FanPost

The Life and Times of a 26 year old Rookie 1st Baseman

The current situation with the Royals at First Base can be considered a First World Problem. The team is about to dispatch their first baseman Kila Ka'aihue to Omaha for reasons which are either a bit hasty or well-deserved (depending on your view of the game and strongly-held opinion) and they're in a situation where they have two first basemen in Omaha who could get time in the major leagues in 2011.

One is 21 year old Eric Hosmer and the other is 26 year old Clint Robinson. The two hitters differ in some of their life experiences. Eric Hosmer probably doesn't remember when George HW Bush was President but Clint Robinson may remember Bush throwing up on the Japanese Prime Minister. Clint Robinson may have played a video game with the memorable 1993 Royals (George Brett! Wally Joyner! Gary Gaetti! Kevin Koslofski!) and Eric Hosmer may not remember the strike or a world without the Florida Marlins.

But most importantly, Hosmer is 21 and Robinson is 26. In the eyes of baseball experts, if you have two hitters on similar levels and one is 5 years younger, the younger player gets the nod. (For reference: Billy Butler is a year younger than Clint Robinson, if you were thinking of doing that instead)

Which begs the question, what happens to Clint Robinson?

A lot of hypothetical scenarios exist for what happens to Clint Robinson. One scenario is that Clint Robinson won't get much time in the major leagues as a Royal. I personally think Robinson may not get 20 PAs as a Royal. Another scenario is that Clint Robinson might get a "trial period" before Hosmer comes up to prove his value to another team. This is a scenario that was mentioned by an internet friend of mine, 610 Radio Personality Nick Wright. Nick seems to be of the point of view that Robinson could get a month-long stint or a stint to precede Hosmer coming up to the major leagues. A third scenario involves Eric Hosmer not debuting until 2012 due to concerns over him being a free agent too early. Doing that seems to be one of the more blatant "kicking the ball down the road" scenarios and was more of a pro-Kila argument from Scott than anything else.

The second scenario of a trial period before a trade makes you wonder, what is the value of a rookie first baseman the age of Clint Robinson? What have comparable players done in the major leagues?

For one thing, a limited stint may not prove a lot in itself. Utilizing the Baseball-Reference Play Index, if you look to recent 1st Basemen/DHs who were rookies at 25 to 27, here's some of the best rookie seasons amongst those players since 1969

 

Player OPS+ PA Year Age Tm Lg G AB R H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
Erubiel Durazo 153 185 1999 25 ARI NL 52 155 31 51 4 2 11 26 43 0.329 0.422 0.594 1.015
Kevin Maas 150 300 1990 25 NYY AL 79 254 42 64 9 0 21 43 76 0.252 0.367 0.535 0.902
Chris Richard 120 239 2000 26 TOT ML 62 215 39 57 14 2 14 17 40 0.265 0.326 0.544 0.871
Dan Johnson 112 434 2005 25 OAK AL 109 375 54 103 21 0 15 50 52 0.280 0.360 0.450 0.810

 

Short bios for the four players listed although i'd imagine you recognize at least half of the names.

Durazo was a Mexican League Superstar before arriving with the Diamondbacks in 1999 and making the major leagues in the same year. The Diamondbacks had problems filling 1st base at that time. 24 year old Travis Lee got a majority of the playing time at 1st that year. Then the Diamondbacks traded him for Curt Schilling the next year. In 2000, the Diamondbacks split 1st between Travis Lee (before including him in a goodie basket), Greg Colbrunn, Alex Cabrera (in his one year in the Diamondbacks organization before going off to Japan to hit 40 HR a year), and Erubiel Durazo. Durazo hit pretty well as a part-timer for four years before Billy Beane freed him and gave him 2 years, and then disappeared him as soon as he became bad at 31. In total, Durazo got 2291 PA and a 123 OPS+ as a major leaguer. Not bad for someone who was playing in Mexico until he was 25 (typically Mexican League sluggers wind up not getting a shot or not adjusting to lower elevations).

