Perhaps, maybe, possibly, I erred. It’s possible I was too pessimistic, too closed to the idea that a player with raw tools could develop even into his mid-20s. Maybe I should have seen what could be instead of what had been.
Kelvin Gutierrez truthers (if such a group exists), I was wrong.
When the Kelvin Herrera trade went down, I wasn’t thrilled, but I understood that avoiding the risk of holding onto Herrera might be worth it. Dayton Moore looks like a genius now that Herrera has been hurt and ineffective with the Nationals and Blake Perkins and Gutierrez look like actual prospects.
What miffed me about the trade was the perception that Gutierrez was the jewel of the trade. I didn’t see how a player who was already 23 at that time (24 now) and putting up a lack luster season at AA was worth much. As I saw it then, Gutierrez was a slightly above average defensive third baseman with an average hit tool and well below average power. Looking at his age and lack of power, I thought there was no way Gutierrez would ever crack the majors with any legitimately competitive team. So, why bother?
And when Gutierrez first started playing at Northwest Arkansas, my thinking was vindicated. He was very, very bad. From June 21 to July 14, he put up a slash line of .221/.254/.324/.577 with an ISO of .103. That gave him a wRC+ of 54 (100 is average). At the time, I just kept thinking Told you so. This guy’s got no power, and his age is pushing him into “organizational depth” territory.
But around this time I also started to hear about Gutierrez making changes to his swing. I don’t typically believe this sort of thing because if it was as simple as working on a swing and everyone is cured, all struggling hitters would simply work on their swings and be cured. The rumors had it that he was working to loft his overly flat swing and access his power potential. Big if true, but I wasn’t laying money on a turnaround.
Turns out, I shoulda laid money on a turnaround. From July 15 until the end of the season, Gutierrez hit .299/.368/.443/.810 with a .144 ISO. His walk rate jumped from 4.2 to 8.8 and his strikeout rate dropped from 19.7 to 16.6. His most important improvement was in the power department. A 40 point jump in ISO is significant. In the final month and a half, he had 13 extra-base hits. He had only 4 in the three weeks prior. He had only 18 extra-base hits in his entire season until July 15.
Watching him hit, his swing is clearly more lofted, but he’s also looking to drive mistake pitches, which is huge. A big part of hitting for power is having an approach that looks to drive the ball when the pitcher makes a mistake. He’ll need to work on this more, but he made a big turnaround in July so it will take time for him to get used to his new found power.
When Gutierrez first came into the Royals organization, I was convinced that he’d never make it to the majors. He’s not there yet, but his final month and half has made it clear that he still has a chance. If he can continue to develop his power and build off the end of this season, he might have value as a third baseman of the future or a trade chip (if Hunter Dozier becomes more consistent at the plate).
And honestly, I’m happy to be wrong. In cases like this, I love the taste of crow.
Photo credit: milb.com