David DeJesus was a smilin' outfielder who was one of the rare Royals hitters in the Allard Baird era who could draw a walk with regularity. He did not really excel in any one area, but had no weaknesses to his game, instead displaying average to above-average skill in all facets of the game - power, speed, contact, and defense.
"We know he's not going to climb over walls and he's not going to show that make-up-for-bad-jump speed in the gaps. He probably won't hit more than 15 home runs. But he is going to be an above-average center fielder."
-Royals General Manager, Allard Baird
If there was a weakness to his game, it was his inability to stay on the field. Since his college days at Rutgers University, DeJesus has been injury prone. For example:
- In his very last college game, he suffered an elbow injury, hurting his draft stock.
- In his very first professional spring training in 2001, he blew out that elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery. He would miss all of that season.
- He missed time in spring training of 2002 with a shoulder injury.
- He missed time in 2005 on separate occasions due to bruised fingers and a concussion.
- He would miss all of September 2005 with a severe AC joint sprain.
- He suffered a strained hamstring in April of 2006.
- He missed the beginning of the 2008 season with an ankle injury.
- In May 2008 he would miss time due to hives.
- In August 2008 he would miss time with a lower back and an ankle injury.
- In 2009, DeJesus would miss the last week of the season due to the flu.
- In July of 2010, he tore his thumb ligament, causing him to be out for the year.
Still, when he was on the field, he was one of the few hitters worth anything of value during one of the bleakest periods in Royals franchise history.
David DeJesus hails from Manalapan Township, just outside of New York City. He was drafted out of high school in the 43rd round by the local Mets, but passed them up to attend nearby Rutgers where he was All-Big East, leading the team in runs. After being drafted in the 4th round of the 2000 draft by then Royals General Manager Herk Robinson, DeJesus did not sign til late in the summer, then missed the entire 2001 season with an elbow injury.
When he resumed play in 2002, DeJesus excelled, earning a promotion to AA after just half-a-season in High A Wilmington. For the year, he hit .288/.390/.436 and was named Royals Minor League Player of the Year. David performed even better the next year in Omaha and by the end of the year he was in the big leagues for a cup of coffee.
DeJesus arrived in spring training of 2004 ready to play in the big leagues, but he found himself blocked in center-field by Royals superstar Carlos Beltran. Aaron Guiel, who had excelled in a brief period in 2003, was tabbed the starting left-fielder, and free agent Juan Gonzalez was set to play in right. After Guiel flopped miserably in April, the Royals were ready for a change and promoted DeJesus to be their regular left-fielder.
"The only thing that's held him back this long, has been injuries."
-Muzzy Jackson, Royals Assistant GM
DeJesus would flop miserably as well. He went just 1-for-23 in eleven games before the club shipped him back to Omaha.
With the 2004 Royals floundering instead of contending as they had hoped, trade rumors began to swirl around Beltran. Finally, on June 25, the Royals shipped Beltran to Houston and promoted DeJesus to take his place. This time, David was ready. He collected multi-hit games in his first two games, and collected a hit in 45 of his first 54 games, hitting .314 over the stretch. He would end the year on a fifteen game hitting streak, and led the team with a .360 on-base percentage. Despite missing the first two months of the year, he would finish fifth on the team in walks with 33. He would finish sixth in American League Rookie of the Year balloting, and he was named Royals Player of the Year. His 4.4 rWAR that year would be the best of his career.
DeJesus would put up pretty similar numbers in 2005, hitting .293/.359/.445, with a higher slugging percentage due to more doubles. His numbers in 2006 would be almost identical, with DeJesus hitting a career high 36 doubles. That spring, DeJesus and the Royals showed their commitment to each other by agreeing on a five-year contract extension through 2010 worth $13.5 million guaranteed with a $6 million player option.
DeJesus got off to a terrific start in 2007, and it looked like he might have his best season yet. By early May he was hitting .305/.389/.466. But a 1-17 slump would send him into a tailspin and he would hit just .196 over the next month. In June, manager Buddy Bell benched him so he could get his head straight.
"It's annoying," he said. "I'm better than what I'm hitting, obviously. I tried different things this year. I tried moving my hands lower. There were times when I didn't know what to do. I'd be thinking about how my legs were (positioned) or stuff like that -- instead of just seeing it and hitting it.
"It all goes back to being relaxed and having a little bit of momentum. That's what this year has taught me."
DeJesus would rebound a bit, but he would hit .193 over his last 49 games, finishing at .260/.351/.372, still the lowest OPS of his career.
