Monday, March 2, 2009

Why I still belive in Chris Lubanski, even though YOU don't

Both the Royals and Kevin Seitzer needed a day like today.  The offense provided a validation of all of their efforts, and while it was just Spring Training, I honest feel like this is definitely a sign of progress being made in the right direction.

The Offense

The Royals hitters tallied up 18 hits and 14 runs in just 8 innings.  4 batters had at least 2 hits, and 9 different batters drew at least one walk.  The hitters did only have 2 extra base hits (a double by Suomi and a triple by Lubanski).  However, they drew a total of 10 walks against just 6 strikeouts, which was a big improvement over yesterday's numbers.  I realize this is Spring Training, but at the same time, we look for these results in ST, not for struggles like yesterday.

The Pitchers

Royals pitchers gave up just 2 earned runs today, but 5 runs in total.  I don't like the idea of "unearned" and "earned" runs, maybe I'll get into why in another post.  Lowery, Davies, and Wright all had scoreless outings.  Altogether, the pitchers tallied just 4 strikeouts (1 each from Ramirez, Davies, Wright, Pimental), but only 1 walk (Ramirez).

Hitter of the Game

The hitter of the game award has to go to Chris Lubanski, who had an awesome game.  Chris went 3-3 with 2 runs and 2 rbi, including a triple.  Chris is widely regarded as one of the hardest working prospects in our system, and although a lot of people have already written him off, I really hope he can have a bounce-back year, he's still just 23 and will turn 24 later this month.

Pitcher of the Game

No question here, Kyle Davies earns the pitcher of the game award.  Kyle pitched 3 scoreless innings giving up just 1 single while striking out 1 and walking none.  Kyle managed to get through three innings on just 40 pitches, which is a pretty good number.  Kyle said his best pitch going today was his changeup and he relied on it heavily.

Tomorrow's Game

The Royals will host the Cleveland Indians tomorrow at 2:05 p.m. central.  Anthony Reyes will start for the Tribe.  Zack Greinke gets the nod for the boys in blue.  Zack will be followed by Kyle Farnsworth, Jimmy Gobble, Ron Mahay, Doug Waechter, and Robinson Tejeda.

Lubes

Christopher Sebastian Lubanski was selected with the 5th overall pick of the 2003 rule IV draft.  At the time most people viewed it as a way to save money, because most teams did not have Chris rated so high and so he would sign for money below that of MLB's recommended amount for that "slot."  

When Chris was drafted out of High School in 2003, he was viewed as a speedy, defensive minded center fielder who would grow into his body and hopefully turn into a 5 tool player.  As the years have progressed, Chris has morphed expectations from a top of the order player who would get on base and steal to a middle of the order hitter who could be patient and hit for power to many people hoping he can become a 4th outfielder.  As I stated earlier, many people have already written him off as a bust, lumping him together with guys like Mike Stodolka and Colt Griffin, who were clear failures of the Allard Baird era.  

If you fall into this category, I ask that you please rethink your assessment.

My Argument,  and an overview of Chris's career

Lubes had a pretty good start to his pro career, using 221 at bats in rookie ball in 2003 to post a .326/.382/.452 line.  The Royals wanted Chris to turn into a base stealer, and sent him on 19 attempts in 53 games.  He was only successful in 10 of those attempts, however.  As the years rolled on, it would become clear that while Chris was speedy (very speedy, even, at first) he was not much of a base stealer.  (DeJesus, anyone?)  

2004

2004 found Chris in the Midwest League, playing CF for the Burlington Bees.  As I've been over before, the Midwest league is a pitcher's haven.  Chris, just 19 at the time, still put up a .275/.336/.414 line with 43 walks against 104 strikeouts and 7 home runs in 483 at bats.  Very good numbers once you consider all of the variables.  At this time Chris was still rated the #2 best prospect in the Royals system, and even the 63rd best prospect in baseball.

2005  AKA the year expectations were born

In 2005, Chris was promoted to high A ball and spent the entire season there, racking up 531 at bats for the High Desert Mavericks of the California League.  Unlike the Midwest league, the California League is a much better environment for hitters.  Chris went on to lead the Cali. league in RBI that season with 116 in just 126 games.  Coincidentally the leader in OBP for the Cali. league that year was another written-off prospect, Kila Ka'aihue.  The leader in hits was another written-off prospect, Angel Sanchez.  Brandon Wood slugged .672 that year, with 43 home runs, so it clearly was a hitters' paradise.  Chris hit .301/.349/.554 with 28 home runs and 38 walks and 131 strikeouts.  Chris also stole 14 bases against just one caught stealing.  This was Chris's breakout year which led to all the hype.  What a lot of people didn't understand was the league's effect on his numbers, which led to an over-hyping and thus a disappointment when he got back to a pretty even league as far as offense goes in AA.  Another example of this same situation is Brandon Wood.

