Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson made a request recently; he wants to be known as Mr. Zoombiya, which is his twitter handle. The request came accompanied by his distinctive cackle.
So who knows how serious he is?
“Hey, that’s what I do,” Dyson explained. “I zoom by you.”
The issue, of course, is proving he’s more than a mere set of hot wheels.
“My goal is to become an everyday player,” Dyson agreed. “That’s the goal. To do that, I’ve just got to be consistent with my game. Keeping the ball out of the air. Knowing who I am. Identifying myself as a player.
“Knowing my strengths. Knowing my weaknesses. Doing the right things. Getting on base. Walking. Stealing a base. Scoring a run. Playing solid defense. I think if I’m doing all of that on a consistent, daily basis, I can be an everyday guy.”
Dyson’s speed will, in itself, likely land him a spot of the Royals’ 25-man roster as a backup outfielder. It helps that he is out of options, which means he can’t be sent to the minors without clearing waivers.
But can he be more than a late-inning weapon?
“The gap in his game is offense,” manager Ned Yost said. “He needs to walk more. He needs to be more of an on-base percentage guy. He needs to take advantage of his speed more.”
The shorthand on Dyson is simple: He needs to keep the ball out of the air. Then again, it’s not as if he doesn’t know this.
“I’ll tell you what, hitting is not easy, period,” he said. “Let alone trying to do something with the baseball every time you get up to bat. You’ve just got to pick your spot with things. That’s basically what it is, and I’m learning that as I go.”
There are positive signs.
Dyson batted .260 last season with a .328 on-base percentage in 102 games. Not great but consider: Dyson’s average never topped .280 in the minors until his fourth professional season in 2010.
“Every year,” he said, “I learn something different. There’s always something that makes me think, `I wish I had known this in previous years.’ I’m getting better at what I do.”
Ask for an example, and he mentions bunting; a must-have skill in his arsenal.
“My previous years,” Dyson said, “I always tried to go down the third-base line. Now, all I have to do is drag it with me. On a righty or a lefty, it doesn’t matter. I’ve gotten comfortable at bunting on both.
“That’s something I wish I was able to do before.”
He remains a work in progress.
“You can’t just program it,” hitting coach Jack Maloof said. “It’s not a video game. It’s something he’s going to have to work on. If he can work deep counts more often in his at-bats, that’s what we’re after.
“We’re trying to have him look for the ball down more than up — and not put a big swing on it. We’re not looking for anything more than a ball on the ground. If he hits the ball in the air, he realizes it’s not going to work for him.”
Yost said “speed always develops late,” an assessment he came to believe while managing in Milwaukee under general manager Doug Melvin.
“You think about it,” Yost said, “there are very few speed guys. Their game is different, and it’s hard to do. You have to figure that out over the course of time.
“It’s because everybody learns to play the game a certain way, but speed guys have to play it a different way. They’ve got to keep it on the ground. They have to use their speed. They have to take more pitches.”
Dyson, 28, seemed to be finding a comfort zone last season in the closing weeks before suffering a small muscle tear in his back. He batted .367 in a 22-game span from August into mid-September, which raised his overall average from .249 to .270.
He also had a .426 on-base percentage in that surge, but his effectiveness disintegrated when he tore his lat. He couldn’t throw and, for all practical purposes, became little more than a pinch runner.
Worse, the injury limited his off-season program.
“I rested,” Dyson said. “I had to rest because I couldn’t do too much with my upper body in the offseason because of that little tear. I just worked my legs; I kept my legs in shape.
“I got out here (to camp) early as possible. The first week of January. So I’ve been out here a good while getting work in. I’ve been in the cages, bunting every day. Just trying to perfect my game. Add consistency.”
And his back?
“The lat is good,” Dyson said. “I don’t know if it’s 100 percent, but it’s good. It’s good enough to throw anybody out. I can tell you that. When I throw, it doesn’t hurt. That’s good enough for me.”
His speed, Dyson said, remains unchanged. He stole 30 bases last year in 35 attempts and is 50 for 57 overall in the big leagues after swiping 176 in 211 attempts in his minor-league career.
“Zoombiya,” he said. “That’s it. That’s what I am. Zoombiya. The name speaks for itself.”
The club announced agreements Saturday morning with the five remaining previously unsigned players on their 40-man roster: pitchers Francisley Bueno, Louis Coleman, Aaron Crow, Luis Mendoza and Guillermo Moscoso.
The $79 million estimate contains some roster projections, such as veteran infielder Miguel Tejada breaking camp with the club, and accounts for pitchers Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy opening the season on the disabled list.
The opening day payroll for players on the active roster and disabled list is the industry’s most common measuring stick – although it is not necessarily the most accurate reflection of a club’s financial obligations.
Major League Baseball prefers to use the cost of the entire 40-man roster at the end of the season. Current projections put the Royals at roughly $82 million for that cost, although it is subject to change through personnel moves such as trades.
The club’s previous record for an opening day payroll was $70.5 million in 2009. The Royals opened last season at $60.9 million and finished the season at $68.6 million for their 40-man payroll.
Much of this year’s payroll is ticketed for a rebuilt rotation with Ervin Santana set to make $12 million, followed by James Shields at $10.5 million, Jeremy Guthrie at $5 million and Wade Davis at $2.8 million.
The three primary competitors for the fifth spot are Luke Hochevar ($4.56 million), Bruce Chen ($4.5 million) and Luis Mendoza ($532,000).