SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Ball in the air? No problem. Jarrod Dyson, the center fielder, can run it down.
Ball in the air? Problem. Because Jarrod Dyson, the batter, can't beat out a fly ball.
Dyson's game is all about speed. The Royals' outfielder can roam far and wide and tighten up the defense. At bat, he needs to keep the ball on the ground to make use of his legs, which are among the best in baseball.
"I like to show off my speed, and hitting a fly ball, I can't show it off," Dyson said.
There have been too many fly balls off his bat over the years.
"Of course, that's why he's not an everyday player," Royals manager Ned Yost said.
So Dyson, eager to shed his extra-outfielder designation, is working to change that.
"I'm trying to be more consistent with my swing and just trying to repeat my swing over and over," he said. "Just keeping the ball out of the air, working the middle of the field and things like that. I'm working on my bunting a lot, too, so you might see me bunt more than ever this year."
Dyson has been jetting around the Royals' organization since 2006, when he was selected in the 50th and last round of the First-Year Player Draft. He beat the odds by reaching the Major Leagues in 2010. His speed helped him hit .280 in the Minors with 176 stolen bases. Last year, in 102 games with Kansas City, he batted .260 and put up 30 steals.
"The gap in his game is offense," 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."
Jack Maloof, the Royals' new hitting coach, has been working with Dyson on that since 2008. That's when Maloof joined the organization as the Minor League hitting coordinator.
Maloof remembered one day in Spring Training when he was on one field, and balls from another field began mysteriously landing behind him. Tracing the source, he found Dyson hitting off a tee. He was trying to line the balls into a screen but instead was popping them over the top. Right then, Maloof knew that something in Dyson's swing had to change.
"You hit the ball in the air, you're not going to hear anything from the crowd," Maloof said. "You bunt the ball with runners on first and third, the place is going to go bananas. I tell Dice, 'They don't come to watch you hit the ball in the air; they come to watch you run, so you've got to get the ball on the ground, and we'll take our chances.'"
There's no doubt that the sizzling speed of Dyson, a pocket-size left-handed batter from McComb, Miss., makes him an exciting player to watch. For a while in 2011, Yost had Dyson on the roster primarily as a late-inning pinch-runner who could make a difference with a stolen base or extra gallop on a base hit.
But until Dyson hits more ground balls, takes more pitches, draws more walks and drops more bunts for base hits, his Royals role is likely to be as a backup outfielder. He is first in line if Lorenzo Cain, the resident center fielder, has another round of injuries. Not that he is the only other able center fielder around this year -- the Royals have stocked up with David Lough, Endy Chavez, Willy Taveras and Luis Durango also in camp.
Dyson, 28, is in his eighth pro season, and Yost believes the theory that speed develops late just might be correct. Most guys approach the game in a conventional way, but speed guys have to go about it differently.
"They've got to keep it on the ground, they've got to use their speed, they've got to take more pitches," Yost said. "The people don't come to see Jarrod Dyson fly out. They come to see him get on base and create havoc. That's what they come to the ballpark to see. But everybody else, you play the game a certain way and you grow up playing it that way. But speed guys, there are very few of 'em, so their game is different, and they have to figure it out over a course of time."
Dyson is getting it. He has changed his swing.
"I kind of brought my hands in a little bit," he said. "I wanted to relax my bat and make sure it's in a comfortable, strong position. I try not to dip and get underneath the ball, and that comes from repetition in the cages."
In Spring Training games, Dyson has been bunting more. He is trying to work the count. He is even changing his basestealing slide, going in feet first instead of headfirst.
"I've got less chance of getting injured feet first, so I want to get back to that," he said. "Early in my career I was going feet first, but I was getting thrown out a lot so I changed and went headfirst. But I was just a baserunner then, not a basestealer, so I can probably go back to the basic feet first. I think it's going to work."
There's nothing wrong with his outfield play. Yost said Dyson's routes are good, his arm is surprisingly strong for his size and he doesn't hesitate to bang into a wall.
"He's fearless. He's not afraid of anything. He's not afraid of nothin'," Yost said. "For a little dude, nothin' scares him. He's not going to back away from any challenge."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.