Outfield prospect Jose Duarte is one of five minor leaguers who have been invited to Spring Training in Arizona. In the Royals system since 2005, Duarte is a Baird-era prospect that the Royals have had in centerfield almost exclusively. Durate turns 24 in March, and was the youngest position player at AA last season, where he led the team in games played and at bats.
Duarte's something of an obscure prospect, as he's been eclipsed by both a handful of prominent Baird signees and by the whirlwind of hype that is all things Dayton in the system. As NYRoyal noted in his excellent recap of the state of the farm system last summer, Duarte was ranked as the organization's 13th best position player prospect in 2006. Last year, Baseball America labelled Duarte the "best defensive outfielder" and the "best outfield arm" in the system. Duarte again snagged those labels this off-season, but has yet to emerge as one of the team's top prospects.
At issue is Duarte's bat. He finally displayed a bit of power last season (he hit 10 homers, topping his previous career high of 3), but in doing so also gave up a ton of batting average.
Here's his career numbers:
As James Quinn pointed out in one of his minor league reports over the summer, Duarte also ran a little last year, stealing 28 bases with 8 times caught (78%). In October, Royals Nation noted that Duarte was right on the cut-line for whether or not he should be protected via the 40-man roster or not. The Royals did not protect him, but Duarte was not selected in the Rule 5 Draft. Here's what RN wrote:
Projected 2009 Level: AAA
CF - Jose Duarte (Opening Day Age: 24 / B-T: R/R)
2008 Line: .250/.313/.350/.663, 10 HR, 47 RBI, 28/36 SBR, 133 G, 585 PA, 3.86 RC/G (AA Northwest Arkansas)
Selectability Factor: 3 / 5 (Maybe worth protecting / Maybe not)
RN Perspective: Duarte's two defining strengths, at this point, are speed and an ability to play center field. The Texas League is always a hitter's league, and it's tough to get enthusiastic about a .663 OPS from an age 23 (a typical AA age) player at that level. Duarte should repeat the level in 2009 and prove that he's worth keeping. However - and this is worth considering - he does possess raw talent and tools on the baseaths and in the field. He's a poor man's Joey Gathright, and that might force teams to take a gander at him in December. It's debatable whether he's worth devoting a roster spot to simply because of his ceiling and tools. Scouts love the guy.
As noted above, 23 isn't super precocious when it comes to AA, but Duarte was the youngest outfielder on the team, and other than Chris Lubanski and Brett Bigler (both 23 last season as well) he's the youngest relatively advanced (in terms of level) outfield prospect.
What can you prospect mavens tell me about Duarte? Have you given up on him? Is he someone of relevance to watch this Spring Training?