2006

In 2006 Chris spent the whole year in AA for the Wichita Wranglers, playing along Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Angel Sanchez, Shane Costa, Kila Ka'aihue, and Zack Greinke.  Lubes spent a lot of 2006 adjusting to the more advanced pitchers after struggling in the first half of the season.  Chris managed to put together a solid second half, however, ending with a line of .282/.369/.475 with 15 home runs (and 11 triples) along with 112 strikeouts while drawing 72 walks.

Intermission

Let's take a break here and look at Chris's career path after the 2006 season.  He was seen as a reach with the 5th overall pick in the 2003 amateur players draft.  He then went on to disappoint the Royals in his debut, despite his fine hitting numbers, by not being the base stealer they thought he was.  Between 2004 and 2006, Chris's value as a prospect peaked, especially when he hit 28 home runs and led the Cali. League in with 116 RBI in 2005.  People so often forger that where the numbers are produced are just as important as what numbers they are.  Chris had already begun his transformation from a speedy center fielder who could be the spark plug on a lineup to a bulky, home run hitting, strikeout prone corner outfielder with a decent eye, drawing 72 walks in 2006.

2007

At the start of 2007 Chris has just turned 22 and is sent to repeat AA again, despite his excellent second half numbers in 2006.  In the first half of the year of 2007 Chris hits .295/.361/.490, with 9 home runs, 43 strikeouts and 28 walks in 64 games.  These numbers proved enough for Chris to earn a midseason promotion to AAA, where he struggled mightily at first.  In 49 games Chris hit just .208/.273/.363 with 6 home runs, 48 strikeouts and 16 walks.

Chris suddenly fell off the map after this disastrous (in most fans eyes) season.  The key thing to remember, however, is that Chris was very young for the league.  And while it became obvious that Chris wasn't going to be a prodigy like Ken Griffey Jr. or Alex Rodriguez and reach the majors before he could drink, the opposite didn't have to be the only other option.  The opposite meaning that he was just a AAAA player who despite his earlier promise could never hack it in the majors.

The best part about Chris Lubanski, and one reason he is a favorite prospect of mine (besides the fact that he is so hardworking and humble) is that he has excellent skills which are under appreciated, in my opinion.  For instance, he hits for a fairly low average and strikes out a lot, but he also hits for a good amount of power (including a healthy dose of doubles, triples, and home runs) and he also takes a good amount of walks.  To see what I mean, let's look at last season, 2008.

2008

In 2008, Chris repeated AAA.  In 116 games, Chris hit .242/.306/.448, with 15 home runs, 130 strikeouts, and 38 walks.  While these numbers are far from "great" they do show more promise than I think a lot of people realize.  For one thing, Chris got off to a bad start again.  But he fought through his early struggles and managed to post a decent average, all things considered.  While Chris did take fewer walks than will be necessary for him to continue with such a low average, he did have success in one statistical category I enjoy looking at; ISO, or isolated slugging/power.  Chris had a 206 ISO last season, which is great, considering the Royals best power hitter last season (Guillen) had a 174 ISO.  ISO is a good indicator of raw power, as it essentially takes all of the singles out of your batting average and takes a look at just the XBH you have.  While it is not perfect, it is a good indicator of future results.

So where does this leave us?

Well, at this point, it's obvious that Chris probably won't ever develop into the prodigy that many people expect out of top 5 picks.  However, that does not mean we should cut our losses, as I feel like Chris still has tremendous potential.  Chris will see AAA for the third time this year, and I still don't even believe it's quite a make or break season for him, but many people do.  Even with his last at bat this season he'll still just be 24, a full year younger than Kila Ka'aihue and a year and a half younger than Luke Hochevar.  The biggest hurdle for Chris to overcome is that is that his skill set (high power, high walks, high strikeouts, mediocre defense) does not quite fit in with the gameplan of Dayton Moore.  That being said, Dayton does like his home-grown players, so he may learn to love Chris despite his "flaws".  Regardless, Chris will see another year of AAA, and will hopefully see some time in the majors, as well.  If Chris can increase his walks and hits each by 20 this season, (a reasonable goal, in my opinion) he would once again cement himself as a player that we can look forward to in the near future. 

I think Chris's likely career path is as a player who can come in and be a poor man's Adam Dunn for a few years in the majors.  Players with Chris Lubanski's skill set don't typically have long careers, but assuming he is able to have a good AAA season, Chris could find himself as a good corner outfielder on a big league team next season, hitting 20 or so home runs with a .350 obp or so.  Chris still has a lot of development, but I feel like as long as he keeps working at it, he has the potential to be successful.

