Taking an in-depth look at Gabriel Cancel’s 2019 season

If you’ve followed the site for a while, you’ve probably seen at some point the historical comparisons I’ve done for certain Royals prospects. The goal is to take a look at the seasons that Royals prospects are having, and find similar seasons from the past. The goal is to find theoretical big league comps for Royals prospects to get a “best case scenario” idea for what’s on the farm. Here are the ones I’ve done in the past:

What I found after a while is that A-ball is too early to be worried about numbers due to sample size. There’s just way too much variance. The old saying that the jump from A-ball to AA being the toughest is absolutely true, for most players, from a statistical standpoint. I say that because, one of the reasons that I haven’t done any of these this year (before now) is that most everyone worth watching (that hadn’t been written up already) was in A-ball to begin the year. Now that Cancel has 250+ AA PA, and Jackson Kowar and Brady Singer have arrived, we should be able to dig back into these again soon.

For now I want to focus on Gabriel Cancel. We recently launched Cancel all the way into the top 10 of our mid-season prospect list. Most of this is due to the fact that Cancel has been hitting for an absurd amount of power in the Texas League as a 22-year old, and I’m of the opinion that he’s athletic enough to not be stuck at 1B long-term. He may not be what Kansas City is looking for in a big league 2B, but I think the arm strength is there enough to play 3B, which may suit his athleticism better anyway.

The first thing I did when looking for Cancel comps was to narrow down an age range. I took every hitter aged 21-23 to record 250+ PA at the AA level since 2006 and began narrowing down stats to find hitters that semi-closely resemble the season Cancel is having in 2019. There were over 1,400 qualifiers and I was able to narrow the list down to 33 for the breakdown. Here were the best names that wound up on the list, along with Cancel:

  • Gabriel Cancel
  • Kevin Cron (93 wRC+ with AZ in 2019)
  • Danny Valencia (career 101 wRC+)
  • Paul DeJong (career 109 wRC+)
  • Randal Grichuk (career 106 wRC+)
  • Danny Espinosa (career 82 wRC+)
  • Franmil Reyes (career 122 wRC+)

While most people’s eyes will jump straight to the Cardinals’ Paul DeJong, it should be noted that most of his value (8.9 fWAR in 3 seasons) comes from his defense at SS. A 109 wRC+ from Cancel would be fantastic, but the offensive output that Franmil Reyes has put out would be an absolute dream. Reyes is currently sporting a 115 wRC+ with 25 HR for the San Diego Padres. If Cancel can do anything close to that while playing 2B/3B, he’s got a tremendous future in Kansas City.

The biggest differences between Franmil Reyes and Gabriel Cancel, as it pertains to their respective AA stints, are age and BB/K ratio. Reyes was a year younger at AA than Cancel is now, he walked a tad bit more, and struck out a fair bit less. There is one player however that matches up almost perfectly with Cancel worth looking at.

Gabriel Cancel/Paul DeJong:

  • Age: 22/22
  • BB/K: .272/.278
  • SwStr%: 13.6%/14.3%
  • OPS: .787/.784
  • ISO: .207/.200
  • BABIP: .317/.319
  • wOBA: .348/.348
  • wRC+: 113.77/123.18

It is absolutely worth noting the difference in wRC+. When compared to the league and year, DeJong’s numbers were a good bit more impressive than what Cancel is doing now. It is ironic though how similar these two players were at the same level and age.

*It is at this point in the article that I should stop you from thinking that these numbers actually mean much. They are interesting. They CAN be fun. Please do not make ridiculous comments about how I said Gabriel Cancel is the next Paul DeJong. They have similar offensive profiles. Like I mentioned before, however, there’s going to be a significant difference in value due to DeJong’s defense at SS. I digress.*

So, out of 1,400+ players that we started with, down to 30 or so with offensive profiles that most closely resemble what Gabriel Cancel has done at AA this season, we have a handful of success stories and only one real slugger. What does this mean for Cancel as a prospect and improvements he needs to make moving forward?

The first thing I’d like to do is see Cancel start spreading his line drives around the field.

cancel sc2

As you can see, many of Cancel’s line drives end up in LF, as you might expect from a power-hitting righty, but almost all of his XBH have been to the pull side as well. This chart may not seem unreasonable, but from what I’ve seen of Cancel’s PA, he is almost strictly pitched away. Given how many of the pitches Cancel sees on the outer half of the plate, I’d really like to see more of his doubles (on line drives) wind up in that RCF gap.

The second big thing Cancel needs to improve on is taking more walks vs RHP. He excels in that department vs LHP, drawing a walk in over 11% of his PA vs LHP. Then when a RHP takes the mound, that BB% comes down below 6.5%. That number doesn’t need to be 11% (though that would be amazing wouldn’t it), but if he can just walk in 8% of his PA vs RHP, it would do wonders for his overall OBP, which currently sits at .324.

At present, Randal Grichuk and Paul DeJong feel like reasonable offensive outcomes for Cancel. Hover right above league average in terms of overall production. Hit for plenty of power, but leave a bit to be desired in the on-base department. There’s, perhaps obviously, plenty of time for Cancel to make improvements. I don’t imagine that KC will move on from Hunter Dozier at 3B or Nicky Lopez at 2B for at least the next year and a half, meaning Cancel should get a full run at both AA and AAA to improve his approach. He does that, and he’s got a really good shot to be an every day big leaguer.

Photo Credits: Tim Campbell

One thought on “Taking an in-depth look at Gabriel Cancel’s 2019 season

  1. Pingback: Minor League Minutes: 7/18/19 | Royals Farm Report

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