Baseball is a funny game. Sometimes, you think a player is going to make it. They show all the signs of being good players, they put up big games, they have all the accolades from their time in the minors or from another club, etc. It seems like that player can’t miss and is a sure-fire thing.
Royals fans know this feeling all too well. Ever since the club started in 1969, there have been players who flashed promise in Kansas City, and seemed primed to be part of the Royals’ future plans, only to be flame out and be out of the organization before one knows it. The Allard Baird and early 2000’s Royals teams were rife with guys like this, with Aaron Guiel, Angel Berrora, and Jimmy Gobble just being a few of those examples among many in Royals history.
Of course, this is not a problem exclusive to the Royals. Mariners fans can tell you about Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero. Red Sox fans can tell you about Anthony Renaudo and Lars Anderson (whom I went to high school with). Even Cardinals fans can tell you that Zach Cox was going to be the next Scott Rolen at third in St. Louis for years to come back in 2011. Yes, the Royals have dealt with their share of players failing to live up to the hype, but every organization in baseball has those players as well who were expected to be contributors, only to see them fail to live up to expectations at the Major League level.
As the Royals enter the 2020 season (whenever that is), they will be without four players who were on the roster in 2019 and contributed to the Royals in some form last season, in both positive and negative ways. Unfortunately for these four, the negative outweighed the positive for them, and they are no longer in Kansas City.
So let’s take a look at the four who showed flashes, but just couldn’t put it together in their time in the Blue and White in the City of Fountains.
Cheslor Cuthbert, 3B/1B (career .679 OPS and 80 OPS+ in 5 seasons with the Royals)
Cuthbert always had a lot of fanfare from Royals fans ever since the Royals signed him to a $1.35 million signing bonus as an international free agent back in 2009. The pride of Corn Island in Nicaragua, Cuthbert was a talented, multi-tool third baseman who was rated as the 84th best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America prior to the 2012 season. While Cuthbert did not kill Minor League pitching like other prospects, many felt that Cuthbert’s tools would develop as he got older, and he would eventually be a starting and productive third baseman at the Major League level.
Of course, it didn’t help Cuthbert’s cause that he was blocked by Mike Moustakas, who ended up being a key player for the Royals from 2012 through the middle of 2018. With Moose at third, Hosmer at first, and Cuthbert not really able to play up the middle at second or short, it seemed like Cuthbert wouldn’t last long in KC, as he was the subject of a lot trade talk, especially during that 2013-2015 time span. However, due to a season-ending injury to Moustakas in 2016, Cuthbert got a regular shot at the third base position and ended up performing decently, putting up a .274/.318/.413 slash, .731 OPS and 12 home runs over 510 plate appearances and 128 games. Considering he was only 23 years old at the time, many Royals fans though the best was yet to come for Cuthbert in Kansas City.
Unfortunately, 2016 proved to be the highlight of Cuthbert’s tenure as a Royal. With Moose fully back and healthy at third, Cuthbert struggled to find consistent playing time over the next two seasons, posting an OPS+ of 59 and 61 in 2017 and 2018, respectively. After a disappointing 2018, the Nicaraguan infielder was released from the 40-man after the 2018 season, but was able to come back on a Minor League deal that Spring. Even though expectations were modest for Cuthbert in 2019, he did surprise a little after he was unexpectedly called up when Hunter Dozier was injured. In his 2019 stint, Cuthbert posted a .747 OPS over 130 plate appearances in the first half. However, his numbers sunk due to a slump in late July and August after the All-Star break. He posted a .447 OPS in the second-to-last month of the year, and eventually Cuthbert was regulated to the bench and not tendered a contract by the Royals in the off-season.
Cuthbert has always been a classic tale of “potential” over production as a Royal. He wasn’t terrible by any means, but he wasn’t really great at anything either. He was an average fielder. He had an average batting eye. He had average power. And he never got a great opportunity either, with Moose ahead of him until 2018, and Dozier taking the position a year ago. It makes one wonder what Cuthbert would have done had he been given a Royals spot full time like in 2016.
But then again, one has to prove themselves at the Major League level year after year, and unfortunately Cuthbert could never do that as a Royal. He did have a solid Spring with the White Sox, as he posted a 1.330 OPS and hit 3 home runs this Spring, so it is possible that Cuthbert is ready to break out in 2020…just not with the Royals.
Eric Skoglund, LHP (career 6.61 ERA, 5.50 FIP in 3 seasons with Royals)
It hasn’t been a good Spring for the Royals’ tall, left-handed pitcher. Skoglund only made one appearance this Spring and was absolutely shelled in Cactus League play, giving up three hits and three runs in 2/3 of an inning of work. As a result, the 27-year-old lefty was designated for assignment this past week to make room for Trevor Rosenthal, who had a solid Spring and carries a solid pedigree as a reliever from his days with the Cardinals.
While it was a small sample this Spring, Skoglund’s a terrible year in 2019 certainly didn’t boost his chances of staying on the roster this year. He missed most of the year due to a PED suspension (80 games to be specific), and when he returned, he posted a 9.00 ERA over 21 innings of work, with only four strikeouts to nine walks during that stint. Skoglund showed a remarkable dip in velocity, as his fastball ranked in the 10th percentile in velocity, according to Baseball Savant. Despite a tall frame, Skoglund didn’t possess imposing stuff, and relied heavily on his command and control to succeed on the mound. But, those two latter areas dwindled as well last season, and with inconsistent command, and a fastball that only averaged 89.8 MPH last year, it is not surprising that hitters feasted on Skoglund whenever he was on the mound.
