Yesterday, after losing consecutive home games for the first time all season while being outscored 26-9, the Royals snapped a four-game skid with a 6-1 win over the red-hot Astros behind seven strong innings from Ian Kennedy, while striking out 11 and allowing just three hits and one run (a HR), two Kendrys Morales solo HR (10) and a 5-run seventh inning, which also featured a Cheslor Cuthbert 2-run HR (7).
The start came at the right time for the Royals, now 26-11 at home and 39-35 overall and STILL five game out of first place in the AL Central as the Indians (44-30) won their NINTH straight game – the longest winning streak in MLB this year, improving to 9-0 against Detroit in 2016, as Edinson Volquez and Chris Young combined to give up 19 runs in 3.1 IP in the previous two games.
The Royals scored first for the first time since last Friday (June 17) with Morales’ first HR of the day in the 4th inning. The Astros tied it up with an Evan Gattis solo shot in the 6th inning – Kennedy’s only blemish in his best start as a Royal. No surprise it was a long ball that hurt him, as it has been his nemesis all year, as he has allowed 19. Morales hit another solo HR to ignite the 5-run eighth that gave Kennedy (6-6), who lowered his ERA back under 4.00 (3.96), the win. Cuthbert hit a 2-run homer three batters later and Eric Hosmer gave the Royals a 5-run lead with a 2-run double.
Now, we turn our attention to Cuthbert. The 23-year-old is currently exceeding expectations, hitting .280/.315/.446 in 42 games as the replacement for Mike Moustakas, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. He has really heated up in June hitting .308/.357/.564 with 6 HR in 22 games. He has hit three homers in the last four games and is on pace for a 15+ HR season. Despite his 0.0 defensive WAR, he has just three errors and glove has been better than his reputation was in the minors, where he was considered a below-average fielder.
This raises the question, if Cuthbert relatively maintains his current pace, won’t it be hard to NOT have him on the big league roster next year when Moose returns?
The popular theory is that he'll stick if he keeps this up, not playing in the minors, again. It’s pretty easy to assume that Cuthbert will be the every day third baseman in 2018 when Moustakas will very likely be somewhere else. But, what about next year? With Moose here, what position would he play?
Let’s look at the options:
- Second Base: Cuthbert played two innings at second last year in a blowout loss at Cleveland and played there for three games in Double-A NW Arkansas in 2014, committing two errors, and the project was scrapped. It seemed maybe the experiment was going to be tested again when Moustakas returned from his first DL stint and Cuthbert was optioned back to the minors. But, he was back after missing only one game when Moustakas was injured again – this time for the season. The position still may be up for grabs in the future, as Ned Yost may want Whit Merrifield playing all over the field, but, for now, it appears that is his position.
- Right Field: Another position that was tossed around in the offseason that Cuthbert could get some work and another position that doesn’t have a “guy.” But, he is too slow to play in the outfield. Some organizations would be OK with it, but with Ned Yost defense matters.
- First Base: This is the other position Cuthbert has played in his career, playing it 65 times in the minors (39 starts), and he has logged one inning there as a big leaguer. But, with Hosmer there, no way he’s playing there.
- DH: Kendrys Morales has an option year next year, so it’s possible the Royals don’t pick it up and let him walk to free agency, opening a spot in the order, that could potentially be Cuthbert’s or some sort of a rotation. But, with the “window open” at least through the 2017 season, I expect most, if not all, options – mutual, team or player – to be picked up.
Any player can play anywhere, if you give them a glove and put them there. But, it doesn’t mean they can play it well, or even adequately. Cuthbert can really only “play” the corner positions, so it’ll be hard for Cuthbert to be here next year, unless Moustakas isn’t here. With next year being the final year of his current contract, his trade value is low UNLESS done at the trade deadline – and that won't happen unless the Royals are sellers at the deadline, meaning they think they don't have a chance at the postseason. This will put the Royals in a rare spot next year and I could not find another comparable situation. It’ll certainly be a tough for Cuthbert, if he's continues to perform well, than unfortunately spends the following season in the minors.
The good news, we know we have a suitable replacement for Moustakas when it’s time to turn the page on some of the current core.
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