Next week eyes in the baseball world will be focused on Nashville, Tennessee as MLB’s Winter Meetings are set to take place from Monday the 3rd through Thursday the 6th. Even after snatching Ervin Santana and signing Jeremy Guthrie, Dayton Moore has made no secret that he’s still looking to bolster the Royals rotation. Since payroll space is somewhat limited and Kansas City is looking to add a front-line starter the team has already been at the heart of plenty of hitter for pitcher trade rumors and speculation.
There’s no doubt our esteemed General Manager is going to be busy in Nashville, but the rotation is not the only place the organization has holes and talent acquisition is the name of the game.
The Rule 5 Draft will be held on the final day of next week’s meetings – Thursday, December 6th – and while there are a number of intriguing gambles every year, this year one name stands out.
The Apparent Lack of Need
Admittedly as things stand today, the last thing the Royals need on their 25-man roster for the 2013 season is another guy limited to 1B/DH. They already have their 1B of the future in Eric Hosmer. At DH they already have Billy Butler who is hitting his prime, is still improving, is the best player at his position in baseball and is one of the top-10 right handed bats in the American League. In case of emergency, Alex Gordon could also competently play 1B if the need ever came up.
They appear set at the two spots.
Given their current options, acquiring Aguilar would relegate him to pinch hitting duty with perhaps an occasional start – maybe once a week. The Royals would have to try to continue his development at the major league level which for a guy with just 20 games of experience above High-A is a tall task. He’s not in Hosmer’s class as a young talent and even at his peak he won’t be able to match what Butler did in 2012.
So why should the Royals take a flier on Aguilar?
Acquiring and Stockpiling Talent is the Name of the Game
Once you get past the 25-man roster, the Royals have a gaping hole at 1B in their farm system. While selecting Aguilar in the Rule 5 wouldn’t immediately alleviate that, he would certainly add depth to an area of need in the organization. Once they get their hands on Aguilar they can work with him, evaluate first hand what he’s capable of and then decide what to do with him.
Maybe Aguilar impresses and convinces the Royals that he’d be able to survive in the majors all season. Maybe he shows enough that they work out a trade with Cleveland to retain him and then send him to Triple-A where he and develop at a normal pace. Maybe he winds up being involved in a trade to bring a player(s) to Kansas City that will address other more pressing areas of need.
Regardless of how things play out there is no question that Jesus Aguilar is talented and even though they don’t have a blatant need for his services, a team can never have too much talent.
A position of depth can become a position of need overnight, but beyond that when you have depth, you have options.
Insulating Against A Loss
The Royals appear to be set at 1B/DH with Hosmer and Butler in the fold, but they are two of the players bandied about in trade rumors when it comes to acquiring the front line starter the team so desperately needs. Adding Aguilar to the system makes it a lot easier to part with one of the two and while he hasn’t played much at the upper levels, his big time power and track record leads me to believe that he wouldn’t be a complete liability in the lineup on a regular basis.
Would Aguilar struggle? Most assuredly yes.
But we just sat through a season where our everyday 1B hit 0.232/.304/.359 and took two months to get his average comfortably above the Mendoza line. While Hosmer is also an asset in the field, Aguilar has made great strides on that aspect of his game the last two seasons and wouldn’t figure to adversely impact the team in that regard.
In recent years, we’ve watched Mike Sweeneyand Butler learn and develop at the position while in the majors so it can be done, and Sweeney actually wound up being very solid with the glove. Unlike those two examples who were converted from other positions, Jesus Aguilar has played the position almost exclusively (387/409 games plus 10 at DH) in the minors. If, in the team’s evaluation, they determine he’s not ready to play 1B on a regular basis, they could always slot him primarily at DH and have Butler play in the field.
Of course I’m writing this from the standpoint that Hosmer would be the one that is dealt. I do so because I regard that to be the more likely scenario with the potential for a greater return, but that is a topic for another day (hopefully one I can get to later this week). If the Royals were to trade Butler instead, obviously Aguilar would slide into a role as the team’s primary DH. That however could put the team in a bad spot if Hosmer doesn’t bounce back from his sophomore slump and Jesus struggles to adapt.
