SEATTLE -- Cheslor Cuthbert is aware that he’s vying for valuable playing time at a point in his career when such an opportunity in the coming weeks could be uncertain.
Cuthbert has been the fill-in third baseman for Hunter Dozier while the All-Star candidate recovers from a thorax injury on his right side, but Dozier played the second game on his rehab assignment on Tuesday and will return soon. Dozier is an everyday player and the best hitter in the Royals’ lineup. But the Royals have played him at first base some, and Cuthbert has the ability to play there, too, which lends credence to the notion that if Cuthbert performs offensively in the coming weeks, he could stick around.
“Just playing, every day you learn more about baseball and to know what kind of ability you have,” Cuthbert said. “I just try to continue to be consistent and try to help the team and just keep moving forward. ... It was really hard to get back, so I want to stay.”
After slashing .274/.318/.413 over 510 plate appearances in ’16, Cuthbert hit .215/.278/.313 over the following two seasons, which led the club to designate him for assignment in January. He wound up joining the Royals in Spring Training as a non-roster invitee, with the hopes of recreating the offensive production that led to his first MLB opportunity. He also played 56 games in the Mexican Pacific Winter League for nearly two months last offseason.
While he’s with the big league club, Cuthbert is utilizing the staff’s analytics reports more to digest scouting reports and information at a more detailed level than those afforded in the Minors. Working closely with quality control coach Pedro Grifol and hitting coach Terry Bradshaw -- who has worked with Cuthbert since he held his previous role as Minor League hitting coordinator -- has helped Cuthbert create a better plan for each at-bat.
“He's already performed here. It's just a matter of getting his mind right and putting him in a good position to hit,” Grifol said. “Making sure that he's aware of who's pitching against him that day, what they're going to try to do to him, and that's what he's been doing. In reality, preparing him for a game is the most important part of his day, and he's doing that very well.”
Cuthbert’s challenges have been most illuminated with a lack of consistent playing time. He showed credible big league production in 2016 when filling in as the Royals’ everyday third baseman after Mike Moustakas tore his right ACL just 43 games into the season. But when Moustakas returned in ’17 and Cuthbert’s playing time dwindled, so did his production.
To be sure, Cuthbert also suffered a lower back strain last season that sidelined him and curtailed his performance, and he spent the offseason creating more core strength to help ease the demands on his back.
“He got hurt. He couldn't get it together. I just wanted to see him get back to where he was,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. "I think lack of playing time that really affected him more than anything. That's tough on a young guy. It’s a big opportunity [now]. A really big opportunity for him. He needs to take advantage of it. He’s got a second chance.”
Dozier’s rehab off to positive start
Dozier hit a two-run double during the third inning on Monday for Double-A Northwest Arkansas, as part of a 1-for-4 night. Dozier also grounded into a double play during his first at-bat, flied out to right in his third at-bat and struck out on a foul tip in his final trip to the plate. He played the entire game at third base and hit third.
On Tuesday, Dozier singled in his first at-bat as the designated hitter while hitting second in the order.
Dozier, who has been out since May 30 with a right oblique injury, is expected to play again on Wednesday, then return to Kansas City on Thursday for the birth of his second child. He’ll then join Omaha to continue his rehab assignment over the weekend, at which point the Royals will determine next steps toward a return.
Royals sign more Draft picks
The Royals announced on Tuesday that they’ve signed 26 of their 41 Draft picks, including their first eight selections and 14 of the first 15 picks. A full list of the Draft picks that Kansas City has signed can be found here.