“Making Fergie sign sing live is like making Yunieksy Betancourt bat leadoff” – Joe Sheehan via Twitter. To be honest, ‘signing’ might have gone better!
Here’s to hoping that two years from now someone cannot make the same joke using Alcides Escobar….or Lorenzo Cain.
In his time running the Royals, Dayton Moore has loaded the farm system with so many arms that it seems almost impossible to remember them all. He has drafted shrewdly enough to nab three of the best minor league hitters in the game and, while the position players are not nearly as deep as the pitchers, he has added some nice solid players to go with the big three. In trading Zack Greinke, Moore added two of these ‘solid type’ players who happen to fill spots in the organization that were notoriously weak: shortstop and centerfield.
While neither Escobar nor Cain will never be superstars, the Royals need them to both be above average defensively and to hold their own offensively. They also need one of them to be a leadoff hitter. That, you see, is the one really glaring weakness in this organization.
While the days of the Willie Wilson and Rickey Hendersons of the world batting at the top of the order and stealing 75 bases are probably long past, teams still like to have a ‘lead-off’ type guy. There is no statistical variance in the fact that the guy who leads off the game is also the first guy to get to five at-bats. If that guy can get on base twice and distract the pitcher both times, there is value. It’s nice, of course, if that batter gets on base in the first inning and keeps the starting pitcher from getting into a groove (plus it sets up your ‘number two hitter’ which every manager seems to love – sarcasm intended), but the fact is that having a speed guy on base twice per game is better than having Alberto Callaspo on base twice per game. I’m talking about the Alberto who slugged .410 last season, not the guy who banged out 60 extra base hits in 2009.
We know that Dayton Moore loves the speed guys: he went out of his way to sign Scott Podsednik last season and it worked out on all fronts, much to my surprise. He has drafted a ton of them, none of whom can seem to, you know, get on base.
Derrick Robinson can flat out fly, but his .345 OBP in Northwest Arkansas last season was thirty points above anything he has managed prior. Hilton Richardson, Adrian Ortiz, Patrick Norris all can run, but you don’t even want to know what their on-base numbers were last year. You all know about Jarrod Dyson who makes all of the above seem slow (sort of), but he too has not shown a tremendous on-base aptitude.
Paulo Orlando, one of my favorites, stole 25 bases in 35 attempts in AA and posted an on-base percentage of .366, but his skillset might well profile out hitting sixth or seventh in the order. If it profiles out at all at the major league level.
When it comes to on-base percentage, your minor league leaders last year were Kila Ka’aihue, Alex Gordon, Wil Myers, Clint Robinson and Eric Hosmer. Yeah, not exactly getting a lead-off feel from any of those guys. Frankly, the closest thing to the combination a smart major league team is looking for is Johnny Giavotella, who stole 13 bases and posted an OBP of .395. Prior to last season, however, Johnny’s on-base percentages were .351 and .355. Those are good numbers, not great, basically David DeJesus. The consensus was that he was never really a true lead-off hitter.
After the big three, the two guys most likely to be on this team sooner rather than later are probably David Lough and Christian Colon (either because Escobar flops or he is moved to second base). Again, neither profiles out as a true lead-off hitter.
That brings us back to Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain. Escobar comes with all the glowing prospect statuses, but not the on-base resume you might like to see. He can run, we think he can field and we hope he can hit some, but the idea that he might develop into the type of lead-off hitter a contending team utilizes is probably unlikely.
Cain, on the other hand, is a ‘nice’ prospect, but not considered elite. He brings a career minor league on-base percentage of .366 to the table, which includes three seasons of plus .380. Lorenzo has stolen 124 bases in the minors and been caught just 35 times. In 2010, he stole 26 of 29 bases and in 2008 Cain nabbed 25 of 31. He, among everyone else in the system, seems to have the tools to fill this vacancy.
Would the world end if the Royals had to make do with a good on-base guy who did not steal bases? No. It would be nice, however, to have a traditional ‘table-setter’ hitting in front of what we hope to be a fearsome middle of the order in a couple of years.