2018 Royals Season Preview – Cheslor Cuthbert

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - MAY 10: Second baseman Cheslor Cuthbert
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - MAY 10: Second baseman Cheslor Cuthbert /

After batting .274 in relief of the then-injured Mike Moustakas, the Royals caught a glimpse of the future at third base. Cheslor Cuthbert silenced many who doubted his ability to contribute at the major-league level. After a sprained wrist limited both his playing time and effectiveness in 2017, Cuthbert will be looking to secure the third base job in this year’s Spring Training. Is he up for the challenge?

If you haven’t read my Kings of Kauffman season preview for Raúl Mondesí, I highly recommend it. Each article will have a link to a previous season preview in the first main body paragraph: just click on the player’s name. Mondesí is one of the multiple young infielders looking to make the 25-man roster this season. A player who’s already slated to start in the Royals’ infield in 2018 is Cheslor Cuthbert. Our own Cody Leonard recently published a piece about Cuthbert and his potential breakout that I highly advise you read. With Mike Moustakas likely departing in free agency, third base is Cuthbert’s for the taking. How did he get here?

After Moustakas tore his ACL in May of the 2016 season, Cuthbert took over at third base. Batting .274 with 12 home runs and 46 RBIs in 128 games, Cuthbert played well and made the loss of Moustakas a bit easier to swallow. Although his defensive metrics indicated a deficiency (-1.0 dWAR), plays like this one distracted us from the numbers:

In all, Cuthbert exceeded expectations in 2016. The bat was good and the glove was acceptable. Hoping to follow up his 2016 campaign with an even better performance the following year, Cuthbert’s durability and effectiveness were both tested.

What did he offer last season?

Between the AAA and MLB levels, Cuthbert appeared in just 73 games last season. A sprained wrist sidelined him for a large portion of the season and may have limited his effectiveness once healthy. In 15 minor league games, Cuthbert batted .271 with four home runs and nine RBIs. Cuthbert’s time in the minor leagues was spent rehabbing his wrist. In the major leagues, his batting average plummeted to .231. Cuthbert struggled immensely in his utility role with the Royals, hitting just two home runs in 58 games and watching his strikeout rate rise to a career-high 25.5%. It was not the season anyone wanted nor expected Cuthbert to have.

One positive from Cuthbert’s 2017 season: his splits. In the month of August (when he returned from his wrist injury), the 25-year-old batted .286 in nine games. That average increased to .304 in the final month of the season. Perhaps the wrist didn’t bother him as much as people thought? A .294 second-half batting average left both Cuthbert and the Royals optimistic for what 2018 has in store.

What can we expect in 2018?

Steamer projects Cuthbert will play nearly the exact same amount of games this season as he did in 2016, producing similar results. Instead of comparing Cuthbert’s 2017 numbers to the 2018 projections, we’ll be comparing them to his 2016 season:

  • 127 games played (down from 128)
  • .260 BA (down from .274)
  • 16 HR (up from 12)
  • 59 RBI (up from 46)
  • 19.2 K% (up from 18.8%)
  • .319 OBP (up from .318)
  • .423 SLG% (up from .413)

These are very solid projections. Although the batting average is lower than 2016’s, the on-base percentage is one point higher, indicating Steamer expects Cuthbert will draw more walks. In Cody’s article about the potential breakout of Cuthbert, he predicted a batting average hovering between .265-.275 and around 20 home runs. It looks like the projection systems agree with him.

I’m going to take over 127 games played. I think a healthy Cuthbert will hold down third base for the entire season. I’m also going to take the over on batting average and RBIs. I think 16 home runs is not out of the question for Cuthbert this year – I’m taking even. The projections for SLG% and K% also seem just about right. Cuthbert is not known for walking too often, but I’m predicting an on-base percentage over .319. Another year of experience should help him get on base more often than in years past. In all, I expect Cuthbert to put up numbers very similar to his 2016 season, but to mature in every aspect of his game. I’m not predicting a breakout, but don’t be surprised if he becomes a solid everyday third baseman.

The verdict 

Cheslor Cuthbert’s game is predicated upon a solid bat with good power potential and a strong arm at third base. There will likely be days where Cuthbert is the designated hitter. Can he fill in at first base? Absolutely. What about shortstop in spurts? Sure thing. Having a versatile, young third baseman with decent pop in his bat and a history of moderate success at the position is great. If Cuthbert can stay healthy in 2018, he is fully capable of putting together a solid season. Will he hit 38 home runs like Mike Moustakas did? No. Can he hit 15-20 while batting .270? I think so. In a season filled with potential and youth, expect to see lots of Cheslor Cuthbert.

What do you think, Royals fans? Is Cuthbert going to break through this year? Can he stay healthy? Will he begin and finish the season at third base? Let us know what you have to say!