A pair of Blue Rocks infielders have looked very promising in 2018

At the end of the 2017 minor league season, the staff here at Royals Farm Report had Gabriel Cancel ranked as the Kansas City Royals 10th best prospect. The slugging second baseman was coming off of a season in which he hit .277/.324/.466 with 14 HR and a 125 wRC+ in just 103 games as a 20-year old in the South Atlantic League (A) (for reference, MJ Melendez and Seuly Matias have wRC+ of 129 and 136 respectively at the age of 19).

Cancel had looked impressive in his time with the Legends, and like most people expected, he was promoted to High-A Wilmington to begin the 2018 campaign. Cancel got off to a bit of a sluggish start to 2018, hitting just .176 in April and .267 in May with 1 HR a piece. Wilmington can be a terrible place for young power hitters, and the lumps Cancel took weren’t completely worrisome, but I was anxious to see if he could turn it around.

Well, he did. Cancel exploded in the month of June, slashing .333/.380/.478 with 3 HR and 4 2B in 25 games. The power had returned despite playing in a pitcher’s paradise in Wilmington and Cancel has reestablished himself as one of the better prospects in this Royals system. From watching Cancel, he appears to have good enough feet and fast enough hands to remain at 2B long-term, which would be huge in terms of his future value. Speaking with people who watch Cancel much more than I do, most would agree with the sentiment that Cancel is a second baseman.

There’s also this:

I think most Royals fans are at least familiar with the name Gabriel Cancel. Maybe you aren’t familiar with his entire profile, but if you read our content even semi-regularly you’ve probably heard his name. He’s a second baseman with the potential to hit for some plus power and get on base enough to be serviceable. There’s certainly a chance that Cancel could be an average major leaguer or better. He’ll probably destroy the Texas League next season when he gets there.

But there’s another infielder that’s been playing really well for the Blue Rocks that I don’t think many people are paying attention to. Emmanuel Rivera has battled injuries for much of the season (only played in 46 games with Wilmington) which opened up a spot for DJ Burt to assume regular at-bats at the top of the Blue Rocks lineup.

I’m guessing that many of you have not heard of DJ Burt. That’s okay, but after today, Monday July 9, 2018, you’re out of excuses.

DJ Burt is a speedy, 5′ 9″ infield prospect that hails from Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, and is making waves on my prospect radar this season. At the time of writing this, Burt is slashing .300/.396/.383/.779 with 9 doubles and 5 triples in 63 games with the Blue Rocks. Perhaps more impressively, Burt has stolen 22 bases in those 63 games and has only been caught 5 times. He plays three positions on the infield (mostly 2B/3B) well and shows potential as a useful utility man in his future.

One reason that you may not be too familiar with DJ Burt to this point revolves around his lack of production at the plate over the last couple of seasons. In 2016 Burt hit just .257 and slugged just .338. His BB% dropped nearly 4% from 2015. Then in 2017 Burt hit .227 and slugged just .307, but his BB% returned to an impressive 14.4% in his first go round in the Carolina League.

Burt has rebounded in a big way this season. His BB% is it’s normal 13.5% and his K% has dropped 2% from last season. It’s still a little high at 20.8%, but much of that has to do with Burt working deep counts on a regular basis, and less to do with his ability to make contact. Burt currently ranks 14th in the Carolina League in SwStr% at 8.8%, which is certainly serviceable (Gabriel Cancel ranks 15th at 9.1% which is really impressive considering his power potential).

There’s three things that DJ Burt does really well:

  1. Get on base
  2. Play defense
  3. Run like hell

Those three things travel no matter what park you’re in or what level you’re playing in. Burt’s bat-to-ball skills have always been decent enough, but they’ve taken a step up in 2018 and he’s using the middle of the field more than he did last season as well. Burt doesn’t hit for much power, at all, but he’s strong enough to hit enough doubles to get him by as well.

While discussing DJ Burt with the driver of the DJ Burt hype train (Marcus), I found what I believe to be a reasonable comparison of what to hope for in DJ Burt.

Whit Merrifield made his MLB debut back in 2016 at the ripe old age of 27. Since then, Merrifield has been worth 6.5 fWAR, which is good for a pace of 3.4 fWAR/162 games. For reference, in 2017 there were only 59 players in baseball with 3.4 fWAR. Merrifield has been very good for the Kansas City Royals and may get them quite the haul in a trade coming up very soon.

Whit Merrifield was not a well-known prospect before debuting in Kansas City. He was a member of the national champion South Carolina baseball team in 2010, and he hit the ball okay in the minor leagues, but he was never a highly-touted prospect. Here’s a quick look at how Whit Merrifield and DJ Burt compare so far in their careers:

Merrifield: 23 YO, A+, 440 PA, .258/.333/.389, 8 HR, 25 SB, 9.3% BB%, 15.7% K%, 102 wRC+, 19.5% SwStr%

Burt: 22 YO, A+, 274 PA, .300/.396/.383, 0 HR, 22 SB, 13.5% BB%, 20.8% K%, 125 wRC+, 8.8% SwStr%

As you can see, DJ Burt compares pretty favorably to Whit Merrifield in a lot of categories. He runs better. He puts the bat on the ball more often. He walks more often. He strikes out more and doesn’t hit for as much power, but his total offensive output has been better at a younger age.

Burt and Merrifield don’t profile as the exact same type of player, but you can see the value of a guy like Burt. He’s certainly got time to grow and, should he continue to get stronger and hit for a bit more power, could be a legitimate prospect for the Royals. He and Cancel both present formidable options for KC on the infield, and it’ll be a lot of fun to see how they do now that Emmanuel Rivera is back in the lineup for the Blue Rocks. That infield group is definitely my favorite among the Royals farm system.

Don’t be surprised if DJ Burt gets called up to AA Northwest Arkansas now that Cancel and Rivera are back on the infield together in Wilmington.

One thought on “A pair of Blue Rocks infielders have looked very promising in 2018

  1. Pingback: Minor League Minutes: July 10, 2018 | Royals Farm Report

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