Kansas City Royals Breakout Candidate: Cheslor Cuthbert
By Cody Leonard
Hitting .274 in relief of the injured Mike Moustakas in 2016, Cheslor Cuthbert flashed plenty of potential as a third baseman. The following season was not very kind to him, as Cuthbert batted just .231 in 58 games. There’s a third base spot with his name on it this season – will he rise to the occasion?
The 2018 season will feature several young Royals players looking to make their mark. The next few years for Kansas City will be about figuring out who will be a part of the next championship core. One player that is very likely to fit that mold is Cheslor Cuthbert. The 25-year-old third baseman made an immediate impact while filling in for Mike Moustakas during the 2016 season. Because of that, GM Dayton Moore thought enough of him to protect him on the 25 man roster for the entire 2017 season despite the fact that there was no clear role for him. Evidently, Moore made that decision with 2018 in mind. With Moustakas now (likely) gone, third base Cuthbert’s for the taking.
Will he be able to hit consistently at the MLB level?
The primary skill that Cuthbert brings to the table is his offense. Although many believe he is a sub-par hitter, evidenced by his career 85 OPS+, he has still displayed that he is ready to tackle a full major league season. His on-base-plus-slugging at AAA was 1.026 and 9.12 in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Cuthbert has been crushing minor league pitching during his time there. While he was getting regular at-bats with the big league club in ’16, Cuthbert put up numbers similar to what Eric Hosmer, Moustakas, and Billy Butler did in their rookie seasons. He faded down the stretch, but that likely had more to do with fatigue than the league figuring him out.
With nobody left in his way and some big league experience under his belt, Cuthbert is primed to build on what he did in 2016. When he was signed out of Nicaragua, Cuthbert had big-time power potential. In today’s home run-friendly environment, he should hit at least 20 homers if given a full season of at-bats. Solid power to go along with a .265-.275 batting average would make him an ideal #5 hitter in the order while the Royals stock up and await the next wave.
He can do it with the bat, what about the glove?
Cuthbert’s defense is not quite as developed as his bat, but certainly isn’t nearly as bad as most think. His biggest weakness is the accuracy of throws to first base. The good news there is that of all the defensive issues a third baseman could have, that is the easiest to fix. Cuthbert’s reaction time is great, which has led to some pretty nifty plays at third. At this point in their respective careers, Cuthbert’s range isn’t much (if at all) worse than an aging and often-hobbled Moustakas. Overall, this leads to a very insignificant drop in third base defense from last year to 2018.
On the other hand, if Eric Hosmer signs elsewhere the Royals could shift Cuthbert to first base and plug Hunter Dozier in at third. A move such as this would improve Cuthbert’s defensive contributions to the team. In the brief time he has spent at first, Cuthbert looked very comfortable and made some nice plays that certainly left the possibility of playing there open.
Of all the players taking over a starting role in 2018, Cheslor Cuthbert is the most likely to break out. He has the pedigree and experience to take a step forward and lock down third base for years to come. Nobody will ever replace Moose in fans’ hearts, but Cuthbert’s huge smile and dangerous bat will help ease the pain. Look for him to make the leap and become an everyday contributor in 2018. While reloading on prospects may be a big part of this season, third base should be fine.
What do you think, Royals fans? Will the team miss Mike Moustakas? Is Cheslor Cuthbert not the guy for the job? Is he ready to step in at third? Let us know what you have to say!