Oh boy, a controversial choice! Number 64 in Royals history is the pariah Angel Berroa.
Like "The Matrix" sequels, Angel Berroa was big in 2003, only to receive poor reviews later on
Angel Berroa has had a rollercoaster of a career going from decent prospect to hot prospect to Rookie of the Year to spectacular bust all in the matter of a few years. It all begin in 1997 when Angel signed with the Oakland Athletics as a "seventeen" year old out of the Dominican Republic. He hit an impressive .290 in 1999 in his first season at Rookie Ball in Arizona. The next season at High A ball, he hit .277 with good power for a shortstop, slugging .434 with ten home runs. Baseball America rated him as the sixth best prospect in the entire prospect-rich Athletics organization.
That winter, the Royals began shopping star outfielder Johnny Damon, who was a year away from free agency. The Dodgers were interested and offered reliever Antonio Osuna and a young starting pitcher named Eric Gagne. The Royals wanted more pitching and the deal fell apart. The Athletics were looking to add a bat to the lineup, even if it meant adding payroll. The Royals were looking for a closer to rectify their historically bad bullpen in 2000, so Tampa Bay was brought in for a three team deal which brought Damon and Royals minor league infielder Mark Ellis to Oakland, pitcher Cory Lidle and outfielder Ben Grieve to Tampa Bay, and closer Roberto Hernandez, catcher A.J. Hinch and shortstop Angel Berroa to Kansas City.
Now, though, baseball trades have more detours than I-70 through Kansas. Nothing is as it appears. Monday, the Royals traded Johnny Damon for Roberto Hernandez - with prospects sprinkled in - and on paper it just doesn't make sense. On paper, the Royals dealt the best leadoff hitter in the game for a 36-year-old relief pitcher. And I'm here to tell you it was a great trade for Kansas City. Not a good trade. A great one.
-Joe Posnanski, January 9, 2001
Ultimately, I think this trade will be judged by how well Angel Berroa develops. If he never makes it, it will go down as a bad trade. But if he becomes our shortstop for the next 10 years, it could turn into an outstanding trade.
-Royals General Manager Allard Baird
Although Roberto Hernandez had his worst season in seven years, he did improve the bullpen considerably with the relief ERA going from a putrid 5.59 in 2000 to in 4.61 2001. However without Damon, the Royals scored considerably fewer runs, and lost ninety-seven games.
Berroa was making the trade look more palatable by hitting .317 with great power in the pitching-heavy Carolina League, before being promoted to AA Wichita where he hit .296 with a .467 slugging percentage. Baseball America tabbed him as the fifteenth best prospect in baseball that winter, ahead of players like Justin Morneau, Jake Peavy, Miguel Cabrera, Carl Crawford and Erik Bedard.
With Neifi Perez on the big league roster, Berroa spent 2002 in Omaha to get more seasoning. At that time, the Royals found out he was actually two years older than he had claimed, putting him at twenty-five years of age, rather than twenty-three. His production fell off considerably and he had the worst season of his minor league career, hitting just .215 with eighty-four strikeouts in seventy-seven games. He did get a cup of coffee in September, and appropriately enough he ended the Royals season by striking out.
I like swinging. I never, in my career, have taken too many bases on balls. Not yet.
That winter, the Royals placed Neifi Perez on waivers and handed the full-time shortstop job for Berroa in 2003. Berroa electrified fans on opening day with a couple of spectacular defensive plays deep in the hole against the White Sox.
Berroa initially struggled with the bat, but by May he was hitting a respectable .280. Meanwhile, the Royals were off to a blazing start, stunning the baseball world by winning sixteen of their first nineteen ballgames. In June and July Angel caught on fire, hitting .325 with eleven home runs over those two months alone. By the end of August the Royals had finally fallen out of first place, but Berroa finished the season with a .287 average with 17 home runs, 71 RBI, and twenty-one stolen bases. He committed just five errors over the last 95 games, including a forty-nine game errorless streak. He nudged Yankee outfielder Hideki Matsui to win the American League Rookie of the Year Award, the fourth Royals player to do so. The Royals rewarded Berroa the next May by giving him a four year contract worth $11 million.
I know some people are going to look at Berroa and say, 'Well, he has to get to the next level.' Nope. I don't anticipate that will happen. I think this is going to be a very challenging year for this young man. Because the league is presently adjusting to him. And he's going to have to show adjustment to the league not to get frustrated.
-Royals General Manager Allard Baird
The league did adjust to Berroa and he struggled mightily in 2004. By mid-May his average was still below the Mendoza Line. He suffered from terrible migraine headaches that would keep him out of the lineup. The Royals even demoted him late in the year to Wichita so he could regain his focus. He ended the year with a Major League average of .262, but hit just eight home runs, and continued to strike out a lot, while failing to draw many walks.
Berroa continued to slide in 2005, hitting .270, but with career lows in on base percentage at .305 and in slugging percentage at .375. Even more troubling were his strikeout-to-walk ratios. Never one to take a pitch, Berroa was even worse in 2005 drawing just 18 walks to 108 strikeouts. At one point, Berroa went 173 consecutive plate appearances without a unintentional walk.
You're never going to see me walk a lot. Because there are times, if I'm trying to get a walk, I'll get good pitches and not swing. That's not good.
I love plate discipline and on-base percentage, but I just think if you stay aggressive -- if you're always ready to hit -- then you'll get on base. You'll recognize pitches that aren't strikes and learn to take those pitches. You don't want anyone, but especially Angel, to go up there predetermined that you're going to wait to see so many pitches. You've got to stay aggressive. I'm not worried about Angel. He's going to be fine.
-Manager Buddy Bell
Berroa had been simply a below average player in 2005, but in 2006 his career nosedived into historically bad territory. He hit an anemic .234 with just fourteen walks, for an on-base percentage of .259. He slugged just .333 with only twenty-eight extra base hits.
Worst OPS+ in Royals History (minimum 300 PAs)
1. Neifi Perez, 2002 - 44
Somehow he managed to garner 554 plate appearances. I guess Tony Muser liked his "happy little butt".
2. Jose Lind, 1993 - 47
Fifteen extra base hits and thirteen walks in 137 games. But he kept his pants on.
3. Angel Berroa, 2006 - 52
It is the 118th worst season in baseball history by someone that qualified for the batting title.
4. David Howard, 1996 - 52
Actually drew forty walks. And was mistaken for the bat boy seventeen times.
5. Desi Relaford, 2004 - 56
Royals liked him because he could play six different positions and not hit at any of them.
By 2007, Allard Baird had been fired and Dayton Moore was not willing to wait for Berroa to regain the magic of 2003. He traded for Braves infielder Tony Pena Jr. and demoted Berroa to Omaha where he spent nearly the entire season.
Happier days ahead?
Angel Berroa now enters the final year of his guaranteed contract, and will likely spend most or all of the season in the minor leagues once again. Berroa has been much maligned by Royals fans, and deservedly so because of his play, but he has always had an infectious smile and has been beloved by his teammates as a great guy in the clubhouse.
I still remember seeing him as a minor league call-up in a late September game when most guys were packing it in. He had hit a routine pop-up, but came out of the box sprinting like he had hit a triple. By the time the infielder caught it, Berroa was rounding second base. Somewhere along the line, after the guaranteed contract and the awards and accolades, Berroa lost that hustle, that drive that took him from being a poor kid, the youngest of nine kids without a father in the Dominican Republic to one of the best baseball players in the world. He'll likely never get another chance with the Royals, but I really do hope we get to see Angel Berroa achieve success again someday.