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The enigma of Royals prospect Cheslor Cuthbert

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Yesterday the Kansas City Royals sent third base prospect Cheslor Cuthbert down to Triple-A Omaha after four games in the major leagues. In those contests Cuthbert went 5-for-15 (.333) with a triple, an RBI, a walk, and three strikeouts. He'll certainly be back at some point later in the season, perhaps to cover an injury and almost certainly as a September 40-man roster call-up.

Signed out of Nicaragua in 2009, Cuthbert was strong at the lower levels (wRC+126 in rookie ball, 114 in Low-A) at young ages but stagnated after reaching High-A in 2012. He improved to .276/.342/.420 last year in Double-A (wRC+118) but his production before his promotion this season was well-off Pacific Coast League norms at 89 wRC+, .256/.318/.389.

Cuthbert seems like he's been around forever, inhabiting Royals prospect lists since 2010. As a result it is easy to forget that he is still only 22 years old, a full five years younger than the competition he's faced in the PCL for Omaha.

Having seen Cuthbert play several times in the minors, I still see him as something of an enigma. Although not a walk machine he seems to control the strike zone well and can work a count to his advantage. His swing looks pretty good, compact and clean, but it is a line drive stroke and doesn't translate his physical strength into game power as often as you'd like.

At his best the ball explodes off the bat and will travel far, but when he is in a cold phase he makes choppy and soft contact, hitting the ball on the ground too often. His speed is below average and makes him vulnerable to double plays during such periods.

Cuthbert has a strong arm but his fielding track record is erratic; he'll make a sharp difficult play look simple but then turn around and botch something routine. Although some reports say his range at third base is limited and below average at best, my in-person looks give a more positive impression. He's no Gold Glove but his range has looked sufficient to stay at third base, if he can cut down on errors and mental miscues and if he avoids gaining too much size and thickening up his lower half too much.

Staying at third is very important for his future: the bat simply hasn't been strong enough for first base and he doesn't run well enough to be much of an outfielder.

Cuthbert reminds me of Detroit Tigers prospect Jefry Marte, who we looked at earlier this week. Like Cuthbert, Marte was a hot prospect who performed well in the low minors, was promoted aggressively but had trouble adapting to advanced competition, in part due to a swing that didn't translate strength into power consistently. Like Cuthbert, Marte showed the defensive tools for third base but struggled with reliability.

Marte is having what looks like a breakout season at age 24. Cuthbert is still just 22 and it is plausible he could follow a similar career course, though as with Marte a change of scenery would likely be helpful.