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Where Did This Guy Come From? Kila Kaaihue

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Micah Kilakila Kaaihue was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 15th round of the 2002 draft, out of high school in Hawaii. He brought two things to the table: power, and lots of it, and good strike zone judgment. He didn't show the power in rookie ball, hitting just .259/.381/.381, but he did draw a lot of walks. I did not rate short-season players back then, but he would have been a Grade C.

I first saw him play in 2003, when he hit .238/.355/.380 with 11 homers and 67 walks in 395 at-bats for Burlington in the Midwest League. He was slow on the bases, but actually had some mobility around the bag at first. He worked the count very well, but his swing wasn't quite in gear just yet. . .the power and strength were there in raw form, but he was still trying to find the right balance between aggression and patience. I gave him a Grade C in the 2004 book, but noted that he had sleeper potential.

Kaaihue returned to Burlington in 2004 and hit .236/.361/.431, slight improvement with better power production. I gave him another Grade C, noting that while he had repeated the league and had improved only slightly, he was still quite young at age 20.

High Desert in 2005 was a much better hitting environment than Burlington, and Kaaihue responded, hitting .304/.428/.497 with 20 homers, 97 walks, and 97 strikeouts in 493 at-bats. I moved him up to Grade C+, but resisted a higher grade because of the thin air/small parks factor of the Cal League, wanting to see how he would adapt to Double-A.

2006 was a disaster. Kaaihue was bothered by nagging injuries all year, but when he did play he was horrible, hitting .202/.305/.303. He continued to draw lots of walks, but his power seemed to have vanished. I saw him play several times, and he just looked really confused. His swing was extremely mechanical, not smooth at all, and he looked very passive and unsure of himself. I left him out of the 2007 book due to space reasons, but had him rated back as a Grade C, still young enough to rebound but with a lot of work to do.

The Royals sent him back to the Carolina League to begin 2007, trying to regain some confidence. He hit .251/.360/.420 in 60 games for Wilmington, which isn't bad for that park and league. Promoted back to Wichita at mid-season, he hit .246/.359/.447, with 41 walks and 40 strikeouts in 244 at-bats. I saw him play for Wichita, and he seemed to have smoothed out his swing compared to '06. But overall I was thinking that he just wasn't going to hit quite enough at higher levels and would be a Triple-A slugger. I gave him a Grade C in the 2008 book, noting that he still had some sleeper potential but was a long shot.

2008 has been a monster season: .314/.463/.624 in the Texas League, .330/.457/.649 in the Pacific Coast League, 35 homers, 101 walks, and 63 strikeouts in 381 at-bats. Can this possibly be for real? I have not had a chance to see him myself, but everyone I have spoken with who has seen him says that he seems to have figured something out, finding a strong balance between aggression and passivity, and fixing the mechanical flaws in his swing.

Statistically, the BB/K/AB ratio is outstandingly good. The fact that he has continued to smash the ball after being promoted to Triple-A is a marker that this is real. His BB/K/AB mark was 80/41/287 in Double-A, and 21/22/94 in Triple-A. . .the strikeouts are up against better pitching, but even a 1:1 BB/K ratio is just fine.

In short, I think this is real, genuine improvement. If I were the Royals I would call him up in September and let him play as much as possible. I don't think this is a Calvin Pickering type deal, a minor league slugger having a career/fluke type year.  Kaaihue is still just 24. I'm not saying he's going to be a star, but I don't see any reason why he can't hit .260 with a high on-base percentage and above average power. And the Royals could use that.