Cheslor Late Than Never: Cuthbert Up for Injured Moustakas

Due to a fractured thumb, the Royals will be without Mike Moustakas for at least the next few weeks. No doubt, Kansas City will miss their three-plus win, All-Star third baseman. But as is often the case in baseball, one man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity. In this instance, the beneficiary is Cheslor Cuthbert, whom the Royals recalled from the minors to replace Moustakas.

Unless you’re a Royals fan or a prospect connoisseur, you might have no idea who Cheslor Cuthbert is, but my nerdily-sorted spreadsheets really like the Nicaraguan infielder. Last year, he hit .277/.339/.429 as a 22-year-old in Triple-A. He also struck out in an encouragingly low 14% of his trips to the plate. He already looks like a Royal.

That performance, along with the fact that he plays primarily third base — a somewhat premium defensive position — landed Cuthbert at 74th on KATOH’s preseason top-100 list, placing him tops among Royals farmhands. That was before he opened this season by slashing .333/.402/.624 in 24 games. He was one of the very best hitters at Triple-A over the season’s first month, and was quite possibly the best prospect-age hitter in Triple-A.

Not only does Cuthbert have the stat line of a legit prospect, but — unlike many of KATOH’s crushes — he also looks the part. In his preseason writeup, lead prospect analyst Dan Farnsworth observed that Cuthbert has “the physical tools to be an All-Star.” Dan projects nearly all of Cuthbert’s tools to be at least average, with his throwing arm standing out as plus.

Given Cuthbert’s confluence of tools and performance, I find it somewhat surprising that he’s barely registered on the prospect radar. No major outlets ranked him among their top-100 prospects, and he received nary a mention on BP’s Royals list. Dan ranked him #22 in the Royals system.

Cuthbert wasn’t always absent from prospect lists. Heading into 2012 — after his first year in full-season ball — both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus ranked him within their top 100s. Baseball America had glowing things to say about him in their 2012 Prospect Handbook. To wit:

Thanks to his approach, strength and simple swing, he could become a plus hitter with plus power. . . With above-average offensive potential and a chance to stick at third base, Cuthbert could emerge as one of baseball’s best prospects.

Four years later, Cuthbert has stuck at third base; and if his early-season numbers are any indication, it seems he might finally be getting around to the emerging part. But even if we set aside this season’s small sample, Cuthbert’s put up above-average offensive numbers at every minor-league stop — including at Triple-A last year — despite being young for his levels. That’s noteworthy, even if it’s somewhat hidden by the half-season or so he’s required to get acclimated to each level.

To put some faces to Cuthbert’s statistical profile, let’s go ahead and generate some statistical comps for the third baseman from Big Corn Island. I calculated the Mahalanobis Distance between Cuthbert’s Triple-A numbers since the start of 2015 and every Triple-A season from a third baseman since 1990 in which a hitter recorded at least 400 plate appearances. In the table below, you’ll find the 10 most similar seasons, ranked from most to least similar.

Cheslor Cuthbert’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Ian Stewart 4.8 3.1
2 Arquimedez Pozo 3.2 0.0
3 Aubrey Huff 4.4 10.9
4 Chad Tracy 2.6 8.0
5 Scott Cooper 1.6 6.3
6 Willy Aybar 3.7 2.4
7 Scott Spiezio 1.6 6.6
8 Joel Guzman 0.8 0.0
9 Chase Utley 2.2 32.1
10 Kevin Young 3.2 4.9

The Royals have played two games since they called up Cuthbert, and he’s started both at third base. For now, at least, it appears Cuthbert will receive the lion’s share of playing time at the hot corner in Moustakas’ absence. Cuthbert isn’t strictly a third baseman, though, so he might have a role after Moose is healthy. Cuthbert has played a significant amount of first base in the minors, and also got a few starts at second last year in his late-season cameo with the Royals. Dan observed that “his range is the only thing keeping him from playing other positions,” so perhaps he could be an option at second, where range isn’t a hard requirement. His offensive skill and defensive flexibility could make him a useful bench bat.

Cuthbert’s minor-league numbers — especially his recent minor-league numbers — suggest he’s ready for a new challenge. Furthermore, his high-contact approach suggests he should have little trouble adapting to the big leagues, even if he’s been slow to adjust to new competition levels historically. With Moustakas out of his way for a bit, Cuthbert will get a nice little audition to show what he can do. He’s certainly earned it based on minor-league performance. Cuthbert’s still something of an afterthought in the minds of most prospect evaluators, but with a strong couple of weeks, he could start to force his way into KC’s longer-term plans.

We hoped you liked reading Cheslor Late Than Never: Cuthbert Up for Injured Moustakas by Chris Mitchell!

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Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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