Spring training battles: outfield

The KC Royals outfield has been a strength when healthy. They added Alex Rios to the group of Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain. That trio can form a formidable group (if healthy).

So with the starters set, there isn’t much competition this spring. Jarrod Dyson is the favorite to be the lone backup outfielder. However, I’d like to see the coaches take a longer look at some of the other options in camp.

cactus_logoOne of those options is Paulo Orlando, who can play all three outfield positions (he had seven assists from centerfield). Plus, he is that rare speed/power combination (21 doubles, six home runs, and 34 stolen bases).

After helping Omaha to back-to-back Triple-A Championships (hitting .301 in 2014), Orlando went to Venezuela to play winter ball. Baseball America recently named him to their winter ball All-Star team and named him as a player to watch, as he hit .319 in 64 games with 13 doubles, eight home runs, and 40 RBIs. He also walked 26 times compared to 38 strikeouts.

The Royals acquired Reymond Fuentes this offseason from San Diego. You may remember Fuentes as one of the prospects Boston traded to the Padres for Adrian Gonzalez in December of 2010 (and he is Carlos Beltran’s cousin). However, Fuentes’ prospect status has flamed out.

Fuentes reached the big leagues with the Padres in 2013, going 5-for-33. He split the 2014 season between Double-A and Triple-A, hitting a combined .294 with an on-base percentage of .363. He also stole 25 bases and was caught just three times.

Following the regular season and after the trade to KC, Fuentes went home to Puerto Rico to play winter ball. He hit .243 in 30 games. Mainly a singles hitter (just six extra base hits), he walked 16 times compared to 28 strikeouts.

Lane Adams during spring training in 2014.

Lane Adams during spring training in 2014.

Lane Adams has been a work in progress since being drafted in 2009. A basketball stud in high school, he is looking to make it as a baseball player.

Adams made his Major League debut this past September (just three at-bats) after putting up decent numbers with Double-A NW Arkansas (.269 with 25 doubles, three triples, 11 home runs, and 36 RBIs). Though an injury limited him to 105 games with the Naturals, he still stole 38 bases and walked 45 times (compared to 86 strikeouts).

All but one of his games played was in centerfield, as he committed four errors and had three outfield assists.

Adams could be the Royals option in left field if Gordon walks following this season. I expect he will be in Triple-A in 2015, though there is a logjam in front of him.

Jorge Bonifacio was seen as the right fielder of the future and a reason the Royals felt comfortable trading Wil Myers. At just 22 years old, he still could be, but his career has stalled in Double-A.

In 2013, Bonifacio dealt with the injury bug, but when healthy, still hit. He started the season in High-A Wilmington and hit .296 in 54 games. After a promotion to Double-A, he hit .301 in 25 games.

Unfortunately, everything went south in 2014. He hit just .230 in 132 games with the Naturals. He also struck out 127 times, by far the most in his career. His on-base percentage was just .302, the lowest of his career.

Bonifacio also struggled on defense in 2014, committing nine errors in 225 chances. He did have six assists and helped turn three double plays.

I expect he will be back with NW Arkansas, with 2015 being a BIG year for him.

Terrance Gore provided one thing for the Royals in September and the postseason: speed. He was perfect stealing bases in the Majors and has always been able to steal a base in the minors (a career 168 for 185).

But you cannot steal first base. In a recent interview, Gore admitted he needs to work on his hitting and bunting. Problem is, this is nothing new (.215 in Low-A in 2013 and .218 in High-A in 2014 with a combined 186 strikeouts). He spent the entire instructional league in 2013 doing nothing but bunting and he still hasn’t mastered the skill yet.

What he does have going for him (besides his speed) is his defense. He committed just two errors in 2014 with Wilmington, but had six assists in 81 games. With his speed and instincts, Gore can cover a lot of ground.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Gore started 2015 back in Wilmington with all the outfielders in front of him in the minor league system. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he was in Double-A.

 

Now to the non-roster invitees. There are just three of them, but two are very interesting.

Brett Eibner has always had a cannon for an arm, but has yet to put his offense together. Makes me wonder when the Royals will move the former college starting pitcher to the mound.

Eibner played some big league games last spring and started the 2014 season on a tear in Triple-A with 13 RBIs in April. Then he cooled off to hit just .180 in May, but rebounded to hit .316 in June. Then he got hurt.

When Eibner returned in August to High-A Wilmington, he hit just .220 in 13 games. However, he did walk ten times (though he struck out 15 times).

Eibner has had trouble staying healthy, along with having problems making contact over his career (498 strikeouts in 397 games with a .223 average). That is about an average of 99 games a season (of the 140 played in the minors).

Blue Rocks centerfielder Bubba Starling on deck against Salem on May 12, 2014 (Jen Nevius).

Blue Rocks centerfielder Bubba Starling on deck against Salem on May 12, 2014 (Jen Nevius).

There have been high expectations for Bubba Starling since the Royals drafted him fifth overall in 2011. People forget that at the time, he was more of a football player than a baseball player. He still has trouble not having the football mindsight while playing.

Like Raul Mondesi, Starling could play defense in the big leagues RIGHT NOW. I had the chance to watch him roam centerfield at spacious Frawley Stadium last season and he was great. He committed just two errors (which made him angry), but that was over 130 games. He had 14 outfield assists and was a part of five double plays. He proved to be a durable outfielder (132 games played of the 137 games the Blue Rocks played).

Unfortunately, the bat has yet to come for Starling. He hit just .218 in 2014 with 150 strikeouts (compared to 49 walks). He did hit 23 doubles and nine home runs. There were glimpses of hope in July, when Starling hit .287 and carried the Blue Rocks offense. But then he went back to his old ways and hit just .202 in August.

Starling just didn’t seem to see the ball well despite having Lasik eye surgery a few years back. He fell behind in the count a lot and then was left flailing at bad pitches. I expect him back in Wilmington to start the 2015 season, but then again, he could also move up to Double-A. It is very rare that the Royals make a prospect repeat High-A.

The Royals picked up Moises Sierra off waivers from the Chicago White Sox in October, only to designate him for assignment over the winter. He cleared waivers and earned a big league invite.

I had the chance to see Sierra a good bit when he was coming up through the Toronto minor league system (he hit .277 in 2011 with Double-A New Hampshire), before making his Major League debut in 2012.

In the Majors, Sierra has struck out a ton (116 times in 180 games compared to just 30 walks). However, he has shown some power potential (25 doubles and nine home runs in 415 career at-bats).

Sierra can play both corner outfield positions (two errors in right field in 2013 with Toronto and three errors in right field with the White Sox in 2014). He will most likely start the 2015 season with Omaha.

And don’t forget about a utility guy like Whit Merrifield. I covered him in the infield battles.

 

Cactus League games begin today, so let the competitions begin!

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About Jen Nevius

I first became a KC Royals fan way back in 1995 when I attended my first Wilmington Blue Rocks game. I fell in love with minor league baseball then and began following the Royals as former Blue Rocks clawed their way to the big leagues. 3+ years ago I started covering the Royals for Aerys Sports, but since the site has been shut down, I am going out on my own.
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