If the Royals plan to use Kelvin Gutierrez as a backup infielder this season, they may be better off grabbing an upgrade in the Rule 5 draft.
In 2017 Andy Ibanez was considered a top prospect within the Texas Rangers system. He had made it to AA as a 23-year-old infielder and was a hotter prospect than any corner infielder in the Royals system. He was getting on base and showing the ability to hit the ball and hit it hard. And then…he just began to fall off the prospect lists over the next two seasons.
Ibanez has now been passed on the Rangers prospects list over the last two years by younger, more versatile players like Eli White. Texas has gone out and signed more experienced players like Danny Santana rather than give Ibanez a shot.
It seems as though prospect fatigue has set in now that Andy is 26 years old and has still seen zero playing time with the big league club. He is carrying the stink of a Quad-A perpetual minor league player, the kind of prospect with which Royals fans have become very familiar.
But, the odd thing about Andy Ibanez as a falling prospect is that he has never really stopped hitting. In fact, there is a real argument to be made that he has improved, noticeably. In AAA last season he hit .300. His walk rate went up to 10%, giving him an On Base Percentage of .375. And his Slugging Percentage went up more than 85 points in his second run at AAA pitching.
Andy is a couple of years older than Kelvin Gutierrez. Their batting averages are similar. They walk about the same amount. The difference is that Ibanez has shown some pop. While Gutierrez has never had a Slugging Percentage over .430, Ibanez nearly slugged for .500 last season. Kelvin Gutierrez was a league-average hitter in the Pacific Coast League in 2019. Andy Ibanez was 12% above the league average.
The most home runs Kelvin Gutierrez has ever hit in a minor league season is 11. He had a 54% groundball rate last year. Ibanez hit 20 homeruns in 2019. He added 30 doubles, another number Gutierrez has never approached. His groundball rate is 11% lower than Kelvin’s and he strikes out significantly less. Ibanez would appear to be a better version of both Kelvin Gutierrez and Cheslor Cuthbert, two guys the Royals have had to use over the last year.
The data would suggest that Kelvin Gutierrez is a better defensive player than Ibanez, who has struggled off and on to keep his errors under control. But Andy has shown more versatility by being able to play all over the infield.
If the Royals’ plan this season is to play what we have and see what the young guys can do, I think I can get on board with that. But it is worth considering going out and acquiring better versions of what we have, when available. Andy Ibanez appears to be one of those possibilities