In the 2011 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, Jarrod Dyson was ranked as the Royals’ 20th best prospect in their system. Considering the Royals had the No.1 ranked farm system in baseball, according to Baseball America at the time, this was no small feat for the under-heralded outfield prospect. Dyson, whom Baseball America rated as being the fastest baserunner in the Royals system, was finally getting some recognition, even if that recognition came with some reservations.
Here is what Baseball America said about Dyson in their 2011 report:
“Dyson is one of the fastest runners in baseball, with an explosive first step that serves him well on the bases and in center field…A potential Gold Glove defender, he had 10 putouts in his eighth big league start, tying the franchise record held by Amos Otis and Carlos Beltran. And unlike many small speedy outfielders, Dyson has solid arm strength. However, there are legitimate questions about his bat. He’s prone to chase pitches up and out of the zone, and he walks less than desired for a leadoff hitter. He also offers no power at all…There are a lot of reasons to be concerned about Dyson’s long term potential, as he’s already 26, he’s never played 100 games in a season, and his profile is very similar to failed prospect Joey Gathright…2011 Baseball America Prospect Handbook; No. 20: Jarrod Dyson
Joey Gathright. I fondly recall that name from my MVP Baseball-playing days, thinking that Gathright was going to be the next big thing. And then…well…he didn’t. Much like Baseball America said, Gathright was a failed prospect with a lot of tools and a lot of speed who just couldn’t put it together at the Major League level, especially with the Royals. Yes, he did have one decent season in 2007 where he posted a 90 OPS+ in 74 games with the Royals, but for the most part, he didn’t quite become the successor to Carlos Beltran in center field like many Royals fans hoped he would be.
Dyson was certainly better than Gathright as a Royal. He was also better than Terrance Gore, a popular Royal, but a one-tool guy and that was putting it nicely. Yes, Gore had some amazing and memorable moments as a Royal, but to say Dyson and Gore were around the same level is an insult to who Dyson was a player.
Because Royals fans will always remember Dyson for his ability to “vroom” on the basepaths. And they should. He was a critical part of the Royals regular and postseason success in 2014 and 2015, especially when it came to swiping bags.
But overall, as a Royal, Dyson was more than just a “base-stealer” and he should be remembered for more than just that one tool.
In the 2014 American League Wild Card game against the A’s, the Royals essentially ended Derek Norris’ career behind the plate, as the Royals stole six bases off the Athletics catcher (they also stole one off of Geovany Soto, who left the game early due to injury). One of the most memorable moments of Royals playoff lore was Dyson stealing third off Norris to put the tying run on third, which Nori Aoki eventually brought in via Sac Fly. However, while Dyson’s run would help eventually contribute to the Royals’ dramatic playoff victory at Kauffman Stadium against the A’s, he is mostly remembered by Royals fans for his little dance at third after stealing the base off Norris in such a critical part of the game.
That being said, while Dyson’s biggest moment certainly is worth remembering in the vast context of Royals lore, it’s a shame that Dyson’s overall career as a Royals sometimes gets overlooked and overshadowed by this one moment. Was Dyson a caliber of player like Lorenzo Cain, or Eric Hosmer, or Mike Moustakas, other top prospects who came up in the Royals farm system with him? No, not at all. But if you look at his career, and the meager expectations people had for him initially when he was a prospect, Dyson certainly surpassed expectations.
In his seven seasons as a Kansas City Royal, Dyson posted a triple-slash of .260/.325/.353 with a .678 OPS and an OPS+ of 86, according to baseball-reference. While he didn’t showcase much home run power during his tenure with the Royals, as he only hit seven home runs over 1,539 plate appearances in Kansas City, he did showcase some ability to stretch out hits for extra bases. He hit 29 triples and 48 doubles, which at least proved that Dyson was more than just a singles-hitter, which many scouts predicted he would only be at the Major League level.
But what also made Dyson so great was his ability to not only create runs on the basepaths, but also to save runs in the field, even though he did not have prototypical “top prospect” size. In terms of baserunning, while people will know about the stolen bases, Dyson also created a lot of runs in general for the Royals, even when he was not swiping bags off opposing pitchers. From 2012-2016 (Dyson’s peak tenure with the Royals), he accumulated 30.6 base running runs, according to Fangraphs, which led all Royals during that time span. To put things into context, Alcides Escobar finished second (23.3), Lorenzo Cain was third (13.8), and Alex Gordon was fourth (11.7) during that time span, even though Dyson had at least less than 1,000 plate appearances compared to those other three. That shows how talented and effective a base runner Dyson was, not just in terms of stolen bases, but generating runs overall.
