“Does he have what it takes to be among the best outfielders?” “He is replacing an all-star caliber player.” These are two of the comments I remember hearing about when David DeJesus was asked to become the starting center fielder for the Royals back in 2004. It is hard to replace a solid five-tool player, a switch hitter who could bat almost anywhere in the lineup. Carlos Beltran was even awarded the Rookie of the Year award in 1999. However, it is not impossible.
David played in 96 games during his rookie campaign in 2004. He batted .287, which was twenty points higher than where Beltran finished that year. Beltran, however, was involved in a pennant race and almost single-handedly knocked the St. Louis Cardinals out of the playoffs. Over the next several seasons both players played every day but despite all the talent Beltran had he just was not producing the offense he was capable of producing. Instead of maintaining or getting better, he was losing ground. He was able to show off his glove and arm, though.
On the other hand, with the exception of one below average season, DeJesus’ offensive numbers were growing, and the Royals awarded him with a long-term contract. His defense was getting better too. He took the time to learn all three of the outfield positions, and at this point in his career can play any of them if asked. In fact, prior to his thumb injury in mid-2010, he had accumulated a 241-game errorless streak that will resume when the 2011 season comes around.
With all these numbers, I think it can be said that David DeJesus is probably one of the most underrated all-star caliber outfielders in the game today. He can hit, field and run the bases just as good as anyone else in the league. The Royals have had quite a few quality outfielders come through the ranks over the years, including Jermaine Dye, Johnny Damon and Carlos Beltran. All three of these players ended up getting traded and performing well in both the regular season and earning post-season accolades. Two of them have rings.
When the Royals brought in Scott Podsednik at the beginning of the season, the Royals ended up having one of the most productive outfields in baseball. Both of them were batting at or above .300 and were playing solid defense.
It seems like eons since the Royals have had more than a couple “fan favorite” type players who were productive as the group including DeJesus, Joakim Soria, Zack Greinke and Billy Butler has been the past two seasons. We have had fan favorites in the past, but as soon as they gained national popularity or started asking for more money, they were gone. In the late 1970s and 80s it was Brett, Wilson, White, McRae and company. These four, along with the rest of their teammates put Kansas City on the map in professional baseball.
It took a few years for these four Royals greats to mesh and win a championship, and the ownership of the time made sure the team stayed together with long-term contracts. The Royals have a solid core group of players who are able to contribute right now, including DeJesus. DeJesus is still right at the age where he is old enough to provide leadership and young enough to help anchor his team in the production department.
DeJesus finished the season ranked third in the AL among regular outfielders in batting average, behind Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz. He tied for first in the league in fielding percentage, since he did not commit an error yet again this season. David DeJesus is among the best in the business right now. If you can hit for better average and field better than Ichiro, whom I consider the best outfielder of the past decade, you are definitely worth keeping. The Royals are going to keep him for at least one more year, and if they’re smart they will do their best to keep their core players together by resigning him.