Evaluating the Minors at the Midway Point: The Position Players

Ask Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas how easy it is to make the jump from the minor leagues to the big show.

A month ago, everyone thought calling up Hosmer and Moustakas was the kick-start the Royals needed to hang in the race for the AL Central Division. Now, mired in last place, those promotions look more like an admission that 2011 is over and we’re beginning extended spring training for 2012.

Hosmer and Moustakas haven’t been flops. But they haven’t been rookie sensations either. They simply have shown that no matter how great you are in the minors, the major leagues are a whole different ballgame.

Look no further than the numbers Kila Ka’aihue and Mike Aviles are posting at Omaha to see evidence of that truth. Does anyone think those numbers indicate Kila and Aviles are now equipped to succeed against big league pitching?

Two previous articles checked the mid-season progress of the Royals’ minor league teams and minor league pitching prospects. This article will do the same for the Royals’ position prospects, with a full admission that greatness at the minor league level does not necessarily point to brighter days ahead for the big league club.

Baseball America’s #8 and #9 ranked players – Hosmer and Moustakas – are now in KC. Beyond those two, the highest hopes were pinned on catcher-turned-outfielder Wil Myers. While KC is in desperate need of catching help, it was decided that Myers bat was just too far ahead of his glove.

Myers has heated up at the plate since returning from a serious cut on his knee (suffered in an off-the-field incident), raising his average to .288. His power numbers are not great, but the 21 year old will press for a promotion to Omaha before the season is up. Though he hasn’t set any worlds on fire this year, no one is questioning Myers’ ability.

A lot of people thought KC reached when they took Christian Colon with the fourth pick in the 2010 draft. Looks now like those people might be right. He was called a college version of Derek Jeter, and it turns out that might not be a compliment. His leadership, maturity and consistency may have overshadowed his limited physical tools. Colon got off to a very slow start at Wilmington last year and hasn’t really sped up since.

Colon is hitting just .253 with just four homers in the hitter-friendly Texas League. A bigger problem could be that he may not have the defensive skills to stay at shortstop. If he’s going to be relegated to second base, he’d better be special at the plate to merit the #4 pick. So far, he hasn’t been.

One other player received recognition in MLB.com’s list of top 50 prospects – Johnny Giavotella is currently rated the #7 second baseman in the minors. Taken out of the University of New Orleans in the second round in 2008, Giavotella is soon to be 24 years old. He’s moved through the minors one level per season, but has hit well at every stop. Currently batting .324 with 53 RBIs at Omaha, Giavotella’s problem may be that he’ll never be more than adequate defensively.

If Chris Getz doesn’t firmly grasp the second base job in KC, Giavotella may be given a chance. But the fact that he’s limited defensively, coupled with the fact he can’t play short or third, may keep him from making it to KC permanently.

The guy who is probably closest to getting the call to the big leagues is Lorenzo Cain, an athletic centerfielder acquired in the Zack Greinke trade. Melky Cabrera blocked Cain from making the big-league squad in spring training, but it may be just a matter of a mid-season trade before Cain patrols center in KC.

Cain is hitting .295 with some power at Omaha, but he has not been used in the leadoff spot, which is troubling because he was seen as a possible table setter at the big league level. His on-base percentage is .360, but he has stolen a mere seven bags thus far.

Myers and Colon have had somewhat disappointing seasons. But another highly-touted prospect has been even more of a letdown thus far – Kane County centerfielder Brett Eibner. Eibner didn’t sign early enough to see any action in 2010. Now injuries have slowed the five-tool Arkansas Razorback draftee from making much headway in 2011.

Having played in just 15 games, Eibner is currently hitting a paltry .182. He’s already 22 years old, and is still several stops away from KC. The second half of this season will be crucial for his chances.

The long wait continues for two other older players – David Lough and Clint Robinson. Time is ticking for both former collegians. Lough is 25, Robinson 26.

If Cain is slated to play center in KC, then Lough may finally squeeze out Mitch Maier as the fourth outfielder. He brings a gritty combination of speed and power and is hitting .308 at Omaha.

Robinson may never get a shot at the big leagues, but its not because he can’t hit. After winning the triple crown at Northwest Arkansas last year, he’s posting unbelievable numbers once again. He’s currently hitting .327 with 17 homers through 75 games. His on-base percentage is .402 and his OPS is .973. With Billy Butler and Hosmer already in KC, the Royals will have to get creative for Robinson to have a chance.

One of the gems deep in the Royals system is Cheslor Cuthbert, a slugging 18-year-old third baseman. The Royals have brought him along slowly, but Cuthbert is hitting .302 with four homers in 28 games at Kane County. He will be one to watch closely over the next few seasons.

Catching has been one of the great black holes in the Royals system. The best current hope in the system is Northwest Arkansas’ 21-year-old Salvador Perez. Big (230) and tall (6’3”) for a catching prospect, Perez has been with the Royals since he was 17, slowing making his way through the system. He’s currently hitting .262 with four homers and is thought to be solid defensively.

Wilmington – the Royals’ high A level team – plays in a pitcher-dominated league, and they have several hot pitching prospects. The only batter making a mark this season is 21-year-old second baseman Rey Navarro who is currently hitting .284 with a team-leading eight homers.

The development of Myers, Colon and Cain are of the utmost importance to the future of the Royals. Much less is invested in the older prospects – Giavotella, Robinson, and Lough, but they may yet receive a shot. Not all of the younger prospects will work out, but the Royals will watch anxiously what happens to Perez, Eibner and Cuthbert.

Developing prospects is a crapshoot, and numbers on the minor league level tell just a part of the story. With Ka’aihue and Aviles raking in Omaha, that fact was never more apparent.

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