There will seemingly be few surprises when the Royals break camp and head to Detroit for Opening Day on March 31st. As of right now, the biggest battles for the Royals may be on their bench. With the starting lineup locked into place, as well as key reserves Danny Valencia and Emilio Bonifacio, it appears as though the Royals are left to determine their backup catcher and their fourth outfielder.
The battle of the fourth outfielder between Justin Maxwell and Jarrod Dyson may be the most intriguing of Spring Training. Both players have a markedly different game, with strengths and weaknesses that play against each other. In an ideal situation, Dyson and Maxwell would find themselves as part of a platoon; however, the Royals outfield does not leave an opening. Most likely, it will have to be one or the other, with one player potentially waiting in Omaha for an injury to occur.
Justin Maxwell is a right handed power bat, hitting five home runs in only 97 at bats for the Royals last season. Although he could play all three outfield positions, Maxwell has spent most of his time playing in either center or right. Maxwell has also performed better against left handed pitching throughout his career, with a .241/.358/.431 batting line against southpaws. Against right handed pitching, his power remains, but the batting line drops to .220/.287/.429.
The left handed hitting Jarrod Dyson is essentially the exact opposite. A speed merchant, Dyson has stolen 64 bases in a part time role over the past two seasons with virtually no power to speak of. Dyson has also only played in center during his entire time in the majors, despite spending time in both left and right in the minors. To continue his status as the polar opposite of Maxwell, Dyson has hit at a .266/.335/.368 rate against right handed pitching, while producing a .192/.273/.224 batting line against left handed pitching.
To further complicate matters, both players are out of minor league options. Whichever player loses the competition would need to be traded, or the Royals would risk losing them through waivers. There are also players that are fairly similar in nature offensively to either Maxwell or Dyson. Valencia, much like Maxwell, hits left handed pitching well, and qualifies as a right handed power bat off the bench. Despite Bonifacio being a switch hitter, he is much like Dyson, as both players have their entire offensive game built around their speed.
In the end, the decision may well come down to whether or not the Royals value Dyson’s speed and range over the outfield versatility and power that Maxwell can provide. Of course, if either Maxwell or Dyson catches fire during Spring Training, then the discussion is likely rendered moot. Yet, until the games start, this competition appears to be a battle of complete contrasts. Those differences are what will make the seemingly inevitable competition between Jarrod Dyson and Justin Maxwell for the fourth outfielder role fascinating.