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Throughout the 2015 season, there was always speculation on who should be playing right field for the Kansas City Royals. Alex Rios was the incumbent at the position, but his lackluster play throughout the summer(plus the myriad of injuries and illnesses) made one wonder if the Royals would be better off employing a platoon in right of Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando. Rios would actually put together a good September and a solid postseason for Kansas City, so this question seemed rather moot by the end of the season. But that question looks to be finally answered, as manager Ned Yost confirmed at Fanfest that the Royals would likely be employing “some sort of platoon” of Dyson and Orlando to start the 2016 season. So this begs the question: just how productive would a Dyson/Orlando platoon be?

World Series Royals Giants Baseball
(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Jarrod Dyson has been an intriguing player for his entire career, mostly because of his speed. Dyson has game-changing speed, the kind that any team would covet, which it appears he was this offseason:

The Royals, over the years, have done a good job of taking advantage of that speed but not misusing Dyson to where his flaws would be more prominent. Offensively, Dyson is slightly below league average throughout his career(career 83 OPS+) while stealing bases at an 86% clip(he has only been caught stealing 23 times in his career out of 169 attempts). Dyson doesn’t accumulate very many extra base hits, as he has only 61 over his 6 year career, mostly doubles and triples. His main issue has been hitting lefties, which has been a major struggle for Dyson. Over his career, Dyson has a line of .211/.288/.249 against left-handers, striking out 21% of the time against them. For the most Kansas City has sheltered him against this struggle, as he has only accumulated 243 plate appearances against lefties in his career. Defensively, Dyson is above average(which is shown by his WAR, 9.6 over his career in limited action), which is a major reason why the Royals are set to go with Dyson getting the majority of the time in right this year. His UZR is well above average, while he has racked up 43 DRS(defensive runs saved) in limited playing time over his career. Dyson doesn’t always take great routes, but he normally makes up for it with his speed. I know there was a prevalent thought by the national media in 2014 that Dyson was a better defender than Lorenzo Cain, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. A lot of Dyson’s flaws are hid by his speed, which helps him get to balls that most players would not, while Cain actually is a more than average efficient defender. Dyson probably won’t provide much pop(and he probably should bat near the bottom of the order)but his speed and defense should make it alright for the Royals to start the year with Dyson getting more than usual playing time. I would even say Dyson could top 50 stolen bases in a year if given the time to do it. But he won’t see all the time in right field…

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Paulo Orlando is entering his age 30 season, coming off a rookie campaign that saw him in the middle of a number of big Royals wins while getting a decent amount of playing time due to Rios and Alex Gordon spending time on the disabled list. Orlando became a fan favorite early on, for his great defense and propensity to hit triples. Over time, his flaws showed the more he played, so much like Dyson, Orlando platooning with Jarrod would help his productivity. Orlando had a line of .249/.269/.444 in 2015 with an OPS+ of 90 and a WAR of 1.0. Paulo has some pop in his bat and was a sprinter in Brazil before beginning his baseball career, so he is also exceptionally fast. He also became a regular defensive replacement late in the season for Rios, as he is another above average defender in the Kansas City outfield. Orlando probably wouldn’t be a good fit for the Royals as a regular, but splitting time with Dyson should help hide some of his flaws while also giving him a chance to add some production for the bottom of the order.

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I know there will be a few Royals fans that will bring up minor leaguers Brett Eibner and Jose Martinez as possible players to see time in right field, but barring a major injury I can’t imagine either will see much time in Kansas City in 2016. Eibner had a good year in Omaha in 2015, putting up a line of .303/.364/.514 with 19 home runs and 81 RBI’s, pretty much a career year for him in the minors. Unfortunately, the Royals see him as a fourth outfielder type who would only really see time in the big leagues because of an injury or if he really tore it up in AAA in 2016.Martinez literally came out of nowhere in 2015 to post a .384/.461/.563 line and win the PCL batting title for Omaha. Martinez had bounced around for quite awhile with the White Sox and Braves farm systems, never getting higher than AA. Martinez is entering his age 27 season and while he did open a bunch of eyes with his batting last season, there are just as many people wondering if it was a fluke or if he is able to repeat that performance. If he shows last year wasn’t the outlier of his career, then it’s possible we could see him up with the Royals at some point. But that is a big ‘if’ coming from a guy Kansas City found in the independent leagues. There is one more possibility for time in right field this year, and that is Travis Snider. I discussed his chances earlier this month, which look very promising. I see Snider getting a decent look this spring and could even force his way onto the Kansas City bench if things go his way this spring. Snider is the most intriguing of this bunch, as he still seems to have some potential in him that could be untapped, especially if hitting coach Dale Sveum gets ahold of him and teaches him the ‘Royal Way’ of putting the ball in play.

