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DeJesus' numbers warrant opportunity
By BRADFORD DOOLITTLE
The Kansas City Star
The Royals may have just added the next American League Rookie of the Year.
More on that in a bit.
The Stat Guy danced a little jig around his Bill James shrine when the Royals recalled David DeJesus from Class AAA Omaha, Neb.
What follows is not an indictment of Aaron Guiel, who is a fine player and will make an outstanding fourth outfielder. Basically, there are two functions for a position player in baseball. Create runs on offense, and save runs on defense.
Let's take offense first.
Statheads tend to value on-base percentage (OBP) above all other statistics. DeJesus has been an on-base machine through his minor-league career. In a little more than two pro seasons, he has an OBP just over .400.
DeJesus' walks-to-at-bats rate is 13 percent, which is excellent, and his walks exceed his strikeouts. This kind of strike-zone judgment portends a smooth transition to big-league pitching.
DeJesus does more than draw walks, but his on-base ability alone makes him the closest thing to the ideal leadoff hitter that the Royals have lacked. In short, he should create a lot of runs.
But will he create more runs than Guiel? Frankly, it's hard to say. Last season, Guiel and DeJesus both played in Omaha and received roughly equal playing time. This allows us to compare apples to apples.
Guiel had 233 plate appearances for the O-Royals and posted an on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) of .882. DeJesus had 226 plate appearances and an identical .882 OPS.
These numbers are suggestive but not conclusive — the sample size isn't large enough.
The number that really stands out when comparing these two is age. Guiel is 31 years old, DeJesus is 24.
The average hitter's career production resembles a lopsided Bell Curve. It rises pretty fast, peaks between the ages of 26 and 28 and then gradually declines. These patterns aren't set in stone. But as of last season, these players were roughly equal. DeJesus should have lots of room to grow; Guiel is likely as good as he is going to get.
Now for the defense.
Mark Twain popularized Benjamin Disraeli's statement, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.” What Twain failed to mention was that Disraeli was referring to fielding statistics.
So we proceed with caution.
The preponderance of lefties on the Royals' pitching staff means more right-handed batters. That means more balls hit to the left side.
What's more, three of these lefties — Darrell May, Brian Anderson and Jimmy Gobble — tend to throw more fly balls than average pitchers. Left-field defense is more crucial for the Royals than any other team in the majors.
Guiel is a natural right fielder, and his numbers suggest that he has above-average range for that position. But the numbers suggest the same for DeJesus — as a center fielder. Advantage DeJesus.
With DeJesus able to cover more ground in left, center fielder Carlos Beltran should be able to cheat toward the right-center-field gap. The numbers suggest that Juan Gonzalez has the range of a hermit crab, and the more Beltran can shade toward right, the better.
So whether you're looking at offense or defense, the Royals are likely a better team with DeJesus in left field. But there is an intangible reason to follow DeJesus.
In the early going, this year's crop of AL rookies is pretty thin. The rookie hitters who have done the most damage so far don't have the sort of pedigrees you look for in a Rookie of the Year candidate.
As for the pitchers, no starters have distinguished themselves and there are no rookie closers.
DeJesus projects to hit around .280 with an .805 OPS. If he plays every day and hits those numbers, the Royals could be looking at their second straight Rookie of the Year.
To reach Bradford Doolittle send e-mail to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
He's got NEXT
Royals give young David DeJesus a shot at stardom
By JEFF PASSAN The Kansas City Star
Here is David DeJesus, the Royals' next big thing, lounging in a plush leather couch as if he owns the thing, looking as if he's been in a major-league clubhouse for four years instead of four days.
Here is David DeJesus, the Royals' new left fielder, chugging out to his position and then, well, looking like a rookie when he chucks the ball over center fielder Carlos Beltran's head.
Here is David DeJesus, the Royals' replacement should they trade Beltran or watch him leave through free-agency after this season, fielding comparisons to the Royals' star, hearing them straight from the source.
“David,” Beltran said, “reminds me of myself.”
All of this — the life, the games, the expectations — overwhelms DeJesus a tad. Twenty years ago, he started playing baseball in the back yard with his father, Heriberto, and his brothers, Heryk and Michael, a plastic bat and ball the only tools necessary to eat away eight hours in New Jersey.
And here he is: An everyday major-leaguer, a 24-year-old who spent his off-day moving from Omaha, Neb., where he played for the Royals' Class AAA club before manager Mike Jirschele fed him the good news Saturday in New Orleans.
