One of the 40 men who perhaps plays a more vital role among future Royal organizations is newly acquired middle infielder - and occasional outfielder - Alberto Callaspo. Let's take several minutes and become acquainted with one of our most recent additions.
The Anaheim Angels selected 17-year old middle infielder Alberto Callaspo out of Maracay, Venezuela as a non-drafted free agent in 2001. Signed in February, he proceeded to play for the Dominican Summer League Angels, the Halos lowest affiliate, where he won the All-Star award for the position of shortstop. Primarily as a second baseman, Callaspo would then steadily climb his way up the Halos' organizational ladder, OPS-ing .862 for the Rookie-ball Provo Angels, and clubbing 38 doubles in 514 at-bats the following year for the Class-A Cedar Rapids Kernels. Following those two enlightening seasons, Callaspo gained significant hype as the future second baseman of the Anaheim Angels.
However, in 2004, he hit a minor bump in the road after moving temporarily to shortstop, common for such young prospects (.282/.336/.373), before thrusting forth again in 2005 with his usual limited home run power but excellent contact skills, splitting time between AA Arkansas and AAA Salt Lake City.
After being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks for minor league pitcher Jason Bulger, he remained at AAA much of the 2006 season, and finally made his long-awaited Major League debut that September. In 42 at-bats, mostly as a defensive replacement and pinch-hitter, he hit a not-exactly-awe-inspiring .238/.298/.310. Callaspo then spent most of 2007 again for the AAA Tucson Sidewinders, posting arguably his best season, hitting .341/.406/.491, clubbing 22 extra base hits in 226 at-bats.
Acquired by the D'Backs right at the beginning of the '06 spring training from the Angels in return for reliever Jason Bulger, Callaspo immediately moves toward the top of the second baseman in the system. A slick fielder with an incredible batting eye and an amazing ability to make contact (he struck out once every 22.65 at bats in a 2005 season split between Double and Triple-A, which was good enough to lead all of minor league baseball) he can play both middle infield spots and was, many believe, the real reason the Diamondbacks were comfortable moving Alex Cintron. Will step into the starting second baseman's role if anything happens to Orlando Hudson.
In December 2007, the Royals sent former second round draft pick Billy Buckner to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Callaspo. Make no mistake that while Buckner projected as a probably back-end starting pitcher, Callaspo projects as nothing less than an everyday Major Leaguer. Although his professional transition has involved more than one bump in the road, his minor league numbers indicate that he should eventually be a contact-hitting on-base-machine at the big league level. Furthermore, Callaspo has always shown a keen ability to limit his strikeouts. His initial speed has declined rather alarmingly over the previous three seasons, but he never possessed strong base-stealing skills in the first place (68 SB's and 44 CS's in the minors, total).
Unfortunately, his defensive abilities at shortstop are underwhelming at best. He simply doesn't possess good enough instincts, arm, or glove to truly be relied upon as a force on the left side of the field. However, he's a safe bet to replace Mark Grudzielanek effectively at second base. For an otherwise back-of-the-rotation starter, Callaspo is a reasonable gamble, though his transition to the majors has been rough. It is also still unknown whether he can provide quality defense from any of the three outfield positions.
Scouts undoubtedly considered him an excellent prospect climbing the Halos and D-Backs organizational ladder. Listed below are more All-Star awards:
2002 - Pioneer League All-Star 2B, Rookie League All-Star 2B
2003 - Low A All-Star 2B, Midwest League All-Star 2B
2005 - Texas League All-Star 2B
2006 - Pacific Coast League All-Star 2B, Baseball America 2nd team Minor League All-Star 2B
Below are my somewhat optimistic 2008 projections for the 24-year-old:
Repeats 2007 performance (remains stagnant at MLB): 30%
Slight improvement from 2007: 40%
Breakthrough season (.280/.350/.430): 30%
Injured for 15 days or more: 10%
Chances traded before or during 2008: 5%
Starting second baseman entire season: 30%
Backup at beginning of 2007; starter at end: 35%
Platoon/backup entire season: 20%
Starting shortstop / corner outfielder entire season: 15%
The Royals would benefit from trading Grudzielanek now while his value is high and letting Callaspo compete with utilityman Esteban German for the everyday second base job before Spring Training begins. The organization has claimed several times that Callaspo would be initially used as a utilityman and reserve. Although I, personally, interpret such comments with a grain of salt, using him as a backup this season only stalls his development, costs us more money by fast-forwarding his arbitration clock, and makes it that much longer until we actually become competitive.
I'm enthusiastic that Callaspo can become our second baseman of the future. Let's begin that quest by granting him easier access to an everyday position, rather than toiling with the same organizational direction that has failed for years.
Let the Alberto Callaspo journey begin - in 2008!