Rookie outfielder Brett Eibner, just four games into his first big league stint, went down with an ankle injury running down a ball in the left-center gap, which looked much worse than it was (sprained ankle), with some speculation initially that it was a possible Achilles injury.
He hit the DL, but the Royals really dodged the bullet, as he started a rehab stint just eight days later and spent the minimum 15 days on the disabled list.
It was well worth the wait for Eibner, the 2010 second round pick. It a very small sample size, he was having a fantastic week since replacing Alex Gordon, batting .462/.500/.692, with half of his six hits going for extra bases. He had several clutch plays in the Royals come from behind victories over the White Sox May 28-29 and was the first rookie in MLB history to record two hits in a ninth inning, with one a walk-off and the first player to achieve the feat since 1997. He earned the call-up by previously hitting .309/.411/.537 with 10 home runs for AAA Omaha, where he hit just .167 (4-24) in his six rehab games, with 1 HR, 3 RBI and one walk to go with seven strikeouts.
In a corresponding move outfielder Rey Fuentes, who dropped a fly ball at the warning track last night, was optioned back to Omaha. Fuentes was a candidate to replace Gordon on the roster initially, hitting .302 in 63 AB (17 games) at Omaha. Fuentes did nothing but hit in his second stint with the Royals in 2016, joining the big club on June 2 after Eibner went to the DL, with a .400 (8-20)/.455/.450 line in six games. Fuentes was one of the surprise players to make the team after he hit his way onto the roster in spring training, but was demoted upon the return of Jarrod Dyson, hitting .238/.238/.273 in 21 AB. Overall, Fuentes is hitting .317/.364/.341 with 5 RBI in 41 AB and will likely be called on, again, at some point, and will be serviceable.
Eibner will likely be the guy in left field, most of the time, until Gordon returns. Then, the Royals will have a decision to make. There’s still no timetable for his return, but Gordon did take live batting practice yesterday.
If Eibner plays well, he could shift over to right field and potentially be the guy, forcing the Royals to carry five outfielders, with Paulo Orlando as the fourth outfielder and Dyson resuming his familiar specialty role – defensive replacement, pinch runner and spot start here and there – that he did so well in 2014 and most of last year when Gordon comes back. This would be the best case for the Royals, as Orlando and Dyson, are better suited NOT seeing regular at-bats, and we know what they are. The book is still out on Brett Eibner.
Dyson, the career .255/.320/.340 hitter, is hitting .250/.318/310 right now and is in the midst of a 4-for-31 (.129), with 8 RBI, 11 SB, but does not hit left-handers well (.213/.292/.249 career), at all, so never will be a regular. Last year, Orlando splashed on the scene as the triples machine, but became exposed with regular AB. This year, Orlando is playing semi-regularly in RF with Gordon out, but, like Dyson, is better suited for a part-time role. It hasn’t happened yet, surprisingly, slashing .331/.357/.414 with 1 HR, 11 RBI in 41 games (140 plate appearances), increasing his career marks to .278/.333/.433 in 127 games, thanks to a HUGE month of May (.429/.456/.603). But, he will get exposed sooner, rather than later, with continued regular playing time (hitting .225 in June).
The ball (and bat) are in your hands, Brett Eibner. Run with it.
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