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2016 Season In Review: Cheslor Cuthbert

It was a ‘nice’ season. Kind of.

Cheslor Cuthbert was a 23 year-old called up from AAA Omaha to replace Mike Moustakas after he went down for the season with a knee injury. Under those circumstances, expectations weren’t particularly high.

But they weren’t necessarily low, either. Cuthbert has been an off-again, on-again prospect throughout his career. His $1 million bonus out of Nicaragua and some early production as a teenager led to him being on a lot of top ten lists from prospect evaluators and he even jumped on the Top 100 prospect list in baseball for Baseball America before the 2012 season. As his career continued, his stock would wax and wane with each new jump up the developmental ladder.

He always struggled to post good offensive seasons whenever he was promoted. When moved to AA in 2013, he posted a 77 wRC+. The following year, it was a 118 before being moved to AAA. He then posted an 87 wRC+ in Omaha for the rest of that season, before coming back with a 103 in 2015. He also made his major league debut that year, posting a 75 wRC+ in 50 plate appearances. Before being recalled last season, Cuthbert was stroking .333/.402/.624 in Omaha, good for a 168 wRC+ through the first month of the season.

From his season debut in May until mid-August, Cuthbert was performing exceptionally on offense. He slashed .301/.336/.459 (.795 OPS) and was one of the better hitters on the team over that stretch. His defense was also admirable, if not adequate.

But from August 14th on, Cuthbert struggled, hitting just .220/.283/.321 (.604 OPS) for the rest of the year. Due to the extended slump, Cuthbert’s final line on the season was .274/.318/.413 (.731), still a respectable line for a 23 year-old in his first season of full-time Major League play. The 94 wRC+ was an improvement over his 2015 debut, but the downward trend over the final two months of play was a little disheartening.

Is it possible teams were catching up to him? Had they put the book together on him? Possible. Cuthbert also played in 152 games between Omaha and Kansas City, essentially a month longer than he had ever played before, so fatigue could have been a factor.

Perhaps most surprising last season was his power. His 19 home runs combined between Omaha and the Majors was a career high by more than half. He also showed some gap power with 28 doubles, which tied him for the team lead with Salvador Perez.

Defensively and on the bases, though, it was a bit of rough sledding. Though he flashed moments of defensive acumen, overall it was a down year. His base running also cost him some value, turning a slightly-below-average offensive season into a replacement-level affair overall.

The Royals sent Cuthbert to winter ball to learn how to play second base, but it is highly unlikely that his defense will improve much at the keystone. Entering his age-24 season in 2017, there is reason to think that he can improve on last year’s offensive totals, but the end-of-year regression gives one pause as to what to expect.

Outside of a BABIP-driven season of high production, we are more than likely right around peak Cuthbert. He could incrementally improve and become an average hitter in the future, but that remains to be seen.