“I had no idea I was going up,” DeJesus said. “Jirsch called at midnight and told me to come to his room. Still had no idea. And then he tells me. I'm going up.”
The .351 batting average and 14-game hitting streak at Omaha excited the Royals' brass. DeJesus' heady defense and good arm intrigued them. His rapid rise through the organization signaled his desire to play in the majors.
DeJesus' objective now: Stay there.
“The only way he's up here is if he's playing on a regular basis,” Royals general manager Allard Baird said. “For him to play, he's going to have to perform and produce. We feel confident he has the ability to do that. We're trying to win the division. This is not only a move for the future, it's a production move.”
DeJesus has produced for two full seasons in the Royals' organization and three more in college at Rutgers.
That, actually, is where DeJesus' story begins, where he morphed from a solid high school player into one worthy of a fourth-round draft choice in 2000.
From the first day of fall practice, DeJesus stood out to Rutgers coach Fred Hill. He wasn't particularly big. About 6 feet, maybe 175 pounds. And he wasn't particularly great at anything, either. Good arm, good speed, good bat, good defense — everything good enough.
“It was just the way he carried himself,” Hill said. “He always seemed to have everything under control. He never got too excited, never got too down, and that's helped him a great deal. Every day is a new day for him.”
Which is more important in baseball than any other sport. For 162 games, it's a battle to stay consistent, a struggle to shun extremes.
For DeJesus, that has never been a problem.
Staying healthy, on the other hand, has been his biggest.
In 2000, after he left Rutgers, DeJesus reported to the Royals' instructional league and sprained a ligament in his left elbow on the fifth day. DeJesus, who throws and bats left-handed, shut down that season and rehabilitated in the off-season.
And he was raring to go the next season when he fielded a line drive toward the end of spring training.
“A guy wanted to go home, and I sprung up to throw,” DeJesus said. “It was a great throw, too — a one-hopper home, and the guy stopped at third. Unfortunately, I heard something pop.”
DeJesus tore an elbow ligament and needed ligament-replacement surgery, commonly known as Tommy John surgery. Bye-bye, 2001 season.
“The only thing that's held him back this long,” Royals assistant general manager Muzzy Jackson said, “has been injuries.”
Fully recovered, DeJesus began 2002 at Class A Wilmington, Del., and hit in the leadoff spot. His propensity to get on base and score runs earned him a promotion to Class AA Wichita, where DeJesus drove in 15 runs in 25 games. DeJesus was chosen as the Royals' minor-league player of the year.
DeJesus followed that season by hitting a combined .308 in stints at Wichita and Omaha in 2003. Nagging shoulder injuries kept DeJesus from playing a full season, but the Royals had seen enough to declare him ready and called him up in September.
DeJesus remembers the first game. He walked into the clubhouse Sept. 2 at the Ballpark at Arlington in Texas and saw the placard with his No. 9 next to Nos. 15 and 29.
Beltran and Mike Sweeney.
“I'm a little nervous already,” DeJesus said, “and then they put me there.”
In seven at-bats, DeJesus slapped two hits. Eventually, should he prove himself capable at the major-league level, he will hit in the leadoff spot and develop as a power hitter, as Baird expects him to.
“When I first started, I remember they put me as a leadoff batter,” said Beltran, who is leading the American League in home runs, runs and slugging percentage. “He's aggressive, and at the same time he doesn't swing at too many bad pitches. He's got the right qualities.”
“And he's ready,” Baird said. “If you look at the plan with him, I said that when a young player is ready to come to the big leagues and play every day and the opportunity presents itself, we'll move on that.”
DeJesus arrived in Kansas City on Saturday and received some simple advice from Royals manager Tony Peña: Don't try too hard.
That could be tough this weekend when the Royals travel to Yankee Stadium.
When DeJesus started to enjoy baseball growing up, he took a liking to Kenny Lofton, Cleveland's electric leadoff hitter, and tried to emulate him.
Lofton now plays for New York.
No worries, DeJesus said. Just another game.
“Look at his track record,” Jackson said. “He's done what we've asked him to do from a preparation standpoint. And he's gone out and performed and put up the numbers you want to see from a guy who wants to make the big leagues.”
Here is David DeJesus, in the big leagues, in fact, lounging around and chugging along and fielding comparisons and, more than anything, determined to stay.
“Last year, I wanted to come up to get comfortable, to see how the guys are,” he said. “This year, I'm here to play.”
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