The Kansas City Royals are headed into a rebuild in 2018, and that’s okay. The goal for KC ought to be to get their young guys as many at bats as possible, and Ned Yost has hinted at doing just that. Yost mentioned in an interview last week that he wanted to get Jorge Soler, Jorge Bonifacio, and Cheslor Cuthbert 500 AB each in 2018. There is one more name that is not currently on the Royals roster that I wouldn’t mind seeing them take a chance on this season.
Airsmendy Alcantara is one of the most defensively versatile utility men in all of baseball. In 70 games with the Cincinnati Reds in 2017, Alcantara played six different positions on the diamond: SS, 2B, 3B, LF, CF, RF. Alcantara can play in a lot of different spots on the field, and he plays them all fairly well.
The problem for Alcantara throughout his big league career has been his bat. In 459 big league plate appearances, Alcantara owns a slash line of .189/.235/.315 with 11 home runs and 14 stolen bases. That is suboptimal. The bat has obviously not come around at the big league level yet which is why Alcantara currently finds himself jobless. However, he is still just 26 years old and owns a career slash line of .273/.326/.433 with 64 HR and 160 SB in 2,945 career minor league at bats.
In 2013 Arismendy Alcantara was ranked as the fifth best second base prospect in all of baseball. His time as a highly thought of prospect is over, but I believe he can still be something of a productive Major League Baseball player. Remember, the kid is still just 26 years old, making him younger than Whit Merrifield and only one year older than the likes of Bubba Starling, Cheslor Cuthbert, and Ramon Torres. He won’t ever be the dynamic player some thought he would be, but he could still be incredibly effective. Here’s why.
Alcantara is a switch hitter. Throughout his minor league career he has always been adequate on both sides of the plate. He doesn’t necessarily need to cut down the switch hitting and stick to just hitting with one hand. However, a different change in approach could greatly benefit him.
Arismendy Alcantara has 459 big league plate appearances since debuting in 2014. 459 other players have made at least 450 plate appearances since 2014. Alcantara’s ground ball to fly ball ratio in those 459 plate appearances is 1.56. There are only two hitters with a minimum of 450 PA in that stretch with a 1.56+ GB/FB ratio and a worse BABIP than Alcantara. Alcantara doesn’t hit the ball ridiculously hard, but he was tied for the 23rd fastest player in all of baseball in 2017 with a top sprint speed of 28.9 ft/sec.
Alcantara has hit for some power in his career. He’s never been a big home run guy, but in 2013 as a 21-year old at AA with the Cubs, Alcantara slugged .451 and hit 15 HR and 36 doubles. That’s pretty solid. Problem is, since coming into the big leagues, that career slugging percentage drops down to .315 and Alcantara only has 15 doubles and 11 HR to his name. Despite this era of the fly ball revolution, I think Alcantara can be a beneficiary of hitting more ground balls than fly balls, should he get another chance.
While most players are trying to revitalize their careers with a new approach to higher launch angles, I think Alcantara ought to start looking to do the opposite. Let’s revisit some of the numbers I mentioned before. Since 2014, 40 MLB hitters with a minimum of 450 PA have had a GB/FB ratio of 2.0 or greater. Only 12 of those 40 hitters have a BABIP under .300. Two of those 12 hitters can be explained from extreme circumstances. Allen Craig had a great career before 2014 and then all of a sudden quit hitting. Derek Jeter was in the last year of his career and was no where near the offensive threat that he was in his younger days. Neither of those guys ran very well either.
In more practical numbers, 28/38 hitters with a GB/FB ratio of 2.0 and higher had a BABIP over .300 during that stretch. In 2017, Arismendy Alcantara put up a GB/FB ratio of 2.05 in 108 PA. This ratio was significantly higher than any other GB/FB ratio that Alcantara has posted in his career, but I'd argue that it is a step in the right direction. Alcantara is currently unaffiliated with a big league team and signed to play in the Mexican League this summer.
There is no guarantee that anything in baseball will work. In a world of high-octane fastballs and launch angles, 91 mph sinkers may very well make a comeback. In a world in which third a baseman coming off a 38 HR season can’t get a job, guys who can make consistent contact and run like crazy could become a commodity. My point is, it can’t hurt a guy who is currently out of affiliated baseball to give it a shot.
The Royals built their 2015 championship team based on speed, contact skills, and defense. Arismendy Alcantara hasn’t always fit that description (career 14.3% SwStr%), but with a change in approach and a shorter swing could transform himself as a hitter. Alcantara runs very well, he’s a good fielder and can play six different positions. The only thing keeping him from a big league roster is the bat.
Given that he’s a switch hitter, Alcantara could become a valuable player if he could figure out how to be on base 33% of the time. He’s stolen 20+ bases five times in his career and even has a season with 31 SB back in 2013. Alcantara could still be a weapon on the base paths in the big leagues, if he can just find a way to be on them. A change in approach going against the grain could be an answer for him, and I’d like to see the Royals give him a chance. Going into a rebuild, young-ish guys like Alcantara are the types of players the Royals should be targeting (like they’ve done with Ryan Goins and Cody Asche), and Alcantara is ready and available.