And that is too bad because Skoglund had one of the more memorable debuts for the Royals, as he out-dueled Cy Young winner Justin Verlander at the K in 2017, as seen in the video below:
With rosters currently frozen, it is still up in the air in terms of what the Royals will do with Skoglund…or what he wants to do as well. Skoglund doesn’t have much value right now, so the Royals probably could be able to re-sign him to a Minor League deal and have him work on some things in Triple-A. But, after such a fall from grace, it is possible that Skoglund may want to leave the Royals and start from scratch with another organization, even if it most likely will be in their Triple-A organization as well.
I guess Royals will see what Skoglund’s future will be once the roster are unfrozen and we are able to play baseball again.
Jorge Bonifacio, OF (career .727 OPS, 94 OPS+ in 3 seasons with the Royals)
Bonifacio was an interesting prospect in the Royals system, as Baseball America rated him as 90th best prospect in baseball going into 2014. However, Bonifacio’s career as a Royal both at the Major and Minor League level was always a bit of a roller coaster, and it felt like he never really could put it all together in back-to-back seasons, much like Cuthbert. For example, after hitting .298 with an .800 OPS over three levels in 2013, Bonifacio struggled in Double-A Northwest Arkansas, posting a .611 OPS to go along with a 127 strikeouts in 536 plate appearances. Considering Bonifacio’s defensive tools weren’t stellar, his hitting struggles in Double-A didn’t bode well for a guy who could potentially be the Royals’ right fielder of the future.
After playing another season in Northwest Arkansas in 2015, and primarily in Omaha in 2016 and the start of 2017, Bonifacio made his big league debut in 2017 with the Royals…and actually did kind of well. He played in a 113 games and posted a slash of .255/.320/.432 with an OPS of .752. He also proceeded to hit 17 home runs and had 40 RBI in 422 plate appearances, and there was some thought among Royals fans that Bonifacio could be a regular outfielder or DH for Kansas City for a good while after the 2017 season.
Unfortunately, those lofty Bonifacio expectations were dashed when he tested positive for PEDs and was suspended for the first 80 games of the 2018 season. Even though he returned to the Royals after suspension, he couldn’t replicate his 2017 performance. Bonifacio struggled in 2018, only posting a .672 OPS and 84 OPS+ in 270 plate appearances, a significant regression from the previous season. To make matters worse, not only did Bonifacio start the year in Omaha in 2019, but he didn’t give the Royals much reason to bring him up much, as he only put up a .222 average and .701 OPS in the PCL a year ago. While he did okay in his lone call up last year, it was only 21 plate appearances, hardly a big enough sample to make an impression.
Much like Cuthbert, Bonifacio was let go, and he ended up finding a Spring Training roster spot with the Tigers. Bonifacio did okay in the Grapefruit League, hitting .263 with a .963 OPS in 11 games, and considering the Tigers are in rebuild mode, he might fit as a temporary option as Detroit goes through another transitional year. Of course, the Royals are rebuilding as well, and yet Bonifacio couldn’t hit or perform well enough to merit a regular roster spot with the Royals, which is a bit of a shame after his decent rookie season in 2017.
Wily Peralta, RHP (career 4.82 ERA, 5.33 FIP in 2 seasons with the Royals)
The Royals added the talented, but troubled former Brewers reliever in December of 2017, hoping that Peralta could become the next great Royals closer. With the Brewers, it was never a question of stuff with Peralta, as he averaged 96 MPH on his fastball, according to Baseball Savant. However, despite an electric heater, intimidating presence on the mound, and lofty prospect status, (he was rated as the 56th best prospect in baseball going into 2012, according to Baseball America), Peralta struggled to find a set role with the Brewers.
The enticing fastball definitely seduced not just Royals general manager Dayton Moore, but Royals fans in general during 2018 and parts of 2019. Toward the end of 2018, after the Royals traded Kelvin Herrera to the Nationals, Peralta inherited the closer’s job and did decently in the high leverage spot. In 34 innings and 37 appearances, Peralta saved 14 games and posted an ERA of 3.67, his best mark as a Major Leaguer since 2014. Thus, after a promising finish to 2018, Royals fans believed that Peralta could be the Royals closer for the next couple of seasons.
Unfortunately, Peralta’s numbers in 2018 were pretty questionable, as he only posted a K/BB ratio of 1.52 and his FIP was nearly a whole run higher at 4.73. While Peralta’s nice finish to 2018 was a good story personally for him, it was obvious that Peralta was more lucky than anything, and that luck ended up running out in 2019. Over 40 innings of work in 2019, Peralta posted a 5.80 ERA and 1.26 K/BB ratio, and not only did he lose the closer’s job, but he ended up getting released by the Royals in July as well.
As of now, it seems like Peralta hasn’t caught on with a Major League team and it’s unlikely that he will in 2020. He is 30 years old now, and last year, his velocity dipped, as his fastball only clocked in at 94.3 MPH, nearly 2 MPH slower than the previous season. That kind of resume isn’t going to attract a whole lot of Major League clubs’ interest.
Peralta is a disappointing story, as he once was seen as a future ace for the Brewers at one point in time, expected to carry the Brewers at the top of the rotation for years.
Now, he is a free agent, not even able to stick on a Royals bullpen that has struggled immensely the past couple of years.