The KC Royals 2016 lineup appears mostly set even before their first spring training game March 2. However, don’t be surprised if over-aged outfield prospect Jose Martinez crashes the party.
Most pundits expect Omar Infante to hold off Christian Colon for the second base job, in large part due to the remaining $17 million over the last two years of his contract. The other open position is right field, where most expect long-time fourth outfielder Jarrod Dyson to either win the job outright—or to earn the lion’s share of the at bats in a platoon with Paulo Orlando.
Not so fast. Don’t forget about 27-year-old Jose Martinez.
The KC Royals signed right-hand hitting Martinez as a minor league free agent after he lit up the independent Frontier league in 2014. Jose Martinez, who is a former White Sox and Braves farmhand, rewarded the Royals front office with a .384/.461/.563 season at AAA Omaha in 2015. StatCorner rated Martinez the most valuable player in the Pacific Coast League, which isn’t very surprising given that he set a modern PCL batting average record at .384.
Digging into Jose Martinez’s numbers a bit more, and you’ll see that he showed impressive strike zone control with 12.1% walk rate along with a low 13.9% strikeout rate. Martinez’s ability to make pitchers throw strikes gives him a good chance to produce at the major-league level, despite his advanced age (27) for a prospect.
Yes, Martinez enjoyed an unsustainable .434 BABIP (Batting Average Balls In Play) at Omaha. But Steamer projects him to hit a solid .285/.339/.397 for the Kansas City Royals in 2016, and to produce 1.9 fWAR if he earns 600 plate appearances. That projection includes regressing Martinez’s BABIP to .329 against major-league pitching. Those kind of numbers would make Martinez a league-average starter.
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So, why do I think that Jose Martinez could bump Jarrod Dyson from the starting lineup when Dyson has produced 5.0 bWAR the last two seasons as a part time player? The short answer is that pitchers might figure out Dyson if he gets regular at bats.
Dyson has little to no power (.130 ISO) and a low 6.2% walk rate. His only real asset is his tremendous speed, which allows him to beat out infield grounders and leg out extra base hits upon occasion. Steamer, for example, projects Dyson as a 1.9 fWAR player with 600 plate appearances in 2016—just like Jose Martinez.
KC Royals manager Ned Yost might discover that Jarrod Dyson is more productive when he can insert the speedy outfielder into situations where his plus plus speed, or his outstanding outfield range, is a major asset. The Kansas City Royals could also miss Ben Zobrist’s solid bat more than they think. Martinez might be the best internal candidate to make up for Zobrist’s lost offensive production.
Keep an eye on Jose Martinez this spring, KC Royals fans. If Martinez puts up big numbers in Surprise, he could force his way into a job in Kansas City.