Monday, January 14, 2008

Royals Insider: Mario Lisson

One Royal occupying a slot on the 40-man roster whose name makes many fans respond with a resounding "who?" is Mario Lisson. Who is Mario Lisson? How did he become a Royal? What can we expect of him in the future? Let's find out on Royals Insider!

After graduating from Colegio Cervante High School, Lisson signed with the Royals as an undrafted free agent out of Caracas, Venezuela in April 2002. Lisson spent the majority of his first two professional seasons playing with the Dominican League Royals, primarily as an infielder. In fact, he was named the Dominican Royals Player of the Year for 2003. Lisson was a well-above average talent offensively, with promising tools in power, contact-hitting, plate patience, and quickness on the basepaths and in the field. After struggling mightily at shortstop throughout in Idaho Falls in 2004 (.895 fielding percentage in 50 games), Lisson was converted to a primary third baseman upon getting promoted to Class-A Burlington in 2005. His first half-season in low-rookie ball, he struggled a bit offensively, connecting for a .250/.386/.408 line in 78 games. However, in June, Lisson tore the labrum in his left shoulder, and therefore missed most of the second half.

Will Lisson prove the organization correct - or incorrect - in 2008?

However, a healthy Lisson thrust forth once again the following season, connecting for a lower OPS (.786) but stealing 41 bases in 52 attempts, drilling 30 doubles and 13 home runs in his first entire season with any Royals affiliate. Over a significant time period, Lisson proved the organization that drafted him correct, fulfilling what many scouts under the Allard Baird regime had hoped from him. His defense improved dramatically at third base, and he began to mature physically as he entered his low 20's.

In 2007, he connected for more hits (.285 batting average), but lost some plate discipline and power. However, defensively, he began to hone his skills into that of a dependable third baseman. He again implemented the speed game (23 SB's in 32 attempts). However, his declining success rate proves that he may not eventually translate his skills to the running game much longer. However, Lisson would win an award for Carolina League All-Star, as a third baseman.

In November 2007, Dayton Moore, like every Major League Baseball General Manager, was faced with critical decisions - protecting current Major Leaguers over organizational players on the 40-man roster. Lisson had spent his fifth year within the organization, and was now subject to Rule 5 law, which dictates that certain players must either be protected on the 40-man roster by a certain date or be exposed in the December draft, where any team can claim the rights to that player. Moore and the Royals opt ed to protect the young Lisson.

Unfortunately for Lisson, a potentially terrific defensive - and offensive - third baseman, Alex Gordon, stands in the way of his fulfilling his potential as a Royal at the hot corner. Given his athleticism and raw speed, a move to the outfield certainly wouldn't appear out of the option. He is probably still at least two years away from being discussed as a viable option at third base, barring an unforeseen breakthrough of epic proportions in either Northwest Arkansas or Omaha.

As for this year, I'm expecting Lisson to struggle initially in the first half with Northwest Arkansas, but establish himself once more in the second half. Here is my crystal ball for Mario Lisson's two double-oh eight:

Level: Northwest Arkansas
GS/G: 113/117
AB: 425
AVG: .271
OBP: .346
SLG: .431
HR: 10
RBI: 52
R: 46
2B: 26
3B: 3
BB: 49
K: 100
SB: 21
CS: 10

- Raw athleticism make him a viable option at a multitude of positions, from third base to outfield to second base.
- Projects as a raw doubles-power hitter in the Major Leagues

- Ever-bulking build likely won't translate to stolen base success in big leagues
- Has yet to post true breakthrough season as a Minor Leaguer, and has been relatively slow to adjust at each level

On-field performance:
Struggles mightily entire 2008: 10%
Repeats promising 2007 form: 45%
Thrusts forth in Wichita: 30%
True breakthrough season (.290/.380/.480): 15%

Injury contingency:
Spends 15 or more days on D.L.: 25%

Remains in Wichita entire season: 85%
Season split with Wilmington and Wichita: 15%

Job allocation:
Third baseman: 85%
Third baseman and outfield: 15%

I predict Lisson will essentially improve slightly upon his 2007 performance in Wilmington. It should be understood that his results could be skewed slightly from exiting a more pitching-oriented league (Carolina League) to a hitters league (Texas League). Like in Burlington, Lisson will likely be slow to adjust to Northwest Arkansas in his age 24 season, but is a safe bet to translate his raw athleticism and excellent build to moderate power from a corner infield position in 2008. Lisson remains a prominent prospect in the Royals' farm system, and time will tell if Dayton Moore's decision to protect him from the Rule 5 draft was a smart move or otherwise.

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