His 2008 season did not get off to a good start either after an ankle injury and a hives outbreak caused him to miss games in the spring. But DeJesus went on a torrid pace in June, hitting .361/.431/.608 for the month. By July, DeJesus was hitting well over .323 and earning praise for his "clutch" hitting with runners on base. On July 12, with the Royals down 4-3 with two outs in the ninth and a runner at first base against the Mariners, David DeJesus deposited a pitch down the right field line for a walk-off home run, the first of his career.
You will hear players called "professional hitters" sometimes, but what does that mean? Here's part of it: A professional hitter doesn't chase after junk pitches, he isn't often fooled by pitchers' tricks, he has a knack for finding a good pitch and then hitting the ball hard. And professional hitters tend to be older guys, too, because it can take some players some years to figure out this crazy game. Pete Rose, a guy who DeJesus has been compared to at times, did not hit .300 until his third full season.
DeJesus would lead the league that year in highest percentage of runners in scoring position driven in, per plate appearance. He would hit over .300 for the first time in his career (.307) and set career highs in hits (159), home runs (12), RBI (73), and steals (11).
In 2009, the Royals moved DeJesus to left-field to accommodate new center-fielder Coco Crisp. DeJesus had begun to be exposed defensively in center-field, and DeJesus was open to the shift. He quickly won praise for his proficiency in throwing out baserunners, and he ended up finishing second in the league in outfield assists with 13.
Perhaps emboldened by his assist totals (or more likely, not knowing what they were doing), the Royals moved DeJesus to right-field in 2010 to play Scott Podsednik in left-field and Rick Ankiel in center. DeJesus would begin hitting like a right-fielder with a red-hot bat. From mid-May to mid-July, he hit .385/.445/.476, and was among the league leaders in batting average, hits, and on-base percentage.
"He’s so underrated nationally. Before I got here, I didn’t have any idea of how good a player he is. He’s driven in runs. He’s gotten on base. He’s gotten big hits. He’s been a big player for us. He’s having a great year.
"He has the longest active error-less streak by an outfielder. That means he’s catching balls; he making accurate throws; he’s doing everything you can ask him to do defensively."
-Royals Manager, Ned Yost
After DeJesus was snubbed for the All-Star Game, trade talk began to swirl around the outfielder. DeJesus had a $6 million option for 2011, but the Royals reportedly wanted to deal him while his value was high. Boston, San Diego, and San Francisco were said to be the most interested parties, but the Royals had a high asking price, and wanted to "win the trade." The Royals had leverage too, if they failed to trade DeJesus, they could pick up David's cheap option for 2011, or decline the option and garner two draft picks as compensation. But as Fangraphs writer Matt Klaassen put it, the Royals best option was to trade him right now.
The Royals high asking price was said to be either "a major league-ready prospect, along with at least one midlevel prospect or a pair of lower-level players," or a "ML-ready pitcher and a top prospect." They were said to "love" Red Sox shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias, and names like Josh Reddick, Ryan Kalish, Felix Doubront, and Manny Delcarmen were mentioned in a possible deal with Boston.
A week out from the trade deadline, popular blogs like Royals Review were buzzing with trade speculation. On July 22, DeJesus crashed into the Yankee Stadium outfield wall on a Derek Jeter flyball, tearing his thumb ligament. He would miss the remainder of the season.
The Royals would pick up DeJesus's option for 2011, but on November 11, just a few weeks after the World Series had ended, the Royals sent DeJesus to Oakland in a trade for pitchers Vin Mazzarro and Justin Marks.
"We wish him nothing but the best. But, at the same time, for what we’re trying to do going forward, this type of deal fits for us. And it fits for Oakland, as well."
-Royals General Manager, Dayton Moore
DeJesus would suffer the worst season of his career in Oakland, and after the year would sign a two-year contract with the Chicago Cubs. He spent a bizarre three game stretch with the Washington Nationals last year before the Tampa Bay Rays picked him up.
David was never an All-Star, never a standout player, but he was a solid contributor who was a model of consistency in terms of performance (albeit not in ability to stay healthy). He is tenth in franchise history in hits, runs and doubles, eleventh in total bases and on-base percentage, fourteenth in RBI, and fifteenth in walks. His Royals teams never won more than 75 games, yet he never complained about having to play on such terrible teams. He may have had trouble staying in games, but he always seemed to enjoy playing baseball.
I'm a proponent of having fun playing the game of baseball that I grew up playing my whole life. That's really what I want to get across. I love playing the game of baseball.