With Hunter Dozier experiencing a weird injury from yesterday’s game (never saw “tightness in thorax” before), and Kelvin Gutierrez still not a 100 percent back from injury, the Royals made a surprising roster move earlier today.
Cuthbert was not on the 40-man roster, so in order to move him up from Omaha, Dayton Moore needed to clear a roster spot and Owings proved to be the casualty here. Let’s take a look at both Owings’ “short” tenure as a Royal, and what Royals fans can expect this time around from the 26-year-old Nicaraguan infielder.
Owings came to the Royals on a flier, as the Royals signed him in the winter on a one-year, $3 million deal after his previous organization, the Arizona Diamondbacks, non-tendered him in the off-season. Owings, drafted in the supplemental round of the 2009 MLB Draft, was viewed as a pretty heralded prospect in the Diamondbacks system for a bit of time. Even though he came into professional ball as a raw infielder out of high school, Owings was a consensus Top-100 prospect by 2014, as going into 2014, he was ranked in the Top 100 in Baseball America (66), MLB (77), and Baseball Prospectus’ (28) lists. In a late season callup to the big league club in 2013, Owings flashed some promise in 20 games, as he posted a slash of .291/.361/.382 with an OPS of .742 in 61 plate appearances.
What made Owings so valuable as a prospect was his solid ability to make contact and hit for average (career .294 batting average in the Minors), and ability to play multiple positions. With Arizona budding as a playoff contender at the time, many Diamondback fans dreamed that Owings could be a Ben Zobrist-like player for their organization.
Unfortunately, it never worked out for Owings, as his low-walk, high strikeout approach didn’t translate to the Major League level (he has a career BB/K ratio of 0.22). After struggling in his last season in Arizona (51 wRC+; negative-0.8 WAR in 106 games), Owings was on pace to be even worse in Kansas City. In 41 games and 145 plate appearances, Owings was posting a .133/.193/.222 slash, a negative-0.7 WAR, and a 7 wRC+ (yes…that is not a mistake). Even though Owings has showed defensive versatility for the Royals in his short tenure, it couldn’t make up for his lack of offensive production, and thus, Moore decided to part ways with him sooner rather than later for the benefit of the organization and perhaps even Owings himself (so he can get on with another team sooner).
It would be easy to dance on Owings’ grave (as many Royals fans are doing, currently), but to me, it’s hard to do that on a guy who made the MLB minimum and didn’t even play 50 games. It didn’t work out for him or the Royals, unfortunately. I wish him the best of luck.
Things haven’t quite lived up to expectation for Cuthbert, who was released from the 40-man roster after the end of the season. Injuries derailed Cuthbert last year, as he only played 36 total games between Kansas City and Omaha. Once rated as a Top-100 prospect according to Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus going into 2012, it was widely thought that baseball fans wouldn’t hear about Cuthbert again at the Major League level after the 2018 season.
However, Cuthbert got back on the radar with a solid start in the PCL in 2019, as he posted a .310/.370/.528 slash with a .898 OPS and 8 home runs in 219 plate appearances with the Storm Chasers. While some other prospects gained more attention (Bubba Starling being the main one), Cuthbert got the call up to replace Owings on the 40-man to mixed fanfare.
And then in his first major league game in 2019, he went and did this…
The long ball in the first at bat was definitely a resounding start to his 2019 Royals campaign for Cuthbert. Furthermore, Cuthbert is still only 26 years old, can play multiple positions in the infield, and his power and stroke seems to have come along way since he broke into the Show as a 22-year old.
The one positive aspect about Cuthbert’s profile is that he was showing signs of improvement a year ago in terms of skills before injury derailed him. His swinging strike percentage was down from 2017 (11.4 from 14.2 percent), his contact rate was up (76.7 from 72.8), and his BB/K ratio also improved (0.48 from 0.23). In fact, based on those improvements, if Cuthbert didn’t struggle through injury, it’s possible that he could have at least matched his numbers from what many thought was a promising 2016 campaign (.274/.318/.413 slash; .731 OPS; 12 home runs in 510 plate appearances).
Does that mean Cuthbert will be an everyday player? Probably not. He’s always struggled with hitting too many groundballs and not enough line drives and fly balls at the Major League level (career 1.29 GB/FB ratio), and I wonder how much that will change if given extended at-bats at the MLB level in 2019. However, at the end of the day, for a team that needs infield depth and versatility, in addition to production off the bench (you’re not getting it from Terrance Gore unfortunately), Cuthbert may fill the bill in perhaps his last hurrah as a Royal.