Kettle of Fish: Outfield Position Battles

Since I discussed the Spring Training roster battles for the infield on Monday, I’ll keep going and look at the much more debatable outfield.

As Mike already analyzed the case of Mitch Maier versus Gregor Blanco, I won’t mention much about that battle other than saying I agree with Mike. I would initially go with Mitch unless the Royals run with five outfielders. But, I’ll get more into that later.

Now that we know the non-roster invitees, you can also add those to the equation. However, just as none of the infield invitees other than Mike Moustakas are real candidates for the big league roster, the only outfield invitee, Brett Carroll, has a pretty low chance of starting the season in the bigs. So, I’m basically going to ignore Carroll as it would really take multiple injuries to other guys to get him on the 25-man roster. Carroll really just takes the place of the departed Jordan Parraz at Omaha.

Unfortunately for us, the three players that have a strong grip on starting roster positions going into Spring Training are Alex Gordon in left, Melky Cabrera in center, and Jeff Francoeur in right. This outfield just makes me weep a little on the inside. I don’t mind Gordon playing, but the other two are fairly frustrating. Since we at least saw Francoeur coming, though, it shouldn’t be too surprising.

The short list of other candidates to start the year in Kansas City includes: Mitch Maier, Gregor Blanco, Lorenzo Cain, and Jarrod Dyson. I’ll add David Lough to that purely because I like the guy and want to see the Royals give one of those Omaha guys a chance. On a side note, this is the first year since 2002 that David DeJesus won’t spend at least some of the year in the outfield. That’s a pretty jarring thought to me. Anyway, moving on…

Maier, Blanco, Cain, and Dyson all have major league experience. And, coincidentally, they rank in that order for amount of big league time. Dyson is two years older than Cain and Maier is the old man of the group at 28. Really, Maier and Blanco should have the fast track to bench spots. Maier is often considered to be a solid fourth or fifth outfielder on almost any team, and I am a fan of his for no real reason at all. Like Mike said in his post, there really isn’t that much of a difference between Maier and Blanco, statistically speaking. Maier has a bit more power and Blanco walks a bit more, but in reality you likely don’t gain or lose anything by choosing one over the other. So, combine that with their age and experience and they seem to have the best shot at backup roles on the big league club (barring poor performances in Spring Training, of course).

If they don’t make the cut, one or both will probably be out of the organization by the start of the season. It would be rough for me to see Maier go since I’ve been an unreasonable fan of his. Perhaps that’s the reason that I’ve been thinking Blanco doesn’t get a spot in Kansas City, but with the addition of Cain and the signings of both Francoeur and Cabrera it seems strangely more likely Blanco sticks with the major league club. That doesn’t really make sense, but it just seems like the Royals will send Cain to Omaha to start the season.* Should Cain be playing with the Royals? Probably. Wherever he is, though, he needs to be playing in basically every game. With Cabrera getting the edge at center with the Royals, that likely leaves Cain as the starting CF at Omaha.

*That outfield of Cain, Dyson, and Lough will have some amazing defense, by the way. If Derrick Robinson plays with them this season, it could be one of the most incredible defensive outfields any of us have ever seen.

One question this raises is what to do with Dyson. Dyson is a CF. Cain is a CF. If the Royals send both Dyson and Cain to Omaha, who will play where? Lough will probably be in left because of the other speedy CF. Can Dyson play right field? Can Cain? Should they? Those are all questions that I’m not sure how to answer. Cain should play every day. Dyson should play every day. Lough should play every day. And then there’s the aforementioned Carroll, who could conceivably play in right field. I suppose they could put Lough in right and Dyson in left, but it starts to get dicey pretty quickly.

Where this leads me is the belief that I’m wrong. I’m wrong to think that the Royals will lean toward both Maier and Blanco on the major league roster. Seeing Dyson end up a Royal with one of those two is starting to seem more possible, and I still think that Blanco is on the short side. Blanco was acquired as a speedy CF. Cain was acquired as a speedy CF. Cabrera was acquired as…well, an average-to-below-average CF. The preference for Cabrera leaves Blanco on the outside of the starting roster and the later addition of Cain seems to push him even further out of preference.

