Hope to see you soon: Alex Gordon

I felt like switching things up a little and looking at a former top prospect who has found himself sent Back to the Minors.

Alex Gordon: (MLB: .194/.342/.323 in 38 PA, AAA: .366/.495/.692 in 187 PA) – This is a little more interesting than the standard prospect promotion scenario for well known reasons. At this point, it’s not entirely clear why he’s still in the minors, although apparently Dayton Moore and Co. are so satisfied with their current outfield that he will remain there until there is an injury or trade. I’ll get back to that OF in a bit…

First let’s focus on the player development side of things. The Royals brass decided they had seen enough of Gordon at the hot corner. That’s a fair enough assessment. After posting a positive UZR in 2007, Gordon has been decidely below average defensively (albeit in a fairly small sample size). Scouting reports seem to support the data and with third base prospect Mike Moustakas turning the corner, the position switch was probably a good idea. I’ve read nothing but positive things about Gordon’s outfield defense, although most of the comments I’ve seen have come via rotowire and can be summed up as “he tries hard”. I’ll reserve judgement until I see him first hand or get some scout quotes.

Offensively, Gordon has been ridiculous squared since his punitive demotion. The PCL is of course a notoriously hitter friendly league (as Brian Sabean so usefully pointed out while justifying Buster Posey‘s indentured servitude at the level) but a 1.161 OPS, 10 HR, 31 BB, and 38 K in 187 PA’s is the line of someone who is done with the league. THT Forecasts offers a composite Major League Equivalent that includes his poor 38 PA at the major league level and his 17 PA AA rehab assignment. His performances translate to a robust .371 wOBA, although Oliver projects his true talent level to be a .344 wOBA. ZiPS calls for a .336 wOBA.

Altogether, it’s really hard to form a solid expectation of Gordon. He still has the power, contact skills, and plate discipline of a semi-elite hitter, the kind who could truly be a .371 wOBA hitter. Late in 2009, Kevin Goldstein talked with scouts who concluded that Gordon’s struggles may have been the product of failed player development. Of established major league players, only Gordon Beckham, Ryan Zimmerman, and Mark Teixeira had fewer minor league at bats in the last decade (and Beckham hasn’t been so hot this year…). So perhaps Gordon’s successful PCL stint may return him to glory days when he was the talk of the prospect community. I’m reticent to nail down a specific projection, but I’d say a range somewhere between his ZiPS projection (.336 wOBA; aka replacement level) and his current MLE (.371 wOBA) is a good place to start. I must admit, I’ve fallen into the trap that numerous prospect watchers before me have tumbled down: I’m optimistic about about Alex Gordon.

Which leaves that one hairy issue still standing in the way; according to Royals brass, there’s all kinds of outfielders blocking Alex Gordon. The Royals roster lists David DeJesus, Scott Podsednik, Mitch Maier, and Jose Guillen as those outfielders. “Infielders” Willie Bloomquist, Wilson Betemit, and Alberto Callaspo are all capable of taking reps in the deep pasture. It would seem that David DeJesus is an ideal candidate to be traded. Hell, even Scott Podsednik has managed to become marketable. The Royals probably should be actively shopping both players. Then there’s Jose Guillen, you know, the guy with 5 RF starts and 58 DH appearances.

So now Guillen is properly identified as a DH and DeJesus and Podsednik are on the trade block. Even without executing a trade Mitch Maier is the de facto third outfielder. Mitch is the very definition of a replacement level player. He plays average defense, hits at a mediocre level (.311 wOBA), wasn’t a vaunted prospect, and is projected by Oliver (.300 wOBA), ZiPS (.313 wOBA), and scouts to remain thoroughly mediocre. I don’t understand how that prevents the Royals from starting Alex Gordon, but I’m hardly the first observer baffled by The Process. It’s not a service time issue since Gordon is in no danger of becoming a Super 2. Perhaps the remaining trio of Callaspo, Betemit, and Bloomquist have something to do with it…Seriously, that’s how out of excuses I am.

We should have seen Alex Gordon back in those powder blues sometime last week. Or the week before that. Or at least tomorrow. For what it’s worth, Dayton Moore is saying it won’t be anytime soon. Back when I wrote the Buster Posey article, Brian Sabean was making similar statements. Thankfully, those ended up being a smoke screen. I hope that Dayton’s comments also turn out to be a smoke screen, although I worry they won’t.

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  1. Brad Johnson said...

    I didn’t realize he was so far along in his rehab stint. Nevertheless, Mitch Maier has been blocking Alex Gordon for the past couple weeks. Ankiel makes Gordon’s path back to the bigs murkier, but it still should be as simple as waiting for DeJesus to be traded.

  2. geo said...

    I understand the clamor for Gordon’s return to the majors, but those touting his offensive numbers at AAA need to realize that they still scream “small sample size.”  He still has had a total of only 284 AAA plate appearances.  Also, it strikes me that a large part of goal of this minor league stay is to allow Gordon to recover some of his lost confidence through an extended period of mashing.  The Royals did wrong by him earlier in his career by rushing him to the majors; I see nothing wrong in them trying to do it right this time.

  3. BenF said...

    There are a ton of stupid reasons for keeping him down (most of which you list), but there is ONE reason—that may or not make sense—the “Process” purveyors can point to that we can’t really argue against: that he is still working on his swing, eliminating a hole and shortening it overall.  We can debate whether that’s a legitimate reason to keep him in AAA, but at least it’s defensible, unlike every other reason (especially Jose Guillen, Scott Podsednik, and Rick AnKiel).

  4. Brad Johnson said...

    Fair points Geo and BenF. In this specific case, I’m not sure what’s gained by letting Gordon work against lesser talent. If this were another team and another situation I might say differently, but the Royals are using guys who have no place in their future in the OF, service time/money is unaffected, and by now Gordon’s confidence is going to be about as high as it will get.

    It’s also hard to believe that Gordon will learn to fix a hole in his swing by facing guys who are apparently incapable of exploiting it.

    Honestly, I understand the demotion, I understand keeping him down this long, but at some point when you give somebody a punitive demotion and they hit .360/.500/.700 over close to 200 PA’s a promotion should be considered.

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