Poised to earn a starting job for the first time in his career, Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson is now likely to begin the season on the disabled list because of a grade-two right oblique strain.
Manager Ned Yost said Thursday that the oblique strain, suffered Wednesday in the Royals’ Cactus League opener, will likely keep Dyson out for close to six weeks. The prognosis, revealed after an MRI, means Dyson likely will be unavailable when the Royals open the season April 3 against the New York Mets at Kauffman Stadium. The injury also could shake up the ongoing competition for playing time in right field, where Dyson was thought to be the front-runner.
“I just got to think positive,” Dyson said. “I can’t stay mad about what happened. I’ll just get over it, rehab, and try to get back out there as soon as possible.”
On Thursday morning, Dyson arrived to the Royals clubhouse on an electric hoverboard, his preferred mode of transportation. He will likely require seven to 10 days of rest before he resumes baseball activities.
As Dyson recovers, his absence will offer immediate opportunity to a glut of reserve outfielders, including Paulo Orlando, Brett Eibner, Jose Martinez, Reymond Fuentes, Travis Snider and even top prospect Bubba Starling. On Thursday, Yost said Orlando, who played in 86 games last season, would receive a chance to claim the everyday role.
“Paulo is probably the frontrunner for that job,” Yost said.
Before spring training, Yost said the right-field position could feature a platoon between the left-handed hitting Dyson and right-handed Orlando. But for the moment, Yost appears inclined to let the competition play out.
“I want to see who wins that job,” Yost said. “I’m not looking for anybody. I’m looking for somebody to win the job. And if a platoon works out best for us, then that’s what it is. I’m not looking for a platoon. We haven’t had a platoon out there.”
For now, Orlando appears well-positioned to stake a claim for more playing time. A 30-year-old native of Brazil, Orlando made his major-league debut last season and batted .249 with a .269 on-base percentage, seven homers and six triples. He earned a spot on the postseason roster and his speed and defense profiles as above average. In just 86 games, he had a wins above replacement (WAR) of 1.0. He has shown an ability to hit right-handed pitching as well as lefties.
“It’s taken him a while, being from Brazil,” Yost said. “He was a real late bloomer. He has really developed his game here in the last couple years. But I was just impressed all year long with his ability to do something each day to help you win. It was always something.
“He can play center; he can play right. He can run; he can throw. He can hit (and) hit with power.”
As the news of Dyson filtered through the Royals clubhouse on Thursday morning, Orlando said his goal remained unchanged: Be on the roster on opening day.
“We’ll see what happens,” Orlando said. “I just come here hoping to make the team again. You know you have a lot of good guys here, and that’s good for the Royals. It makes us a better team. We have a lot of good guys here. Hopefully, I do a good job and can help the team.”
Orlando appears to be a favorite to be on the 25-man roster when the season begins. But others could challenge for a roster spot or a platoon role.
Among the list of candidates in right field, Snider, a 27-year-old non-roster invitee, possesses the most big-league experience. A former top prospect in the Blue Jays system, Snider posted career numbers for Pittsburgh in 2014, batting .264 with a .338 on-base percentage and 13 homers in 140 games. He regressed to the mean last season, batting .237 with three homers in 69 games for Baltimore before being released in August.
He re-signed with the Pirates, finished out the season, and signed a minor-league deal with the Royals on Jan. 30. If the Royals desire a platoon in right, the left-handed hitting Snider would serve as a complement to Orlando.
The Royals will also take a look at Fuentes, a former first-round pick who appeared in 23 games for the Padres in 2014, and Eibner, a former second-round pick who re-established his prospect status with a strong season at Class AAA Omaha in 2015. Like Snider, Fuentes, 25, offers a left-handed bat and could provide versatility in the outfield. Eibner, meanwhile, is a 27-year-old who offers a right-handed bat and a blend of power and athleticism. Club officials believe his defense profiles as above-average in a corner spot. A former college pitcher at Arkansas, Eibner is equipped with an arm that would fit well in right field.
The other outfielders in the equation are Martinez, a former journeyman who shredded the Pacific Coast League last season, batting .382 in 102 games at Omaha; and Starling, the former first-round pick who is likely ticketed for the minors but could debut in Kansas City at some point in 2016.
“We have a lot of guys who can man right field,” center fielder Lorenzo Cain said. “I was definitely expecting Dyson to go there and man it, but he’s hurt right now. He has to go back, get healthy, do what he can to get back on the field as soon as possible.”
For Dyson, the injury comes at an inopportune time. He has spent parts of the last six seasons in Kansas City, maturing into a valuable weapon off the bench. His speed instills fear in opposing pitchers. He possesses the versatility to play all three outfield spots. As spring training began, he was in position to earn regular playing time for the first time.
On Tuesday, Dyson says, he felt some stiffness in his core stomach muscles but thought little of it. He warmed up Wednesday with zero issues and took two swings that didn’t irritate his right oblique. On the third one, he felt a tweak. Now he will have to wait and rehab.
“It’s whenever I’m feeling better,” Dyson said of his recovery. “Anybody can throw a timetable out there. I’m going to see how my body is going to respond. It could be quicker; it could be longer. I don’t know.”