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So with all that thrown out there, here is the big question: would a Dyson/Orlando platoon produce more than last year’s right fielder Alex Rios? For this exercise, I decided to use Steamer Projections to compare the expectations from Rios for this year(if he ever signs with a team; I have literally seen nothing this winter connecting him to any team–at all) to Dyson and Orlando. Steamer has Rios with a line of .249/.287/.369 with 6 home runs and 33 RBI’s(in a projected 76 games). Dyson is set at .250/.309/.341 with 3 homers and 31 RBI’s, while Orlando is projected to hit .254/.289/.363 with 4 home runs and 23 RBI’s. Just looking at the numbers, it looks like average and on-base would be close, with the Dyson/Orlando platoon maybe accumulating a better OBP. It probably seems obvious, but Rios has the better slugging percentage, although one wonders if Dyson would get a few more extra base hits with the added playing time. The stats are eerily similar when putting them up against each other, so offensively it would seem to be fairly close to even, with Rios adding a touch more power while  the Dyson/Orlando combo would add more speed. Throw in that Jarrod and Paulo are both better defenders than Rios, and it would appear the Royals might be slightly improved this year in right with the two of them platooning. Oh, and cheaper as well, with Dyson and Orlando combined making just over $2 million this year while Rios cost the Royals $11 million in 2015. Advantage would seem to favor the 2016 Royals at this point.

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But will this scenario play out all year? Probably not. As much as the Dyson/Orlando platoon in right field can suffice for Kansas City to start out the year, it would seem sensible that the team would look to improve the position before the July trade deadline. The team wouldn’t have to go out and get a top of the line right fielder, but an outfielder that could handle the job full-time while providing more offense could be found and probably not at an insane cost for the Royals. This would also open the team up to using Dyson in more pinch running situations while allowing Orlando to be a late inning defensive replacement if the new right fielder wasn’t skilled as such. As long as the Royals are contending I have to believe this is how the situation will play out and it actually is a best case scenario. The fact that the Royals are in a position where they spend a few months this summer finding out the true value of Dyson and Orlando while also knowing they can always go out and pick up another outfielder is a position that Kansas City has been fairly foreign to until the last few seasons. Dyson and Orlando are both valuable pieces of the Kansas City Royals roster, but their true value is as part-timers. I’m sure we will revisit this subject again come July but I lean toward having the same answer. The platoon will work for now, but definitely not the long-term answer for Kansas City.

Your Invite is in the Mail

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Spring Training is just around the corner, and there are always a few things you can count on. There is always that one player who is in “the best shape of his life”. Yep, you know the player; he’s the guy trying to bounce back from a down season and looking to put up career high numbers. Then there is the player who would conceivably be in “the worse shape of his life”. That player normally looks he spent all offseason on the couch watching Homer Simpson’s genius plan to be able to work from home by gaining as much weight as humanly possible. This role is normally reserved for Pablo Sandoval(sorry, Panda). Then there is the third type of player at Spring Training, the non-roster invitee who tries to slide into camp inconspicuously while hopefully walking away with an Opening Day spot on the 25 man roster. Most don’t, but there are always a few who make their case and wiggle their way up north. Headed into Spring Training there are a few of these players that will be in Kansas City Royals camp, looking to impress the Royals coaching staff and procuring a job. In fact, there are three in particular who will be vying for a spot that seem to have an outside chance of making the club. So who are these mystery men? Let’s start with a former New York Met looking to wear Royal blue come April.

