Prospect Watch: Kila Ka’aihue

Over two months into the season, the OPS leader in the International League is Kila Ka’aihue, and it’s not particularly close. Ka’aihue’s 1.073 OPS is 60 points better than Omaha Royals teammate Alex Gordon, and only J.P. Arencibia joins them with a OPS above 1.000.

Kila Ka’aihue is 26 years old. In over 2800 minor league plate appearances, Ka’aihue has compiled an OBP above .400 and an .880 OPS. Last season at AAA, Ka’aihue walked his way to a .392 OBP and a .825 OPS – Ka’aihue walked over 100 times in less than 600 plate appearances. He had a poor .272 BABIP, too – adjusting for luck and park, according to Minor League Splits, gives him a 2009 line of .293/.424/.474.

He’s made a huge step forward this year. The BABIP is up to a more typical AAA number of .341. He’s walking even more – Ka’aihue has walked 74 times in 307 plate appearances, a 24.1% walk rate which is easily the highest in all of professional baseball, easily eclipsing MLB leader (>100 PA) George Kottaras‘s 18.6% rate. The power is up as well, as Ka’aihue has 32 XBH including 16 HRs, good for a .283 ISO.

Ka’aihue has been, simply put, the best hitter in the minor leagues in 2010. At age 26, it’s unlikely that he has much left to learn, and the Royals have been the third worst power hitting team in the league, with a .120 ISO. Ka’aihue (along with Gordon) would seem to be a perfect shot in the arm for a struggling offense.

There are two possible reasons for the Royals leaving Ka’aihue in the minors: first, they simply don’t believe that he’s good enough to hit major league pitching, or second, they don’t believe he fits in the roster as currently constructed.

Given Kila’s fantastic season to date, I find the first to be hard to believe. There was certainly an argument to leaving him in the minors to start the season – ZiPS projected a mere .319 wOBA, and CHONE projected a .333 wOBA, neither of which is good enough given Ka’aihue’s position and questionable defensive skills. However, given Kila’s massive step forward in AAA, there’s reason to believe he can put up a solid, .350+ wOBA in the Major Leagues. His updated ZiPS projection is already up 16 points since the season started.

With many of these AAA players that we rave about (Alex Gordon, Matt Murton, etc.), the damning evidence against them is typically a season or two or marginal MLB performance. That excuse simply isn’t there with Ka’aihue – he’s received a total of 28 Major League plate appearances. At 26, he should still be on the good side of his peak. Yes, there’s a possibility that he flames out in the Major Leagues, but perhaps he rakes and becomes a stalwart .380+ wOBA first baseman – even a .350 wOBA Russell Branyan type would have value.

The second reason carries a bit more weight: Billy Butler and Jose Guillen, the primary 1B and DH, have two of the three best batting lines on the team. Butler’s .376 wOBA is only second to David DeJesus, and Guillen’s .349 comes third. Ideally, the team finds a trading partner for Guillen, but that probably won’t happen given his awful contract. It’s possible that the team could bench Mitch Maier and his .312 wOBA in CF, shift DeJesus there, play Guillen in right, and let Ka’aihue DH. However, this would leave the Royals with a terrible defensive outfield with Scott Podsednik in left field.

The solution for the Royals really isn’t that simple. Guillen is playing too well to simply jettison, and Butler is one of the team’s best players. It seems that Ka’aihue will have to continue paying his dues in Omaha, even though he’s clearly among the best hitters in the league and well deserving of a legitimate shot in the Majors. Still, it’s getting late for Ka’aihue, at 26, and the Royals should do whatever they can to get him in their lineup at this point.



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Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.


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PJ
Guest
6 years 17 days ago

Dude deserved a call-up LAST YEAR! I don’t know how the Royals think they are in a position to let a prospect rot in the minors.

KowboyKoop
Guest
KowboyKoop
6 years 17 days ago

The reason is that DM is simply not very smart when it comes to evaluating offensive players. End of discussion.

hk
Guest
hk
6 years 17 days ago

It seems as if other GM’s might recognize his value, even if GMDM doesn’t. What I don’t understand is why they don’t trade him.

Jason
Guest
Jason
6 years 17 days ago

Dayton works on this premise: 1)Anyone who he acquires, especially if they have played in Atlanta, must be historically bad in order to lose PT (Tony Pena Jr, Mendoza, Colon, Davies). 2) Anyone selected by Allard Baird must put up great numbers to play or keep playing (Butler, Aviles, Greinke, Kaaihue, Gordon) in the likely event of 1).

Edwincnelson
Member
Edwincnelson
6 years 16 days ago

I agree that there really isn’t a place for him in the majors now but to let him steadily lose value in the minors makes no sense. Every game he spends in AAA is money and talent lost to the Royals ML team.

philosofool
Member
Member
philosofool
6 years 16 days ago

Thank you for writing an article that doesn’t just assume that Dayton Moore is incredibly stupid. While I have no doubt that Moore isn’t a great GM, isn’t a great reasoner, etc., the level of stupidity that people want to assign to him is beyond belief. Moore’s problem is that he’s ignorant of sabermetrics, and culpably so.