But what often gets overlooked about Dyson is his defense. If you look at his Def rating on Fangraphs over that time span, Dyson ranked third out of Royals defenders, behind only Escobar and Cain, who each won Gold Gloves during their tenures with the Royals. Heck, Dyson even ranked above Gordon (31.3 to Gordon’s 17.8) according to Def, which shows how overlooked Dyson was as a defender. So while Dyson often gets the credit for his prowess on the base paths, he often gets forgotten for his defensive ability, which may have been the second strongest aspect of his game overall as a Royal, as you can see below:
Dyson’s best season as a Royal came in 2016, during the Royals World Series defense run. The year was an uneven one to say the least: the Royals went 81-81, and saw a major down season from Alex Gordon (85 OPS+) and a slightly down one from Eric Hosmer (.761 OPS). To make matters worse, the Royals missed Mike Moustakas for most of the season, as he injured himself and missed the rest of the year after only 27 games. While the Royals didn’t completely bottom out, they couldn’t recapture the magic of 2014 and 2015 during the 2016 season.
However, Dyson ended up thriving as the Royals’ fourth-outfielder in 2016. He played in 107 games, and accumulated 337 plate appearances, which was a Royals career high. In addition to putting in some serious time in the Royals lineup, he also produced at the plate and in other areas of the game. He posted a triple slash of .270/.348/.388 and an OPS of .728 with 30 stolen bases on 37 attempts (an 81 percent success rate). Furthermore, he also posted a Def of 11.6 and a WAR of 2.7, with the latter being the fourth-highest mark on the team, and the second-highest of any position player (he was behind Cain). If you’re the kind of Royals fan that doesn’t believe the numbers, you can watch his highlights below, and it’s obvious to see the kind of impact Dyson had during a challenging season for the Royals in the wake of the World Series title.
Dyson’s stellar season ended up being the swan song for him in Kansas City, as he ended up playing for Seattle the following year before playing the last two seasons as a primary outfielder for the Diamondbacks. 2019 was a particularly validating one for Dyson, as he played a 130 games and accumulated 452 plate appearances with Arizona, which were both career highs. To see Dyson get a full time shot was nice to see as a Royals fan, especially considering how hard he worked and how much he did for the Royals organization as a bench player.
Dyson was a 50th round pick by the Kansas City Royals out of Southwest Mississippi Community College in the 2006 Draft. That’s right, a 50th Round pick. Considering those circumstances, Dyson should have never been a Major League player. Add in the fact that he was only 5’9 and 161 pounds, and didn’t really get a regular Major League role until he was 27-years-old, it is incredible that Dyson not only produced with the Royals, but is still in the big leagues. There are plenty of stories of guys like Dyson who never made it past Triple-A or a cup of coffee in the Majors. And yet, not only is Dyson still in the Majors at 35-years-old, but he is also a vital part of Royals World Series and playoff history.
It’s interesting to see what would have happened if Dyson got a regular role in the outfield in Kansas City during his tenure. What if he started in right over Nori Aoki in 2014 or Alex Rios in 2015? Would the Royals still have won pennants during those campaigns, or would he have been exposed, and maybe produced a similar line to what he did in Arizona a season ago (.230/.313/.320)? And could Dyson still produce as a Royal today? After all, he certainly would have been a better option a year ago than Billy Hamilton, who posted a 46 OPS+ in his disappointing 93 game stint in KC.
Dyson will mostly be remembered for his base stealing and his swagger, which was unmatched by anyone on the Royals (I thought he had even more than Lorenzo Cain, who was one of the best athletes the Royals had seen since Beltran). But Dyson, while not a spectacular player, was a dependable, solid player, who contributed a lot to the Royals in his seven years in Kansas City. He could make contact. He could play defense. His arm was better than opponents thought. He generated extra runs not just with stolen bases, but just overall with smart baserunning in various situations.
In many ways, Dyson was a true swiss-army knife in the outfield off the bench, and his legacy often gets underplayed in comparison to Gordo and Cain who were the primary outfielders during those competitive Royals pennant runs.
But Royals fans shouldn’t forget about or downplay Dyson and his legacy. Because “that’s what speed do” Dyson statistically was a good Royals player, and he should be remembered and appreciated for more than just his pinch running in the playoffs.
Here’s to you, Jarrod. Best of luck in Pittsburgh, and let’s hope you make one last visit to the K before you retire.
You deserve a resounding ovation from the Royals faithful for all you did in Kansas City.