When Royals prospect lists start to come out over the winter, Cheslor Cuthbert is highly likely to be listed among the first five ranked.
Despite being very young, Cuthbert spent the year in A ball rather than rookie leagues and performed well during the first half, only to fall down a bit in the second. Considering I’d figured him for more rookie ball this season, a full year in Low A puts him ahead of the usual pattern. He turns 19 later this week.
In 342 plate appearances, Cuthbert hit .267/.345/.397 with 22 extra base hits. He walked 10.5% of the time and struck out just 19% of the time in Low A. That’s a good start, but there’s still work to do.
Cuthbert made it into 32 rookie level games last year at the age of 17 between Arizona and Idaho Falls. That he was playing in short season ball at that age is a sign of the Royals faith in his ability to handle the pressure of the game. Part of that may be due to a quick adjustment to life in the United States. Many international prospects spend time in extended spring training and special instructional leagues to work on specific elements of their game, but also to acclimate to a different environment and lifestyle. Cuthbert grew up on Corn Island in Nicaragua, which has a significant English-speaking population.
His reasonable success led the Royals to try him in High A and for most of the year, he put up fantastic numbers. Through July, he was hitting .328. From August until the end of the year, though, he went a paltry 13 for 96. Perhaps the league caught up to him, or perhaps he just hit a wall. There were hints that he may have been hurt.
Cougars manager Vance Wilson suggested he was just trying to hard and didn’t adjust to pitchers: “Pitchers come inside, then they get you pulling off and they go away, and great hitters know that. That’s what he was really good at (earlier) and it’s just getting him back on that.”
He’s advanced for his age, playing a decent third base, where he should stick most of his career and demonstrating good bat speed and pitch selection that could allow him to develop solid power down the line. Nathaniel Stoltz of Seedlings to Stars suggests that’s his ticket to stardom, since success at the corner spots need some power production to stick out. Other scouts see him as a high risk/high reward player.
He has as much upside as any position player in the Royals system, and that’s why he’ll be ranked highly in 2012’s lists. Because he’s so young, it’s likely he may repeat a season at Low A with a more typical progression through the system. If, however, he shows the same approach he had through most of 2011, the Royals may start him in Kane County but elevate him to Wilmington at some point in the year.