If you read this blog regularly (or any Royals-related blog, really) you know about the top prospects in the Royals organization. Names like Kyle Zimmer, Yordano Ventura, and Raul Mondesi, have been discussed quite a bit in this space, and rightfully so. They’re among the top 30 prospects in all of baseball, and their potential obviously merits recognition. However, an organizational farm system is made up of more than just its top three prospects, so I thought I’d cover a few of the players with perhaps a lower ceiling, but who could still make an impact in the big leagues at some point. In the next week or two, I’ll break down a few of these prospects to keep an eye on in 2014. Thus far, I’ve written about Christian Binford (here) & Orlando Calixte (here). Today, I’d like to talk about one of Calixte’s teammates at Northwest Arkansas, Brett Eibner.
After being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft, Eibner has battled through injuries and ineffectiveness in his first 3 professional seasons, compiling a .218/.321/.417 line in 1314 plate appearances, with a strikeout rate of over 30%. Coming into that draft, there were questions of whether Eibner would be a pitcher or an outfielder, since he had success at both positions while in college at Arkansas. The Royals opted to use his bat, but his struggles at the plate have led to some murmurs that the organization should consider moving him back to the mound. I don’t think the team has given any indication that they will make such a move, but I do believe Eibner’s 2014 season will be very pivotal as far his future is concerned. And despite his disappointing production, there could be some signs of improvement.
Obviously Eibner has well below average contact skills, but his raw power and patience are well above average, which helps to cover some of his deficiencies. He’s not going to be a guy who gets on base at a .375 clip, but his double digit walk rate allows him to not be a total out machine at the plate. Eibner’s ISO has been above .190 in each of his 3 seasons, including .209 in 2013. Granted, that came in the hitter-friendly Arvest Park, which is in the hitter-friendly Texas League, but adjusting for park factors, Eibner still had a wRC+ of 120. Also, Eibner’s home/road splits were almost identical. And I don’t mean they were just close. They were literally almost identical: .243/.329/.451 at home, .242/.331/.451 away. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen splits that similar before.
As the season wore on, Eibner seemed to get better. From April 4th through June 11th, Eibner hit .202/.288/.344. That’s bad. From June 12th through the end of the season, Eibner hit .266/.354/.514. That’s good. Typical arbitrary endpoints and small sample size caveats apply, of course, and I don’t recall hearing about any mechanical adjustments made, so the difference may have just been regressing – or progessring, in this case – to the mean. Eibner still had a 28.8% strikeout rate from mid-June on, so it’s not like he suddenly abandoned his swing-and-miss ways. It may have been something as simple as making better contact, which led to a higher BABIP. Whatever the cause, Eibner’s numbers improved in the 2nd half of the season, and he appears to be in a position to improve upon those numbers in 2014.
Defensively, reports suggest Eibner has good instincts in center field, and a terrific arm (which is unsurprising with his pitching background), but his lack of excellent range may mean he would be better suited in right field. Eibner has roughly average speed, but he’s not likely to be much of a base-stealing threat. With his patience, power, and defense, Eibner could develop into a future 4th outfielder, and potentially even more if he can learn to cut down on his strikeouts. This season, there is a decent chance Eibner starts the year with AAA Omaha, although the outfield there is suddenly somewhat crowded (Lane Adams, Gorkys Hernandez, Paulo Orlando, Melky Mesa, & possibly the newly-acquired Carlos Peguero will all be vying for spots), so I could see the Royals keeping him in AA for a month or so. However, with Eibner now 25 years old, he’s running out of opportunities to prove himself to the organization, so it will be interesting to see how he performs in this crucial season.