Royals' Cuthbert Credits His Corn Island Roots

SURPRISE, ARIZ.—Sixty-four Royals minor leaguers gathered on a back field at the team's complex on a warm, sunny February afternoon for the start of the organization's minor league mini-camp. The remainder of the minor leaguers were scheduled to arrive a few weeks later for full-scale workouts, but on this day it was the cream of crop from one of baseball's best farm systems. Coaches and administrators took turns delivering their message to the group, talking primarily about rules, regulations and expectations for the players—kind of a reading of the "Royals rules."

Standing right in the middle of the group of players was third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert, one of the Royals' brightest young prospects. For the 19-year-old native of Big Corn Island, a spot of land in the Caribbean Sea just 50 miles off the coast of Nicaragua, the lecture on the first day of mini-camp was just a refresher. Cuthbert has read the book and understands what it takes to do things the Royals way.

"I respect the rules," Cuthbert said in his lilting Creole English accent.

Cheslor Cuthbert (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
To say that Cuthbert was born to be a baseball player is a bit of an understatement. After confirming that his newborn baby's hands were big enough to be a ballplayer, Cuthbert's father immediately began planning his son's baseball career. When the younger Cuthbert reached the age when he was ready for structured competition, the father formed a four-team Little League to assure that his son had the proper competitive environment.

His efforts paid off. The Royals signed this son of a lobster fisherman/part-time baseball coach for a $1.35 million bonus during the 2009 international signing period, a record bonus for a Nicaraguan prospect.

Cuthbert made his pro debut in 2010, ranking as the No. 7 prospect in the Rookie- level Arizona League before moving up to the Rookie-level Pioneer League to finish his first year. After a strong first full season in 2011, Cuthbert's career may be ready to take off this year as he likely moves to the high Class A Carolina League. He batted .267/.345/.397 with 13 doubles and eight home runs in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League as an 18-year-old, a solid performance despite a late-season slump that affected his final numbers.

Cuthbert's advanced hitting skills separate him from other hitters his age, most notably his pitch recognition and ability to work the count, as well as good bat speed. His approach at the plate is something that's been taught and refined over the years. But it's also a skill that comes naturally to Cuthbert, according to his 2011 minor league manager.

"There are just some guys that were born to be major league hitters," said former big league catcher Vance Wilson, who is also expected to manage Cuthbert at high Class A Wilmington this year. "He looks like a big league hitter mechanically. Some of it's coaching, some of it's the Royals, but some guys are just born to have the proper mechanics . . . I'm convinced of it, and he's one of them.

"His legs go first, he has such good hip rotation, and he keeps his hands back. The way his bat comes through, it's as efficient and short as it can be."

Cuthbert also has a plan to avoid the kind of slump that dropped his OPS more than 100 points during the last month of the 2011 season.

"I was doing well and then I lost some timing," Cuthbert said, "and my bat speed wasn't the same. I started missing pitches . . . This year if it happens again I will try to make adjustments (and) let the ball reach me more instead of going looking."

Wilson added it's normal for young players to struggle in their first full season as they adjust to the grind of professional baseball. The most important lesson to be learned is to stay focused and get the appropriate rest, and he believes Cuthbert now knows how to prepare for a long season.

Cuthbert's ability to make adjustments at the plate also will serve him well as he advances through the minor league system.

"The biggest thing for me was his adjustments pitch to pitch," Wilson said. "He's able to pay attention to what the pitcher's doing to him, and when he got two strikes he hung in there and battled, took the ball the other way, and was a tough out."

Some observers have questioned whether Cuthbert can stay at third base, but members of the Royals organization have no doubt that he'll be at the hot corner for a long time.

"I think he's a very underrated third baseman," Wilson said. "He gets great jumps, he's got great hands. He's got plenty of arm strength to throw the ball across the field, and he's accurate. He will not grow out of third base and has the ability to be a very, very above-average third baseman in the major leagues."

Listed at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Cuthbert likely will get bigger. His goal is to keep his weight in the 190-200-pound range. He works with a trainer in the offseason, and he spends a lot of time running in the sand to strengthen his legs. Big Corn Island has about 7,000 residents and measures just 3.9 square miles, so Cuthbert doesn't have far to travel to find beachfront property on which to continue his offseason training regimen.

Between his advanced hitting skills, bat speed and dedication to keeping in shape, Cuthbert should have a bright future.

"I expect him to do great things," said Wilson. "He's a special kid. He has those special things that those special players have."