Cheslor Cuthbert was once a top prospect. Before the 2012 season, the 19-year-old Cuthbert was ranked as the 84th-best and 83rd-best prospect in baseball by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, respectively. In 2010 and 2011, Cuthbert had showed offensive skills and budding power in the low minors. But Cuthbert’s star dimmed as he hit a wall in Double-A Wilmington in 2012 and nothing was quite the same afterwards.
The Nicaraguan from Corn Island made his big league debut in July 2015, playing most of his games after the September rosters expanded. But in 2016, after Mike Moustakas went down for the year with a knee injury in a collision with Alex Gordon, Cuthbert took over. He was cromulent for a rookie, putting up an almost league average .274/.318/.413 triple slash over 128 games as the starter. Poor defense and baserunning doomed his season to 0.5 WAR per Fangraphs, however.
After a mediocre two-year span between 2017 and 2018 in which Cuthbert hit .215/.278/.313, Cuthbert’s position on the 2019 Royals was in jeopardy. The Royals did not place Cuthbert on the opening day roster, and so Cuthbert began 2019 on the Omaha Storm Chasers roster, where he hit .310/.370/.528.
Cuthbert made his 2019 debut with the Kansas City Royals on May 31, and would stay on the big league team for the rest of the year. In his first plate appearance with the big league club, Cuthbert smacked an impressive opposite-field home run:
Through June 28, Cuthbert hit .310/.337/.480 over 104 plate appearances, good for 13% above league average per wRC+. It was an impressive string of plate appearances that, at the time, stood as an argument that Cuthbert’s best might still be ahead of him.
Unfortunately, that was not the case. June 28 was the high water mark for Cuthbert’s 2019 campaign and was perhaps the last high water mark for his career. From June 29 through the end of the season, the league adjusted to Cuthbert. He could not adjust back. Over his last 226 plate appearances, Cuthbert slashed .215/.274/.330, which was only good for a wRC+ of 57. While his strikeout and walk rates were acceptable, his power disappeared at the same time he stopped hitting for average. Combined with suspect defense, that doomed him as the worst position player on the club over the last three months of the season.
If Cuthbert had been able to carry a good offensive performance throughout the year, his MLB future would have been pretty bright. A guy who hits for 15% above average and can fake it a couple of positions has a spot on pretty much every team in baseball at the salary Cuthbert will be making in 2020. But 2019 sort of put the final nail in the coffin on Cuthbert’s Major League viability. Through 1160 plate appearances and 322 games, Cuthbert has a wRC+ of 80 and a WAR at -1.0.
Chess Lord Cuthbert is extremely talented, as all pro ball players are, but he doesn’t have the bat, the glove, or the baserunning to stick in Major League Baseball barring a complete transformation a la J.D. Martinez. In 2020, Cuthbert stands to make $2 to $3 million in arbitration. It seems likely that the Royals will non-tender him. Whether with the Royals or elsewhere, we’ll probably see Cuthbert sign a minor league deal and he’ll probably make his way back to the Show again for a few games, bringing his glorious smile with him. Cuthbert had a chance in 2019 for redemption.
It just didn’t happen.