In some ways, Jesus Aguilar is the perfect Indians prospect. Not in his abilities, but in how his prospect status is comparable to the Indians of the last few years.
- Fans want to look at Aguilar’s triple slash of .280/.372/.461 with 15 home runs in 2012 and say:”Hey! This guy is really good! Aguilar’s the next big thing!” When really his ceiling doesn’t stack up to more than a couple years of an average first baseman in the majors (if that).
- Fans want to point to Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera and say: “Hey! We got good young position players while Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson can’t possible be any worse! This is our year!”
The latter doesn’t seem to have happened up to this point, suggesting a bleak outlook for the former case.
The reason Aguilar is so low on this list and my view of him so harsh is because of his defense, both in his position and the quality of his play there. Aguilar is a below-average defensive first baseman who doesn’t show much promise of becoming even league-average with his glove by the time he reaches Cleveland. And while yes, his numbers the past two years have looked impressive, they really aren’t when you take into account that he’s a first baseman.
Let me explain. A players value is not just determined by his production, but how the skill set at his position relates to that production. This is why WAR calculations are adjusted by position. A shortstop who hits 15 home runs gets All-Star consideration; a first baseman with 15 home runs is out of a job. You need to him to hit at least .290 with 35 home runs to even start being talked up as elite.
Some reading this article is probably mumbling under his or her breath over how I’m an idiot because Aguilar not only participated in, but started for the World Team at the 2012 MLB Futures All Star Game, a showcase event for the top prospect in the minors. “Yeah Geordy! How do you explain that?!” Well anonymous critic, name a top prospect that plays only first base right now? Exactly.
First base is devoid of talent throughout the minor leagues because teams are all trying to keep their top guys in corner outfield spots or at third base to maximize their value. Again, batting .290 with 30 home runs makes for an average first baseman on a contending team but an All-Star at most other positions. A move to first base is generally a last resort in a prospect’s development, and a lot of MLB first basemen end up there after being bumped from another position. C.J. Cron, the Angels’ first-round pick in the 2011 draft, is the only other first base prospect with a solid Major League future ahead of him, and even he was left off most Top 100 lists this winter after he hit 27 home runs last year (nearly twice as many as Aguilar).
But don’t let me completely sour you on Aguilar, I still see a couple of solid years of production out of him in the Major Leagues, perhaps with him becoming an everyday regular around 2015. The 22-year-old still has a solid eye, though he does tend to strike out a lot. His power could also project to around 25 home runs if given a full-time gig at first base or DH.
Again, I’m not saying Aguilar is useless, but many fans in Cleveland are overvaluing him greatly after his back-to-back strong seasons. This is a guy who has only 20 games above High-A under his belt and he has already shown a tendency to strike out a lot; advanced pitching could exploit that even more. But the power is legit, and a lack of first base/designated hitter depth in the organization (Chun-Hsiu Chen lost his power stroke, devaluing his stock greatly, and Mark Reynolds is on a one-year deal) could push Aguilar through the higher levels of the minors based on need if he holds up there.
A cup of coffee in 2014 isn’t out of the question for Aguilar, and he could plausibly ascend to a regular role in 2015. But don’t expect production above the league average from him down the road.
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