Last year the Royals were able to win 95 games and a championship despite little production from right-field. Royals rightfielders combined to hit .244/.279/.338 last season, worst in the American League. Gone is disappointing free agent Alex Rios, and rather than gamble in free agency again, the Royals decided to look internally and give more playing time to speedster Jarrod Dyson. Dyson has been a very valuable player for the Royals in a reserve role due to his speed and defense. Over the past four seasons, Dyson has put up 8.4 WAR according to Baseball Reference, despite accumulating just 1,084 plate appearances.
However those best-laid plans were derailed in the first spring training game when Dyson strained his right oblique, causing him to miss six weeks, including the beginning of the regular season. An outfield situation that already had some question marks now becomes an open competition. Who will seize the opportunity? How will the outfield situation shake out? Let's take a look at the candidates to get playing time.
The well-coiffed former Arkansas Razorback was once considered a promising prospect after being a second-round pick back in 2010. Injuries set him back early in his career, but Eibner also showed an inability to make contact as well, striking out 27% of the time in his professional career, with just a career .240 average. He put together a career season in his second tour with Omaha, hitting .308/.364/.514 with 19 home runs in 431 plate appearances, even cutting his strikeout rate to a career low 18.3%. It is possible that Eibner has finally figured out how to hit, however he did have a high batting average on balls in play (BABIP) at .338 last year, suggesting some of his improvement in average was due to luck.
The 27-year old Eibner can play all three outfield positions and has a terrific arm. The power has always been there for the right-hander, and he had an outstanding spring training last year. Still, it is a bit telling the Royals did not call him up at all last season. Eibner may have some power potential, but the strikeouts are still a concern, and championship teams typically don't start 27-year old rookies in right field.
|2015 season (AAA)||.303||.364||.514||--|
Fuentes is a speedster in an organization that loves speedsters. The Royals picked him up in a trade last year with the Padres, and he performed well in Omaha, hitting .308/.360/.422 in 445 plate appearances with 29 steals in 35 attempts. Fuentes was once a first-round pick, and while he is no longer considered a top prospect, he is still just 25-years old. The left-handed hitter has a handful of plate appearances in the big leagues under his belt with the Padres.
Fuentes is not completely bereft of power, hitting nine home runs for Omaha last season, but speed is his calling card. In terms of skillset, he is probably the most similar to Jarrod Dyson - speedy, solid defense, with an ability to draw some walks. However, the Royals may for look for more power in the absence of Dyson, and Fuentes is not going to be able to live up to that expectation.
|2015 season (AAA)||.308||.360||.422||--|
The 6'7'' Martinez is an enigma. He put up very underwhelming numbers in the minor leagues with White Sox and Braves as a young man, leading to his release from each organization. Suddenly in 2015, he is able to hit .384 for Omaha, leading to his Major League debut with the Royals.
Despite being a mammoth of a man, Martinez does not have very good power. Even in a hitter-friendly environment last year in AAA, he only managed ten home runs in 413 plate appearances and has a career ISO of .113. His walk rate was very good last year, at 12.1%, but historically it has not been great. He had a BABIP last season of .434, so an insane amount of the balls he put into play were falling for hits. Will that continue into 2016?
The reports of his defense have ranged from "passable" to "not good." He can only play the corners, hurting his versatility. Martinez is a neat story, but most likely he was a pretty big fluke last season that the Royals will be unwilling to gamble on this year. If he repeats his performance, he could find himself in Kansas City this summer, but he seems unlikely to break north with the club this spring.
|2015 season (AAA)||.384||.461||.563||--|
Ned Yost says Paulo Orlando is the front-runner to get the most playing time, but don't expect the 29-year old Brazilian to have the job sewn up. Orlando did amaze Royals fans with some late-game heroics last year, but he also went through some struggles after his initial hot start. Among all outfielders with at least 250 plate appearances last season, Paulo's .269 on-base percentage was the second-worst in baseball. He struck out 53 times compared to just five walks, showing a lack of plate discipline that was evident in his minor league career.
Orlando is a late bloomer, having come to the game late. But it is hard to imagine he will improve his knowledge of the strike zone at this age. He brings some nice elements to he game like speed and defense, and he does not show much of a platoon split. However free-swingers are typically exposed at the Major League level, and having Orlando getting regular playing time could lead to many quick outs. Paulo is almost certain to make this team in some capacity, but he is probably best suited for a reserve role long-term.
|2015 season (MLB)||.249||.269||.444||1.0|
Snider has the most Major League experience of this bunch with 1,971 career plate appearances with the Blue Jays, Orioles, and Pirates. He signed with the Royals as a minor league free agent, but is still a decent bet to make this club. Snider was a first round pick by the Blue Jays in 2006, and was heralded as one of the best prospects in baseball for several years, so much so that the Jays were unwilling to trade him to the Royals in a potential Zack Greinke deal back in 2010.
Since then, Snider has been a bit of a disappointment, but he has carved out a decent career as a bench bat. He is a low-average hitter who can draw some walks and hit for some power from the left side. He has an 8.5% career walk rate, but has struck out 25% of the time in his career. Snider had his best season in 2014 with the playoff Pirates, hitting .264/.338/.438 with 13 home runs in 359 plate appearances. But he regressed in 2015 with the Orioles and ended up on waivers back to the Pirates, and before long, in AAA. Snider only plays the corners and the metrics have been all over the place on him, although scouting reports say his defense is pretty good. He is not currently on the 40-man roster, so to put him on the team, the Royals would have to make room for him somehow.
|2015 season (MLB)||.232||.313||.350||0.1|
Ned Yost has said that Bubba Starling has "as good of a chance as anyone" to fill the spot. The 23-year old former first-round pick took a step forward with his numbers in AA Northwest Arkansas last year, although in the context of his hitting environment, he hit like he did before his disaster season of 2014. Starling's defense is said to be "MLB-ready" with the capability of playing centerfield with a strong throwing arm. Bubba has power, although he has never demonstrated elite power as a pro, smacking 12 home runs in 418 plate appearances last year.
His biggest weakness is the inability to make contact, as evidenced by his 26.9% strikeout rate in the minors. The Royals have promoted players all the way from AA before, such as Alex Gordon and Aaron Crow, and even players like Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas, and Eric Hosmer spent very little time in AAA before being promoted. Still, all but Crow put up outstanding numbers in AA, and while Starling made progress, he is still an unfinished work. Promoting him to the big leagues may hurt his development and could hurt the team while try try to contend.
|2015 season (AA)||.254||.318||.426||--|