Could we see Kelvin Gutierrez in 2019?

When the Kansas City Royals traded Kelvin Herrera in the middle of the 2018 season, it wasn’t immediately clear who the centerpiece of the return was. Blake Perkins is an elite defender and speedster with a good eye at the plate and the potential to be a semi-regular in CF. Kelvin Gutierrez is a very good athlete with a cannon for an arm at 3B and the potential to be an elite defender at the hot corner. But what about the bat?

Kelvin Gutierrez has played at least 50 games at 6 different levels over his last 6 professional seasons. Here is the number of PA paired with the wRC+ that he posted at each level:

  • 2013: Rookie, 60 games, 105 wRC+
  • 2014: Rookie, 53 games, 109 wRC+
  • 2015: Low-A, 62 games, 129 wRC+
  • 2016: A, 96 games, 117 wRC+
  • 2017: High-A, 58 games, 116 wRC+
  • 2018: AA, 123 games, 102 wRC+

There’s nothing overly impressive involved with those numbers. Gutierrez has been a consistently above average hitter, but not much more than that. In addition to being just a slightly above average hitter, Gutierrez doesn’t walk much, but doesn’t strike out a ton either (17.4% with NWA in 2018). So…where is the promise? What type of prospect is he?

For a more in depth scouting report, read this breakdown done by our own Joshua Payton. For now, though, let me explain to you why I think there’s a chance that Gutierrez could get at-bats in the big leagues in 2019.

He’s on the 40-man roster

This may seem like a small thing, but it’s the first step in playing big league baseball. Prospects like Richard Lovelady, Josh Staumont, and Frank Schwindel were all left in AAA Omaha last season, perhaps in part because they would’ve required the Royals to DFA someone off of the 40-man roster. This won’t be an issue for Gutierrez, as he’s already on it.

The competition

Is not stellar. The only current third basemen on the Royals 40-man roster are Cheslor Cuthbert and Hunter Dozier. In theory, I guess Rosell Herrera could be a candidate over there as well. Still, that’s not exactly a group of guys the Royals are going to give 600 PA to and let them rot all season. If Kelvin Gutierrez hits well in AAA over the first half of the season, and the group of big leaguers doesn’t Gutierrez may find himself the Royals big league third basemen pretty quickly.

The glove

Gutierrez may be most well known for his defensive ability at the hot corner. He began his professional career as a SS but moved to 3B when he outgrew the middle infield. He’s got great feet at third and an absolute cannon for an arm (FanGraphs give him a 60-grade arm). The Royals have made it very clear that defense is a priority to the organization, and the glove shouldn’t be one of the things holding Gutierrez back from a big league debut.

The wheels…?

Kelvin Gutierrez runs surprisingly well for a guy who stands 6′ 3″ 215 lbs. He stole 20 bases between the Royals and Nationals AA clubs in 2018, was only caught 4 times, and 25 more bases during a healthy 2016 campaign. For a big third baseman, Gutierrez can scoot a little bit.

An improving batted ball metric

For big third basemen, hitting the ball on the ground is something that should be avoided at all costs. Early on in his career, Gutierrez had a terrible time elevating the baseball. Here is Gutierrez’ GB% by year before 2018:

  • 48.5%
  • 57.9% (yuck)
  • 61.3% (how is this possible)
  • 56.7%
  • 56%

That is impossibly bad. I honestly don’t know how a hitter can hit that many ground balls without making some kind of adjustment. Luckily, however Gutierrez got his GB% down to 47% in 2018 with the Nationals and was only 51.6% with the Royals. This is still bad, but it’s finally improving, perhaps showing a concerted effort by Gutierrez to get the baseball in the air more often. Gutierrez has some legitimately impressive raw pop, but that pop isn’t worth much if the ball is on the ground. Should he get the ball in the air more, I could see Gutierrez being a 20 HR guy in the big leagues at some point down the line.

Contact skills

Often times with minor league hitters that haven’t had a ton of success, one of the big concerns becomes strikeouts. Kelvin Gutierrez is no Nicky Lopez, but he only struck out in 17.4% of his PA’s with the Naturals in 2018 and his SwStr% was only 10.1%. That’s not elite, and it’s not going to be his calling when he reaches Kansas City, but it goes to show that contact skills won’t be a huge concern with Gutierrez either. Should the Royals need to call on Gutierrez to play third base, they won’t have to worry about ruining his development.

All of these things surrounding Kelvin Gutierrez create a really high floor for the Royals 3B prospect. Will he ever be a Whit Merrifield, 5-win player? Probably not. Will he be a better option at 3B than Hunter Dozier for the 2020 season. I sure hope so. The ability is there. Gutierrez runs well, plays excellent defense, and makes enough contact that he could survive an early stint in the big leagues in 2019. Will we see him? That much will depend on the performance of Hunter Dozier and Cheslor Cuthbert.

 

 

 

Photo Credits: Glenn Gaston

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