Hindered by: The Diamondbacks Front Office, Mark Grace, Travis Lee before baseball people exiled him to St. Pete, Greg Colbrunn's random peak years

Similar players to a 27 year old Durazo: Chris Shelton (hmmm), Travis Hafner (more on him in this post, but he missed the Play Index list I made for technical reasons), and Bubba Trammell (who's an outfielder)

Kevin Maas got to be a folk hero on some of the worst Yankees teams in recent history. Maas had a year and a half in AAA, getting to play in the majors in 1990. He hit 6 HR in his first 60 PA as a DH (the Yankees had legends like Mel Hall, Matt Nokes, and Steve Balboni getting time at DH before Maas debut). Then Don Mattingly went out with back pains (this was the year that Steinbrenner demanded Mattingly shave, for reference). And Maas had a solid spot in the order for the rest of the year. With Mattingly back in 1991, Kevin Maas became a DH. And with the scouting books updated, Maas because an average hitter and eventually the Yankees gave more time at DH to players like Danny Tartabull while Kevin Maas was phased out to a life of waiting for a shot in an Oldtimers Game.

Hindered by: Playing for the Yankees, Don Mattingly having a functional back, Expectations (since nobody ever has a fast start and gets fired out), Danny Tartabull

Similar players to a 26 year old Maas: The Legend Sam Horn (not completely comparable since he had a few random stints before 26), Brian R. Hunter, and Hee-Seop Choi (remember when he was gonna be awesome?)

Chris Richard may be one of the better examples of an older AAA guy who doesn't exactly have a high ceiling in his organization. Chris Richard came up in the St. Louis Cardinals system mainly as a first baseman. Once he got closer to the major leagues in 2000, he began playing the outfield since the Cardinals first baseman was Mark McGwire. Richard got a six-game cameo in St. Louis in 2000 before being traded to Baltimore for Mike Timlin. Then two days after the Cardinals traded Richard to Baltimore, the Orioles traded Will Clark to St. Louis (apparently trading Will Clark for Chris Richard was not allowed). Chris Richard got to hit above average as a first baseman for a half year. Then the Orioles moved Richard to the outfield in favor of Jeff Conine. Chris Richard fits the mold for being an older minor leaguer who got to play in the majors in another organization, but he's also shorter and faster than Clint Robinson. If Clint Robinson plays 36 games in Centerfield in the Majors, then I will take that back. I have no idea how Chris Richard re-emerged to play 13 games with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009 after being out of baseball since 2003.

Hindered by: Mark McGwire, Jeff Conine, The Orioles Front Office (presumably), Thrown baseballs (during his 2002 stint as a DH)

Similar players to a 27 year old Chris Richard: The entire career of Joe Charboneau (including the 2 years that drove him out of baseball), late 1930s outfielder Chet Laabs, and Bubba Trammell.

Dan Johnson is a fitting bookend, since he probably did his part to help Erubiel Durazo lose his job (the other parts being done by Durazo not hitting well and Scott Hatteberg). Dan Johnson's minor league record was pretty good. He got 400+ PA in Oakland in 2005, then his value progressively decreased as he lost playing time in Oakland before being exiled to St. Petersburg and having a stint in Japan.

Hindered by: Not hitting a baseball, Nick Swisher

Similar players to a 26 year old Dan Johnson: Paul Sorrento (who didn't make it in his first organization, had 3 stints, and broke out at 26), Travis Ishikawa (not a good player to be compared to on offense), and the entire career of Darryl Sconiers.

But what about Travis Hafner? Yes, the search criteria didn't quite catch Hafner's cameo with the Rangers and if the playing time minimum was low enough, Hafner's 86 OPS+ wouldn't stick out in a blind taste test. Hafner had 70 PA at the age of 25 with the 2002 Rangers after hitting well in AA and AAA in 2001 and 2002. The Rangers had another player in their system named Mark Teixeria who wound up playing 1st Base in 2003. So the Rangers traded Hafner and Aaron Myette for Einar Diaz and Ryan Drese. Which was a deal barely won by the Indians. But the Rangers preferred going with 23 year old Mark Teixeria and pharmaceutical drug expert Rafael Palmeiro over 26 year old Travis Hafner. Which is a defensible move overall. At the same time, the August/September tryouts for Hafner with the Rangers probably didn't lead to Baseball Tonight features and the stint probably didn't enhance his value to other teams. After the trade, The Indians played Ben Broussard and Ellis Burks over Hafner in 2003 and eventually gave Hafner a shot in 2004 when he was 27 years old.