We know Billy is going to hit so having him in a lineup with their young Rule 5 selection lessens the impact of Aguilar’s likely struggles. That said, based on his brute strength alone, I’d anticipate Jesus would manage to slug his way to some offensive value. The Royals lineup, could certainly make up for the lack of production from Aguilar, especially if Billy Butler Remains a part of the team.
What Aguilar Brings to the Table
Independent of whether the Royals make a move and open up playing time for Aguilar – after hypothetically selecting him – he still offers significant value to the organization. For those of you not familiar, Aguilar was recently ranked as the Cleveland Indians 9th best prospect by Baseball America and has been the team’s best power prospect each of the last two years.
Cleveland does have one of the 2-3 worst farm systems in all of baseball so those rankings aren’t as impressive as they would be in a system like the Rangers, Padres, Royals or especially the Twins (who have a pile of power hitters developing in their pipeline) but they’re still notable.
Anyone who attended or watched the 2012 Future’s Game here in Kansas City this summer got to see Aguilar play as the starting 1B for the World team. In the game he went 1-3 with a walk and no strikeouts while playing start to finish. While you may not remember exactly how he performed you probably remember that at 6’3″ 255-260 lbs he’s an imposing figure in the batter’s box. He didn’t steal the show or electrify like Billy Hamiltondid on his triple, but Aguilar held his own against some fantastic arms at a time when he was still facing Carolina League (A+) pitching during the regular season.
While with the Mudcats he hit 0.277/.365/.454 with 25 2B and 12 HR in 107 games and then hit 0.292/.402/.500 in 20 games with Akron once he was promoted to Double-A. Between the two levels he struck out 115 times and drew 58 walks in 514 PA given him an acceptable 22.4 K% for a power hitter and a solid 11.3 BB% which improved markedly once he reached Akron. The year prior he hit 0.284/.359/.506 with 30 2B and 23 HR in 126 games. Three quarters of his 2011 season was spent in the Midwest League (A) with the other spent in the Carolina League.
In terms of tools his main calling card is plus raw power and he gets good natural loft on balls when he makes contact. He’s capable of driving the ball out of all parts of the ballpark and while he’s not the most instinctual hitter he has handled himself well thus far in his career. His swing features more strength than bat speed at this point so he is susceptible to premium velocity, but he doesn’t strike out at an alarming rate and I was very encouraged by his Future’s Game performance. Aguilar’s swing is long, but there is a great deal of potential in his bat if he continues to develop and he showed improved pitch recognition as the season progressed.
Like Billy Butler, he’s a base-clogger and is not particularly fleet of foot. His range around 1B is limited. However he has very good hands and has improved around the bag significantly in the last couple seasons.
Why is He Available?
The fact that the Indians did not protect him from the Rule 5 draft by adding him to their 40-man does raise some concern for me. We are talking about one of their ten best prospects and a guy projected to be their starting 1B in 2014 and beyond, so the decision is curious at least. This is especially when you add in the fact that they have plenty of chum taking up spots on their 40-man and added Chen Lee, Trey Haley, T.J. House and Tim Fedroffinstead of Aguilar last Tuesday at the deadline.
While the Indians decision making is a concern, it is a very minor one for me on two levels. First, I think it’s fairly obvious that they are operating under the misguided notion that Aguilar will slip through the draft and not be selected. Second, they have shown in recent years that their talent evaluation skills are not on par with the majority of other organizations. You don’t need to look much further than the Ubaldo Jimenezdeal and the fact that their system as a whole is a bit of a mess to see that.
Regardless of Cleveland’s motivations, I think they have erred greatly in their decision to expose Jesus Aguilar to the Rule 5 Draft. On December 6th, the Indians mistake can be the Royals gain if he makes it to them at pick number eight.
Talent is talent and you can never have enough.