Photo courtesy of Minda Haas
In 2009, the Royals signed a 16-year old Nicaraguan named Cheslor Cuthbert for $1.35 million. Just a couple of years later, he was recognized as a top 100 prospect by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. He had just come off of a 2011 season in which he had a .742 OPS in Low-A, as an 18-year old, with a walk rate better than 10%.
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Then things went slightly downhill. Cuthbert had a .618 OPS in Wilmington the next season, and his moderate power completely disappeared. There were questions about his defense at third base. Of course, he was still only 19 years old. In 2013, he got off to a great start in the pitcher-friendly Carolina League, posting a .772 OPS, along with even better plate discipline.
After a mid-season promotion to Double-A, Cuthbert regressed again, hitting just .215/.279/.359 in his 264 plate appearances at that level. He was 20 years old at this point. The Royals had him start back in Northwest Arkansas last season, where he hit 10 dingers and 30 extra-base hits in 96 games. Cuthbert then moved up to Triple-A, and based on his history, you can probably guess what happened. He wasn’t completely overmatched, as shown by the 9 walks and only 12 strikeouts in 100 plate appearances, but a .715 OPS in that league isn’t all that impressive.
It’s slightly more impressive for a 21-year old, however. The average Pacific Coast League player was 5.6 years older than Cuthbert. Adjusting to that would be difficult for most players, and if his track record is any indication, Cuthbert might be able to have quite a bit more success his second time around.
The Royals don’t seem to have any concerns about giving Cuthbert more than he can handle, as they have also been moving him around the diamond to give him more positional versatility. He played 3 games at second base for the Naturals, and another 37 games at first between both levels. It…didn’t go well.
I wasn’t able to see him play at second, although he committed 2 errors in 12 chances, if that’s any indication. As for his work at first, in my handful of viewings of him, his footwork looked rough, and he just didn’t seem to have a great idea of how to position himself.
That’s to be expected. He was 21 years old, and learning a new position on the fly. I can’t imagine a ton of guys handling that kind of transition particularly well.
The Royals aren’t giving up on the idea of Cuthbert moving around. He’ll be getting extensive work at second base this spring, where the coaching staff and veteran players can give him much more instruction. If he hopes to make it to the big leagues quickly, that position is likely his best bet. He doesn’t really have the bat for first base, and his arm may not play well at third. Plus, Hunter Dozier should be pushing his way up, if things go as planned.
The organization has dangled Omar Infante on the trade block, and only Christian Colon seems big league-ready to take over, giving Cuthbert the path of least resistance. I don’t know how his glove would look at second on a regular basis, but his offensive profile could play. And I realize I keep saying this, but he’s still so young. It’s tough to write off a guy who just turned 22 years old and already has experience at Triple-A. He’s still learning, and he’s still developing.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Cuthbert’s swing when I saw him in Omaha last year, and his body type may not look like a typical second baseman. But if he can stand around the keystone without embarrassing himself, that versatility could be huge for his future. Cuthbert probably won’t realize the ceiling many saw in 2011, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still bring some value to the major league club.