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Dillon Gee will be entering his age 30 season, coming off of an injury riddled 2015 campaign with the Mets. In fact, Gee only appeared in 8 games last year, partially due to a groin injury and partially because the Mets were loaded with a bunch of young power arms(see Syndergaard, Noah or deGrom, Jacob). Plus, Gee didn’t help his own cause by getting bombed in the few starts he was given in 2015. The positive is that Gee is a serviceable arm, one that most major league teams would use as insurance at AAA until he is needed. In other words, there is a good chance Gee will be the 2016 version of Joe Blanton, who turned in a good season for the Royals and Pirates last year, netting him a deal with the Dodgers. Gee won’t overpower you with his fastball(he averaged about 89 mph in 2015)but he knows how to get outs and if paired with the Royals defense he would probably put up some pretty solid numbers. That being said, if Gee gets 8-10 starts for the Royals, someone is either injured or something has gone horribly wrong. I like Dillon Gee as insurance at Omaha, but his chances this spring hinge on the health of the other candidates in the rotation. So unless chicken pox arises in the Royals clubhouse again, it’s a safe bet Gee will be AAA to start the year.

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Peter Moylan’s chances of starting the year at Kauffman Stadium are better than Gee’s, but still a bit of an uphill battle for the 37 year old reliever. Age will be a factor for Moylan, although he has never been a guy who relied on his fastball and with his sidearm delivery his whole success is based more off of movement than velocity. Moylan was actually able to come back from a second Tommy John surgery in 2015, although the Braves initially intended him to be a coach in their low minors. Instead, the Braves stumbled and used Moylan out of the pen in September to positive results. For one, he didn’t walk anyone in the 10+ innings he threw, and was able to induce groundballs at a fairly high rate(69%), which we all know is a positive in Kansas City. He also was able to get some movement back on his sinker, which is a major plus for a guy who won’t blow pitches by batters. The Royals bullpen is loaded right now(as we all know), but there is always a chance Moylan could find his way to Kansas City. Louis Coleman was released on Wednesday, giving Moylan one less reliever to fight with for a spot in the pen. Moylan is also good friends with Royals starter Kris Medlen, as the pair were former teammates in Atlanta back in the day. I would say Moylan’s chances of making the team are slim, but did anyone predict he would have the career he has had so far? In other words, there is always a chance.

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Then there is Travis Snider. Snider was signed to a minor league deal over this past weekend and is the definition of living off of potential. Snider was once a 1st round draft pick of the Blue Jays back in 2006 and ten years later the baseball world is still expecting him to prove he can be as good as once expected. Over his 8 year career, Snider has performed below league average(93 career OPS+, league average is 100) and has not hit the way scouts once expected him to. There are positives with Snider, like the fact that he is going into only his age 28 season and he isn’t too far off from his career best year in the majors(2014). Looking back at that 2014 campaign, Snider played in 140 games for the Pirates with a line of .264/.338/.438, producing an OPS+ of 117 and a WAR of 2.1. Snider fell back this past season, splitting time in Baltimore and Pittsburgh. The other positive for Snider is that the Royals are currently looking at a Jarrod Dyson/Paulo Orlando platoon in right field, so there is a lot of room for someone to step up and make Royals management take notice. The argument could even be made that if Snider showed an ability to get on base on a regular basis he would get a decent amount of playing time. The Royals at this point know what they are getting with Dyson and Orlando; Snider is the wild card that has the ability to open some eyes. There is a good chance Snider could make the opening day roster as backup outfielder and work his way to a good chunk of at bats. I don’t know if Snider will ever turn into a .300 hitter or a 20 home run guy, but a reliable bat who can get on base could work just as well when it comes to playing time.I have to say, Snider’s chances are good this spring but like most things, I am basing this off potential.

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There aren’t many spots available on the Royals roster as we head into Spring Training, but just look at last year. Ryan Madson came into camp as a guy who hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2011 and ended up not only making the roster, but being a reliable cog in the pen for the entire 2015 season. A few spots are open for the taking, and any of the three names mentioned above could sneak their way onto the team. That’s the great thing about spring; hope springs eternal, even for grizzled veterans. Even if they don’t, the Royals will have depth which is always a coveted part of any winning team. These signings are proof that the Royals roster will be just as deep in 2016 as it was during their run to a world championship.

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