Friday, January 11, 2008

Royals Insider: Esteban German

After a brief two-day vacation, Royals Insider chugs forth with our ninth biography, this one focusing on utilityman Esteban German. Before looking at his 2007 results with the club, we must, as always, delve into his still brief professional career.

A native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, the birthplace of many current and former Royals, including Mendy Lopez, Runelvys Hernandez, and even the almighty "HWSNBM", Angel Berroa, German was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Oakland Athletics in 1996. At the mere age of 17, German would wait one entire season before beginning his organizational career.

In 1998, German immediately proved himself as a viable contact hitter with exceptional plate discipline skills and overwhelming speed. He won the Arizona League All-Star award for second base that season. Billy Beane's drafting of German was a classic move on his part, as German drew an astounding 102 walks in 128 games in 1999. In 2000, German regressed dramatically at the plate, hitting a combined .256/.357/.344 in 133 total games for the Visalia Oaks and Midland RockHounds. Perhaps most pleasing was his league-leading 78 stolen bases, which combined with eight caught stealings, made the young second baseman would become the most revered base-stealer, and base-runner, in the Minor Leagues. In 2001, he performed respectably in Midland (.284/.397/.415), but fared much better in Class-AAA Sacramento (.947 OPS in 38 games). German would then spend the next three seasons playing primarily in Sacramento, while receiving September call-ups with the Athletics.

It appeared that the once-revered contact-hitting and base-stealing prospect had settled permanently into a second-fiddle role, as Mark Ellis was clearly the Athletics' prime second baseman. He had become the Athletics' version of Justin Huber, a Minor League commodity who deserves consistent playing time at the major league level, but just can't find a team to grant him that time. After a .313/.400/.423 season with the Oklahoma RedHawks, the Texas Rangers' AAA affiliate, German would again see time in September with the big club.
And, thus, out stepped Allard Baird! The Royals' G.M. had previously scored big in Rule V two out of the last three years, landing such one and two-year successes as D.J. Carrasco (2002-03) and Andrew Sisco (2004-05). The Royals selected Minor League pitcher Fabio Castro, and then swapped him to the Texas Rangers for German. In turn, he continued Baird's successful trend in a notable way, connecting for a .326/.422/.459/.881 line in 279 at-bats in 2006. Although his fielding was poor to mediocre, German had finally found his niche in the Major League level - a Chone Figgins-like supersubstitute. At a league-minimum salary ($330,000, to be exact), he arguably became one of the most valuable Royals, dollar for dollar.

Under the regime of Dayton Moore in 2007, German, like seemingly the rest of the offense, regressed fairly dramatically, as he saw his on-base plus slugging-percentage plummet by an overwhelming 154 points. However, his .727 OPS proved tolerable for the role-player that he was, or had become. His defense remained stagnant, and he received less time in the outfield and more time strictly at second base, proving that the organizational depth at both locations had increased at least marginally under "GMDM."

In his two seasons with the Royals overall, German has solidified himself to that utility/backup role. He seems to enjoy it, becoming a "clubhouse type" when not playing; instructing hitters and cheering them on from the top stand of the bench. His mediocre at best defensive abilities can be overcome by his ability to hit for solid contact, and implement exceptional plate discipline and an average yet declining running game.

Go git 'em, Estey!
These are my 2008 projections for our 29-year old infielder:
GS/G: 51/89
AB: 253
H: 74
AVG: .292
OBP: .380
SLG: .387
OPS: .767
1B: 55
2B: 13
3B: 4
HR: 2
RBI: 31
R: 38
TB: 101
BB: 35
K: 49
SB: 9
CS: 3
OPS+: 103
On-field performance:
Regresses significantly from 2007: 20%
Repeats 2007 form: 35%
Reverts to 2006 form: 40%
Breakout season (.300/.400/.400): 5%
Injury contingency:
Injured for 15 days or more: 15%
Chances traded/dropped before Opening Day: 35%
Chances traded at 2008 Trade Deadline: 15%
Chances released mid-season: 5%
Job allocation:
Utility infielder/reserve: 95%
Starting second baseman: 5%
- Exceptional poise and discipline at the plate (career .87 BA/OBP split)
- Solid contact, line-drive, and singles hitter (.286 career BA)
- Ability to lefties exceptionally well (.296/.382/.433 vs. lefties career) coincides
- Mediocre at best range factor, glove, and instincts at second base.
- While ideal in "super-sub" role offensively, his defensive skills beyond second base are borderline unsatisfactory. (Career Fd% of .964 with a 3.41 RF/G as 2B in 106 career games). German should absolutely not be overexposed as a non-second baseman.
- Once-exceptional baserunning and basestealing ability now decidedly below average (-0.97 Equivalent Stolen Base runs, according to this study).
German turned 29 on December 26, and therefore still safely sits in the prime of his career. Although two previous organizations had passed on German as "the answer" in the middle infield, I still feel German could provide Mark Grudzielanek-like valuable as an everyday second baseman. However, that scenario is not likely to happen. After trading top-five prospect Billy Buckner for Diamondbacks middle infielder Alberto Callaspo in December, he is probably confined to the only role he has known and loved throughout his brief Major League career. German enters his first year under salary arbitration this season, and will probably safely and respectably contribute. Although he provides below average defense, he's still a valuable asset off the bench, and can play a variety of positions in a pinch.

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