David Lough turns 26 tomorrow and is no closer to the major leagues than he was two years ago.  In fact, he may be farther away.   He has not gotten the call for the chartered flights, nice hotels and first class service of the major leagues despite hitting .299/.356/.460 in two combined years in AAA.   Even a 2011 line of .318/.367/.482 was not enough to get a courtesy cup of coffee with the big club at the end of a long lost season.

Prior to the 2010 season, David Lough was named the 10th best prospect in the Royals’ system by Baseball America.   They described him as an average defensive centerfielder and above average at the corners.   A player with above average speed and major league average tools in other categories.   In 2011, Lough cut his strikeout rate while keeping the same walk rate AND upping his average, on-base percentage and slugging.  Still, he toiled in Omaha as Hosmer, Moustakas, Giavotella and Perez breezed in and out of town.  He played next to Lorenzo Cain, who hit a better but not dissimilar .312/.380/.497, and was anointed the club’s new centerfielder for 2012.

Lough watched the speedy Jarrod Dyson get major league time and heard Dyson’s name mentioned as a very real possibility to make the Royals in 2012.  He watched Mitch Maier, a player with virtually identical career minor league stats, spend his THIRD full major league season basically watching the other guys play.  Question:  would you rather get 113 at-bats in the majors or play everyday in AAA?

Heck, when it comes to prospects who people want to give a chance, Lough’s name falls well behind that of Clint Robinson and, at times, even Irving Falu. 

It’s funny how baseball works, isn’t it?   If David Lough was a year older than Mitch Maier, I have no doubt that he would have at least a couple hundred major league games on his resume.  There is a chance that Lough might have become that ‘David DeJesus with a little better power and a little better speed’ that I (and many others) thought he might be.

That said, and we forget this, but David DeJesus was an on-base machine in the minors.   While Lough has put up good numbers (.299/.354/.468 overall), DeJesus hit .301/.400/.464.   In AAA, David smoked the ball to the tune of .308/.406/.489 and parlayed that into a nice major league career.   Even with a miserable 2011, DeJesus carries a major league line of .284/.356/.421.   A very rough comparison of Lough vs. DeJesus in the minors makes it seem like that line is Lough’s ceiling and, assuming Cain is as good as I want him to be, that doesn’t get you a starting gig on the Kansas City Royals.

I wonder if San Diego’s Chris Denorfia is a better comp?  He hit .293/.365/.434 in the minors, .303/.362/.451 in AAA and has turned that into a .275/.342/.399 (OPS+ 104) in the majors.   Denorfia hit .271/.335/.433 in 2010 and .277/.337/.381 last year, playing half the time in Petco Park.   This is not statistical analysis, just some crude comparison shopping, but I look at Lough and his numbers and see a major league mark that looks a lot like Denorfia’s .271/.335/.433 of 2010.

That’s not bad.  Hell, we have said this a lot lately, but that gets you 140 games for this team a few years ago.  That, however, does not get you on the major league roster in 2012.  Not on a team that hopes to play Gordon-Cain-Francouer 155 times this season.   Not on a team that, rightly or wrongly, would not mind having Jarrod Dyson on their 25 man roster just to pinch run in the late innings and not on a team that has Mitch Maier who can compentently play all three outfield spots and causes no trouble at all no matter how many days in a row he sits on the bench.

Does David Lough have trade value?  Not on his own, he doesn’t, but as a throw in to top off a two for one or three for one deal, he might.  Frankly, I have little doubt that Lough could be a decent fourth outfielder for just about any team and, in the right situation, might be somebody’s David DeJesus or, at least, someone’s Matt Diaz.  Yes, I know Diaz bats righthanded, I’m talking niches here.

The thing is, I don’t see David Lough being any of the above for the Kansas City Royals.  He is not one, but two big injuries (everyone knock wood there) away from sniffing the majors this spring and, with any luck, by summer he will be staring across the outfield at a bonafide stud in Wil Myers.  A good summer by Myers and another by Brett Eibner – not to mention a slew of young ‘almost prospects’ percolating in A ball – and David Lough could be forever buried on the organizational depth chart.

Now, all that could blow apart.   Quite frankly, Billy Butler is the ONLY player in this organization who has proven he can hit major league pitching consistently from year to year.  Sure, we believe Gordon has gotten it, Hosmer will be a star, Frenchy’s in shape, Moose will hit, ditto for Giavotella and on and on.  Truth is, Lorenzo Cain might hit July 1 on pace to strike out 175 times.  Wil Myers might hit .255.   Somebody could get hurt and Ned Yost might not be able to tolerate Jarrod Dyson’s bat going backwards when it impacts a major league fastball.   As nice as Mitch Maier is and as hard as he works, will the Royals tolerate his .232/.345/.337 line on an everyday basis?

Things could go bad and that’s why deep organizations have a David Lough on their 40 man roster.   There is a decent chance that when we dive into this roster review next off-season, Lough will not be on our list.   I would kind of like to see what Lough can do in the majors – he is not without skill and some potential – but if everything goes right, his shot will not be in Kansas City.

Here’s something you don’t get to say very often:  right now, David Lough would have a better shot at making the majors with the Boston Red Sox than with the Kansas City Royals.  I have to be honest, it felt pretty good typing that.

xxx