Maier, on the other hand, will get the chance to prove himself in Spring Training and seems to be a more typical fourth outfielder type. Since he can play any outfield spot, but works better in a corner, combining him with a speedier CF specialist would make for a good fourth and fifth outfielder set. To me, not including Maier as the fourth outfielder would be a mistake. Unfortunately, mistakes like that are the most common when it comes to the Royals.

So, that’s a lot of talk about purely speculative information. Seeing as Gordon, Cabrera, and Francoeur are locks for the starting positions, I would think the rosters stack up like this:

Royals Outfield
Alex Gordon
Melky Cabrera
Jeff Francoeur
Mitch Maier
Jarrod Dyson

Storm Chasers Outfield
David Lough
Lorenzo Cain
Gregor Blanco
Brett Carroll

I’m not sure if someone else will be added to the Omaha roster. A lot of that depends on how the Royals feel about Derrick Robinson coming out of Spring Training. I also think that the Royals will give Dyson the Kila Ka’aihue/Mike Aviles treatment and sit him while he should get some starts. There’s a lot left to see, but I’ve come to the conclusion that Blanco really doesn’t fit on the Royals lineup when Lough, Cain, Dyson, and Maier are all around. He might get preference over Lough, but I think I’d run with any of the other three over him until they proved they didn’t deserve that.

When the difference between last year’s Opening Day outfield and this year’s potential Opening Day starting outfield is 100%, there’s a lot to debate. The signings of Cabrera and Francoeur level it out, but I think Maier will be the only holdover. Since there isn’t a true utility player that will likely make the roster, there’s a high probability of the Royals running with five outfielders. Maier will be one of the bench guys, but it’s likely going to be either Dyson or Blanco for the other spot. That seems to be the real battle in Spring Training, but my general feeling is that Dyson somehow takes the edge over Blanco.

The other possibility is that there’s some small trade of Maier or Blanco for a reliever or some other type. There’s been some suspicion about this for a while, but nothing has materialized yet. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on, though.

Of course, I could be completely wrong. Just start hoping that Gordon doesn’t get injured in Spring Training again so that this isn’t muddied even more.

In a few days I’ll attack the relievers, which will be exciting based on the number of young guys in the running.

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  • Wally Fish

    I think everyone in the Royals community is overestimating Cabrera’s role on the roster. He was reportedly granted a starting job when he signed BUT then the Royals traded for Lorenzo Cain. The circumstances changed and it’s not like they’re going to stunt Cain’s growth in the majors because Melky (who is an inferior player today and in the future) is making $1.25 million this year.

    On Opening Day I personally believe that Cabrera opens as the 4th OF. I can also see a scenario where he winds up being handed his walking papers if 2 of the Blanco, Maier, Dyson trio outplays him in Spring Training. He’s essentially making 2.5-3x the league minimum so they’re not going to eat a lot of they release/trade him so he can latch on elsewhere. I also think Yost is going to have something to say about Cain being the starter by the time the season starts.

    I’m confident that the Opening Day OF will be: Gordon (LF), Cain (CF), Frenchy (RF).

    I know the org is saying all the right things about Cabrera’s playing time and all that but I think that has to be the party line right now.

    The moment Cain joined the organization the status quo changed for Melky. I’m sure even he realizes that.

    • Gage Matthews

      We’ll see how it goes. I guess I’m naturally pessimistic about such things after the last couple years, so it’s very possible they surprise me. I hope for the sake of the team and my sanity that you’re right.

    • Michael Engel

      1) I hope you’re right. Nothing about the Melky signing makes sense from any standpoint – on the field, developmentally, well maybe just financially since he’s so cheap (though Blanco/Dyson/Maier/Cain all make the minimum so he’s cheap in the absolute but not relative sense).

      2) My hunch is that yes, Cain will be the opening day CF.