The Kansas City Royals’ farm system has been well noted for being one of the weaker farm systems in baseball. Despite a relative lack of top-end talent, the Royals do have some players that fly under the radar as guys who could make an impact in the major leagues some day.
One of those guys is 21-year old first basemen Samir Duenez, a 6’1″ lefty from Venezuela. Signed back in 2013 as a 16-year old, Duenez immediately reported to the Arizona Summer League where he slashed .294/.337/.380/.716 with 12 doubles in 47 games. For reference, Nick Pratto slashed .247/.330/.414/.745 with 15 doubles and 4 HR this season in the AZL as an 18-year old.
Duenez has been among the youngest players in every league that he’s played in since he made his professional debut in 2013. Look at this tidbit from our own Patrick Brennan about Duenez’ performances at different levels throughout his career:
- At age 17 in the Rookie League, where the average age is 19.4, Duenez posted a 103 wRC+.
- At age 20 in Low-A, where the average age is 21.2, Duenez posted a 108 wRC+.
- At age 20 in High-A, where the average age is 22.4, Duenez posted a 132 wRC+.
- At age 21 in AA, where the average age is 23.8, Duenez posted a 95 wRC+.
Duenez had a 110 wRC+ in June and was well on his way to another stellar year, but then he inexplicably hit .197 in the month of July. Friend of the site Paul Boyd has made the point before that, Duenez performed well at AA this year despite a serious lack of protection from the guys hitting behind him in the lineup. Despite a rough July, Duenez was able to rebound in August where he posted an OPS of .758 and hit 5 HR, his most in any month in 2017.
Those 5 HR in August help tell the story of arguably the most encouraging sign of Duenez’ development: his power stroke. Before the start of the 2016 season, Duenez had hit 2 HR in 3 professional seasons. Then in 2016 Duenez exploded to hit 13 HR across Low, High, and Double-A.
In 2017, Duenez’ HR numbers increased again as he hit a career high 17 during a full season at Double-A. For a kid that we know is going to put the bat on the ball, an increase in the power department is a really encouraging sign.
Here is what FanGraphs writer Chris Mitchell had to say about Duenez in an interview with Patrick Brennan back in July:
“Duenez is an unconventional player in that he’s a a first baseman who doesn’t hit for power. Scouts tend to write off players like that from the get-go. In most cases that instinct is correct, as there are very powerless first basemen in the league. But I’d argue Duenez is an exception due to his contact ability, athleticism and youth.
Prior to reaching Double-A, Duenez rarely struck out, which suggested he’d have relatively easy transitions up the minor league ladder. He’s also been active on the bases, which suggests he’s more athletic than your typical first baseman. And considering he just turned 21 last month, there’s still plenty of time for more power to develop.”
Duenez will still be 21 when the 2018 season begins. I think he could benefit from some more time at Double-A in order to help him continue developing his power stroke as well as find his knack for getting on base again. Duenez’ K% reached a career high in 2017 and his BB% took a dip from 2016 as well. The power numbers are encouraging, but Duenez’ game revolves around his ability to get on base at an advanced level.
If Duenez is hitting the ball well around the All-Star break, I’d expect him to be promoted to Omaha to finish the 2018 season. There’s a decent chance that Ryan O’Hearn will be in Kansas City by then which would open up some at bats for Duenez.
When I saw Duenez play in August, he had one at bat in which he looked like a major league first basemen. In another at bat, he watched four really good pitches barely miss the zone and took an impressive walk. Then in another at bat he looked completely lost at the plate and swung at three bad pitches in a row. He’s a kid that I’m really high on, but think he could use a little more seasoning in the minor leagues before he’s ready to play at the big league level.
Photo Credits: Andy Shupe