Prospect fatigue could be a phrase that you might use to describe Samir Duenez. After all, it seems like the 22-year-old has been around forever after being added to the Royals 40-man roster in November of 2016. Duenez is no longer on the Royals top 30 prospect list according to MLB Pipeline or our own Alex Duvall. Duenez has been written off, and I admit, I’ve overlooked him at times as well. But this kid has a great swing and can hit. He has been consistently 2 to 3 years younger than the average age of the competition in every league he has played with for the Royals affiliates in the United States. Again, to put that into perspective, Duenez just turned 22. That makes him younger than Brady Singer, Nicky Lopez, Michael Gigliotti, Emmanuel Rivera, Kelvin Gutierrez, Daniel Tillo, DJ Burt, Foster Griffin, Scott Blewett, you get the point. If Duenez had grown up in the United States and gone to college here, he could have been drafted this year. But instead, he is playing in his sixth year of professional baseball.
Duenez is from Venezuela and signed as a young sixteen-year-old. The Royals brought Duenez straight to Arizona. There was no time in the DSL for him. As a 17 year-old, Duenez found himself moving to the Pioneer League and then moving to the South Atlantic League with Lexington. He held his own and the Royals started him there the next year and repeat the league again as a 19-year-old where he quickly earned a promotion to Wilmington. In 56 games in the Carolina League, Duenez hit .300 with 7 home runs and showed he was ready to move all the way to the Texas League where he joined Northwest Arkansas in August as a 20-year-old. This is when the Royals decided to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft by placing him on the 40-man roster. This move was a bit of a surprise to a lot of people because most of us weren’t expecting him to be selected.
Duenez played his first full season in the Texas League last year turning 21 in June. The Royals have been very aggressive with Duenez’s promotion schedule. With Ryan O’Hearn and Frank Schwindel in front of him, Duenez repeated the league this year after hitting .252 with 116 strikeouts in 523 at bats.
The approach Duenez used last year was one of trying to hit for more power. You could tell he was trying to do to much as he rolled over a lot and hit a lot of balls at the first and second baseman. After talking with several people last year who watched him, we came to the decision that he will hit as long as he isn’t trying to do too much. A strikeout rate of 22.2% is okay if you are hitting those home runs, but Duenez only hit 17. And I say that like it’s a problem. Seventeen home runs as a 20-to-21-year-old in a league where the average player is 24 is solid. This made Duenez a perfect candidate to repeat the league which the Royals had him do.
Duenez’s approach this year has not been as power oriented and teams are even playing him straight up this year. There were times where the infield would be shifted. Outfielders always tend to pinch the gaps with him showing that teams believe him to have a gap-to-gap approach which is how I would position my defense as well. A hand/wrist injury has slowed him down this year but he is still hitting .269 with an ISO of .176 and .345 wOBA according to FanGraphs. His wRC+ is 108 meaning he is slightly better than the average hitter in the league at almost 2 years younger.
Duenez is getting more comfortable coming back from the injury as he has started settling in and hitting consistently again. Coming off the DL he struck out 10 times in his first 25 ABs (40%) but has only struck out 8 times in his last 46 ABs (17%). Duenez hit .432 over a 10-game stretch from July 27 through August 5 posting 7 extra base hits and adding 14 RBI and scoring 9 runs. He even stole two bases.
His role is going to have to be a run producer going forward. As Duenez matures, adjusts his approach to something more comfortable and successful for him, expect him to be able to become a more prodigious and consistent producer eventually ending up in the big leagues for the Royals. His defense could be described as average for a major league first baseman. He has good range and good footwork. He digs the ball well and throws decent.
The original placement on the 40-man was the Royals being cautious, the continued placement is because he deserves it. I would not be surprised to see Duenez finish this season on fire and make up for some lost time in a winter league somewhere. Next spring, still as a 22-year-old, the best placement would probably be to repeat the Texas League one more time. There is no one at Wilmington pushing the Royals to move Duenez quickly and Nick Pratto is still two years behind him. Duenez would still be younger than the average player in the Texas League, and could move up quickly with a hot start or stay longer to develop some confidence. Personally, I think things will click for him and he will take off and hit his way back onto Royals prospect lists.