And if he does work at it and become successful, then I believe that he doesn't have to be just a short term player.  If Chris can get his average back up to .300 where it was before AAA (remember, Chris has hit very well at every level except for AAA) then I think that Chris can become something of a Carlos Quentin.  Chris might not ever be as good as Quentin was this past season, but he can come in as a player in his mid 20's and help lead a team.  Chris Lubanski has the ability, in my opinion to be a middle of the order hitter on a good team.  It's up to Chris to have another "breakout" season in AAA and prove everyone wrong who has given up on him so quickly.  

Chris might not ever even get one at bat in the majors, and he may perform so poorly in AAA this year that he falls out of baseball completely after 2009.  But I don't believe that to be the case.  I still believe in Chris Lubanski, do you?

As always, thanks for reading.

14 comments:

  1. I for one am always amazed how one bad stretch can turn a players career so quickly, especially when they are so young. Homer Bailey, Quentin, Rasmus, even Brandon Phillips at one point

    The kid has talent and age on his side and until one of those vanishes I think he's got as good a shot as anyone else in the minors


    bill

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  2. Wow, I don't get it. He's been an utter, consistent failure in AAA (in a great hitter's league). Scouts talk about how he's lost both foot speed and bat speed. You describe him as a high walk guy, but he really doesn't draw many walks at all. He can't make contact and he doesn't draw many walks, leading to horrible OBP. Horrible on base skills plus mediocre power equals a poor hitter. Add to that the fact that he can only play a corner outfield position and that his defense is considerably below average there and you don't even have a decent MLB 5th OFer. The problem isn't that he's got a lot of talent and hasn't been able to put it together yet in AAA. The problem is that he really doesn't have a lot of talent. Not only will he likely never sniff the majors, he'll likely be out of baseball in a few years.

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  3. Scouts say he lost foot speed and bat speed? Which "scouts"? Don't equate the lack of stolen bases with the lack of foot speed without asking the question, "why hasn't the Royals developed the base stealing skill" given that Lubanski was the fastest high school player in the 2003 draft. Why hasn't Lubanski got the green light more from the Royals to steal? Even the Royals' scouting director commented the day Lubanski got drafted that KC envisioned him as a "#3 hitter" not a top of the order guy. Lubanski has progressed as one would expect a high school position player from the Northeast typically would. After his stellar season in High A (2nd in all of minor league baseball in RBI's, 4th in extra base hits), he hit over .320 in the 2nd half of AA, lead the league in triples and walks, had more extra base hits than Billy Butler, and a better K/BB ratio than Alex Gordon during the same season at Wichita. Last year was his first full year in AAA (if you consider 393 AB's a full year for that matter)and he ended up with a solid year--a .835 OPS against RHP including 14 HR's and 40 extra base hits in just 305 AB's, a stronger second half overall (.861 OPS post-All Star), and a BA of over .360 on the season when he put the ball in play, and he did it all at 23 years old. Lubanski has athleticism, emerging power, age on his side, a tremendous work ethic, and still can turn on the jets (if the Royals let him run). Hurdles ahead for Lubanski? Of course there are, just like lots of prospects, and that's why we have the minor leagues. Will he ever be an All-Star? Time will only tell. Unfortunately for Lubanski, perception carries a lot of weight in baseball because folks don't do their homework enough, they don't scratch the surface, there's too much of a bandwagon mentality. However, to conclude that Lubanski doesn't have a lot of talent, or that his career is going nowhere, is a bit off the mark to say the least considering his steady progress, age relative to league, and upside potential.

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  4. Chris was only named camp MVP!!!!! Everyone give the KID a break!!!

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  5. Lubanski is a bust!! Followed him in high school at Kennedy Kennrick and was never impressed. His father is a great promoter and will soon have his second son in the same situation.

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  6. Chris is sure off to a hot start this spring..

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  7. Played Chris in high school and followed him throughout his minor league years so far.... always thought he was extremely over-hyped. In all the games i played and pitched against KK he never did anything spectacular that you would think a player like this would be expected to do. I do wish him luck because he is a nice kid, but my expectations are not set high

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  8. I've always been a fan of his just because of his work ethic. Is his work ethic anything you noticed in high school?

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  9. I also played against Chris while he was at KK and AAU while he was with the Lugnuts. One thing is certain, work ethic was not an issue with that boy. Days of games he was at Freddy Hill batting cages early in the morning working on his swing. The kid is not only driven but talented. Catching a lot of problems because the Royals can not make up their mind about what they want from him!! As you read through his career, one day they want a base stealer the next a power hitter.

    Given a more supportive enviroment, the kid will make it.

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  10. chris is a good player. walt pushed him too hard

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  11. jimmy herron was better at kk

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  12. its 2015..the kids a bum now the fag took up college..problywouldnt make a college team..overraed shi hus load in high school.ball..huge dissapoinment and huge BUST

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  13. its 2015..the kids a bum now the fag took up college..problywouldnt make a college team..overraed shi hus load in high school.ball..huge dissapoinment and huge BUST

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