Going back into the Play Index: Here are the 14 other 1B/DHs whose first season was at 25 through 27 and who got 100 PAs in that season... Ryan Shealy (!!), Dave Revering, Joey Meyer, Barbaro Garbey, Joe Vitello, Mark Johnson (1990s Pirates), Robb Quinlan, Desi Wilson (1990s Giants), Archi Cianfrocco, Bryan LaHair, John Jaha, Dan Masteller, Carlos Rivera, and Frank Bolick.

Expand the list some more to include a second season for 25-27 year old players and you get guys like Troy Neel (who was the first victim of Mark McGwire's return from the brink), Brian Daubach (who broke out with Boston eight and a half years after he was first drafted), John Kruk and American Hero Bob Hamelin (who won a Rookie of the Year at 26 and got demoted at 27). Out of the Eight best OPS+ on the expanded list, Six were 25 and the two 26 year olds were Kruk and Hamelin. The best 27 year olds were Troy Neel and Brian Daubach.

It shouldn't be a shocker that out of rookies and 2nd year players in a 25-27 range, the 25 year olds were the best and most memorable. While the 26/27 year olds either washed out or got into the right spot. If you expand the list to 26-28 year olds, the only new memorable names are guys like Kevin Millar (cameo at 26, debuts at 27 with his first organization), Bucky Jacobsen, Ron Coomer, and Ben Broussard.

The shortest argument that a Clint Robinson cameo as a Royal won't necessarily show off his true value is a guy like Travis Hafner. Hafner's 70 PA stint wasn't an impressive short stint by itself. If Clint Robinson somehow gets 70 PA (which I doubt), I don't think his value increases or decreases based on 70 PA. Other GMs who like him will probably still like him, other GMs who think he's not likely to be an ML quality guy won't change their minds either.

If Clint Robinson turns into Travis Hafner and Eric Hosmer turns into Mark Teixeria, not a lot of Royals fans will complain if this organization trades Robinson (unless Billy Butler retires from Baseball to become a professional bowler or something absurd). Considering the record of first basemen/designated hitters who made their major league debuts around 26 years old, for every Travis Hafner, you'll get several dozen guys who are playing in the Atlantic League when they're 30 years old.

So there's a Pick 5 Lottery element to a 26 year old rookie first baseman. There's a fair shot they'll get some PA somewhere (you seen some of the fringes of guys playing first or DH these days? eventually some team will stop playing Lyle Overbey, pick up a guy like Robinson, and then banish him in favor of a Adam LaRoche or something. You know it). But there's also a shot that in 10 years, some other 26 year old who is competing for a spot with a 21 year old is going to be compared to a variety of the guys listed in this FanPost and then that player will wind up in the Atlantic League or maybe Japan in a few years.

The Too Long/Didn't Read Summary: A lot of guys playing First or DH and making their debuts around 26 are a shot to wash out suddenly, or a shot to get traded to another team to get more playing time. And the best modern player of all the players in this category is one whose value probably didn't change after 70 PA.

A Clint Robinson stint in Kansas City is defensible. But at the same time, it is not likely to have much of a point or change the course this team is on for it's future. Nor is it likely to inspire a trade where the organization gets much for Robinson. So it's a matter of picking which left-handed first baseman is more useful to see in 2011. And two of the options are 27 and 26 while the third is 21. So you can see why the 21 year old is going to be a favorite.

Life is not fair for 26 year old rookies. Life is less fair when you play first base while being a 26 year old rookie. First Basemen are the blondes of baseball. There's no shortage of attractive blondes and no shortage of first basemen. That's life. This isn't little league. I feel like I am stabbing Santa Claus and cooking the Easter Bunny when I say this about a player in a spot like Clint Robinson's. But Life is not fair here. Just saying.

This FanPost was written by a member of the Royals Review community. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors and writers of this site.

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