The Enigmatic Case of Clint Robinson
Sometimes the logic behind player personnel decisions goes beyond what conventional wisdom tells us. Why, for example, have the Tampa Bay Rays had such success in developing pitchers, while the New York Yankees have not? On other occasions we’ll see a position player have success at every level throughout the organization, and yet seemingly can never catch a break?
Once such player has been on my mind for awhile, Kansas City’s Clint Robinson.
Robinson once again finds himself biding his time in Triple A, with the Omaha Storm Chasers, blocked by Eric Hosmer at first base and Billy Butler at designated hitter with the Royals, which is no fault of Robinson’s. Butler is an All-Star and Hosmer will be, so there’s no qualms about playing behind guys who you should be playing behind.
But there’s clearly no light at the end of the tunnel for him in KC, either, and with the Royals rapidly climbing the improvement ladder, why not flip Robinson for a dependable starting pitcher?
Robinson, 27, was the Royals 25th round pick out of Troy University in the 2007 draft. Signing pretty quickly, Robinson went to Rookie level Idaho Falls in the Pioneer League and promptly led the league in RBI’s while hitting .336.
The next two years would be a mix of success and failure. A dead ball hitter when he signed out of college, Robinson hit just .264 at LoA Burlington, pitchers kept pounding the outer half on him and he was slow to adjust. He made strides towards improving the next year in Wilmington, his average rose to .298 but he posted his career low in homers with 13.
Everything came together in 2010, however. Now able to hit the ball the other way without losing his pull side effectiveness, Robinson won the Double A Texas League Triple Crown with a .335/29/98 slash, while also leading the league in SLG, OPS, Total Bases and doubles.
Robinson kept on going in 2011, leading Omaha to the Pacific Coast League Championship, hitting .336 while finishing third in hits and fourth in total bases.
As we sit here so far in 2012 through 40 games, Robinson is hitting .313 for Omaha, and is out of two hundred qualifying Triple A hitters is one of just eleven who have walked more than they have struck out. As a matter of fact, Robinson has never struck out even ninety times in a season, remarkable for a big, strong guy, but that just points to his being a great hitter with power, not just a great power hitter.
Where Robinson is lacking is on defense, unfortunately this area is Billy Butler’s achilles heel as well. Failed experiments in left field and at first base have relegated Butler to full time DH duty, and the reasonably priced contract extension he signed before the 2011 season will keep him in the role for another three seasons.
Back ten years ago, the Cleveland Indians had a big, defensively challenged first baseman in their system they couldn’t find a spot for. Unable to beat out even the equally leather challenged Ben Broussard, the Indians turned Travis Hafner into their full time DH, and over the next four seasons he would average 28 homers and 107 RBI.
Going back even a bit further than that, the Minnesota Twins had a decent stick, no glove first baseman named David Arias they, too, couldn’t find room for. Letting him go, Arias went to Boston, changed his name to Ortiz, and he would post his first career 30 homer, 100 RBI season at the age of 27.
Robinson’s a big, strong, 6’5″ 225 pound man, but even he can’t budge a door that is seemingly stuck for him. Hopefully, as was the case with Hafner and Ortiz, someone will come around and provide the boost he needs.
The market for first baseman with questionable defensive skills is never very good, it’s just as easy to move someone you already have playing another position in your own system. You don’t have to give up a player, nor pay a waiver fee.
Forgive me for not checking first, but I believe Robinson will be a six-year minor league free agent following the 2012 season, and while I personally hope he gets a chance to be part of the re-buliding in Kansas City, I’d much rather he becomes the next David Ortiz.