Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Royals Insider: Mitch Maier

Today on Royals Insider, we analyze the current Omaha Royals center fielder, Mitch Maier.


Maier was selected as a supplemental pick in the first round of the 2003 amateur entry draft by General Manager Allard Baird and the Royals. Maier had posted overwhelming offensive statistics in the University of Toledo, drilling 14 home runs his sophomore year and posting a 1.216 OPS in 194 at-bats his junior season. Maier had won a slew of awards in college, including but not limited to:

- Freshman first team All-America (as catcher)
- Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year
- Mid-American Conference All-Star (three times as catcher)
- 1st team College All-American DH (2003)

After posting an overwhelming .350/.403/.507 line his first half-season in the Royals organization (2003), he appeared destined for greatness at the Major League level. The following offseason, the Royals did not view him as a candidate behind the plate, and therefore moved him to third base. Offensively, Maier performed considerably well in Class-A Burlington and Class-A+ Wilmington, but his defense at third base was disastrous at best. In 2004, he committed 21 combined errors in 109 games at the hot corner, posting fielding percentages of .903 and .938 between the two affiliates. After realizing the Maier-at-third scenario would not suffice, the Royals front office converted him to outfield. They believed that his raw speed (48 stolen bases combined in college) to outfield range. After posting a .953 OPS in High Desert in 2005, Maier was promoted to Wichita mid-season, but experienced his first major setback within the organization. In 2006, he posted a .306/.357/.473 line in Wichita, but experienced another major setback in 2007, seeing his stolen base total diminish to a mere seven, and OPS fall by over 80 points. After going hitless in fifteen at-bats in Spring Training, Maier performed merely 'acceptably' in an everyday role in center field in southeastern Nebraska.

At this point, most scouts project Maier as a fourth outfielder in the Major Leagues. Entering his prime, it is probably a safe bet to say Maier could still prove that he can rake AAA pitchers, but his upside appears limited at this point. Recently, Baseball America ranked him the 23rd best Royals prospect, a far cry from his pre-2007 status and a disappointing ranking for a first round draft pick. Maier can provide acceptable center field defense in a pinch, but does not provide the necessary power or plate discipline to be realistically considered an eventual successor to David DeJesus in the spacious center field at Kauffman Stadium. Also, his diminishing speed (his stolen base totals have declined from 44 to 16 to 13 to 7 the last four years) and ability to avoid the strikeout (90, 96, and 89 K's, respectively, the last three seasons) hinder his ability drastically. He will also turn 26 years of age in June.

I will make an adventurous prediction for Maier this season. I believe he will provide considerably more power this season in Omaha. However, the power will be offset by his usual attributes: lack of plate discipline, declining speed, and merely average range and instincts in the outfield. His improvement in Nebraska will warrant an early-September recall, but, like fellow Omaha-ites Justin Huber and Chris Lubanski, his playing time will likely (once again) be limited to the occasional afternoon start.

I believe we can expect the following from the left-handed hitter in 2008:

AAA Omaha:
GS/G: 100/106
BA: .281
OBP: .327
SLG: .465
HR: 19
RBI: 62
R: 80
BB: 34
K: 79

KANSAS CITY: (September call-up)
GS/G: 2/4
BA: .200
OBP: .275
SLG: .340
HR: 0
RBI: 0
SB: 0
(Warning! Small sample size alert!)

- Acceptable arm and instincts in center field (range factor consistently in upper 2's)
- Translates raw speed into above average baserunning ability
- Possesses average power from the center field position

- Will turn 26 on June 30, which is considerably old even for an on-the-verge prospect.
- Lack of plate discipline combined with potentially acceptable power doesn't necessarily make him a viable candidate in any batting order
- Declining speed (SB/CS statistics the last 4 years: 43:12, 16:4, 13:12, 7:2)
- Inability to hit offspeed pitches

On-field performance:
Significant dropoff from 2007: 10%
Repeats 2007 form: 40%
Improves from 2007: 50%

Injury contingency:
Injured for 15 days or more: 10%

Chances traded or dropped before Opening Day: 5%
Chances traded or dropped mid-season: 15%

Job allocation:
Omaha starting outfielder: 80%
Splits 2007 between Omaha and Kansas City: 15%
Full-time backup in Kansas City: 5%

(Obviously, Maier's outfield position will hinge on whether Joey Gathright starts the season in Omaha or in Kansas City).

Keith at The Royal Tower summarizes Mitch Maier quite well:

Take: Maier has had a wildly inconsistent minor league career. He's been compared to Mark Kotsay in the past for his offensive and defensive skills, but it's very iffy at this point to whether he'll live up to that billing or not. A little more plate discipline would go a long way for Maier, but as a 25-year-old, it's not likely to get any better. That said, he could make for an ideal fourth outfielder in the future -- with the ability to play all the outfield positions, run the bases well, and provide a little pop as a pinch hitter.

Unfortunately, that's about what Maier's upside currently is: that of a good fourth outfielder. His inability to dominate against pitchers with one hand does not make him an ideal platoon candidate, and he possesses no one outstanding tool which can even make him a viable #8 or #9 hitter. I do believe Maier will improve in AAA next season, but that probably won't be enough to unseat Jose Guillen, David DeJesus, or Mark Teahen in the Royals outfield on a permanent basis. As a fourth outfielder, he would come dirt cheap for at least three seasons, forcing the Royals to not try a Ross Gload experiment after 2009 (an experiment that may cost upwards of $1.5 million plus).

It will be interesting to see where Maier can improve in 2008, as I believe he will.

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