Nevertheless, I think you’re right about the real issue here: it’s Guillen. Moore doesn’t get sunk costs (80% of people don’t, so don’t have a fit about this.) Guillen is owed $12m this year. It therefore doesn’t make sense to Moore that he would assign Guillen a bench role to play Ka’aihue. End of story.

Besides, what do the Royals get out of playing Ka’aihue now besides lost service time?

Jeff P
Guest
Jeff P
6 years 16 days ago

He’s 26, are you really going to be worried about his age 32 season if you are the Royals. He’s probably better now then he will be 4-5 years from now, and appreciably so.

You would think someone like the Angels who have been rolling Mike Napoli out at first could use him.

philosofool
Member
Member
philosofool
6 years 16 days ago

Look, I’m not saying Dayton Moore is a genius. He’s not. He’d probably struggle to get into a good state university. Whatever.

The probability that the Royals will be in playoff contention 6 years from now are about 17%. The base rate for a team in a 5 team division is 20%, Royals get a small penalty for being poor, which also almost certainly eliminates them from wild card hopes. Their playoff chances now are between 1 and 2 percent So, yeah, I think it would make sense for the Royals to worry about his age thirty-two season.

Neil
Guest
Neil
6 years 16 days ago

The Royals would be insane to be worrying about Kila’s age 32 season. If they’re thinking THAT long-term, then they should try this instead – worry about the kind of value that OTHER teams see in Kila’s age 26-31 seasons. And then flip him for some prospects whose age and build don’t hint that they’re likely to already be in noticeable decline in 6 years.

philosofool
Member
Member
philosofool
6 years 16 days ago

Why, Niel? What are they getting now? What are they getting next year?

Answer: a club that sucks this much is just wasting service time. It doesn’t matter how much you’re discounting the future. The present is a loss. Accept it. Plan for the future.

I’m not talking about past decisions, like caring about how much they’re paying Guillen. I’m talking about now. There’s nothing that the Royal can change to get more out of Ka’aihue.

And it’s just plainly false that there’s nothing to worry about six years down the road if the present is totally meaningless.

Adam
Guest
Adam
6 years 16 days ago

philosofool,

You are staying true to your name. Yes, this year is lost for the Royals. That’s exactly when you give youngsters some seasoning in the majors. It does take adjustment time for many players when they first come up to the majors and actually play, so if he has some talent, why not do this during a lost season? I don’t think his age 32 season is enough to worry about if bringing him up now will help him next season.

KowboyKoop
Guest
KowboyKoop
6 years 16 days ago

What do they get out of Ka’aihue by playing him now?!?!??

Uhhhhh….maybe they could play him in order to find out if he’s actually any good or not? Just a thought.

Dayton Moore, when it comes to evaluating major league offense, is stupid. Doesn’t mean he’s stupid in all or other areas of baseball or life, but it is PAINFULLY OBVIOUS that when it comes to evaluating major league position players…he is simply clueless. It’s not even remotely debatable.

philosofool
Member
Member
philosofool
6 years 16 days ago

There’s nothing urgent about finding out whether he can play well against major league pitchers. Nothing.

Paul
Guest
Paul
6 years 16 days ago

@philosofool: Completely disagree. When you are two decades in to historic mediocrity, I think there is absolutely urgency in finding out whether or not one of your players, the leading hitter in the minors, can hit MLB pitching. Every day Jose Guillen is in the starting lineup is a day that they signal that a two decade run of mediocrity is in any way acceptable, since that’s what they’ve been doing all this time. It’s symbolic as much as it is about the player, and it amazes me that a local guy who grew up rooting for the team doesn’t get that. This is a massive failure to me, 100% on Moore, plain and simple.

rickie weeks
Guest
rickie weeks
6 years 16 days ago

Umm, pretty sure Guillen doesn’t qualify as a sunk cost. Bad investment, yeah. But (this season) they are still extracting value from him, even if it’s not worth the contract. A sunk cost has no chance of recovering anything.

Ben F
Guest
Ben F
6 years 11 days ago

rickie,
Welcome to the 80%. The money’s been spent; it is gone; there is no getting that money back, which makes it a “sunk” cost.

EDogg1438
Guest
EDogg1438
6 years 16 days ago

This guy has Edgar Martinez written all over him. He has no real position defensively but he can absolutely rake. Because of his lack of position, it will take him until his late 20’s to get a real shot in the majors and even if he plays until he’s 40, his career is going to seem short.

Gingerbread Jameson
Guest
Gingerbread Jameson
6 years 16 days ago

It just doesn’t matter if the Royals defensive lineup is bad. They aren’t going anywhere this year, they might as well play him and see how good he is.

A team like the Royals should be trying to field a winning team four years from now. Putting Grienke on the trade market would make sense too, as there’s no way they are going to resign him, and there’s no way they’ll be good before he’s gone. If there’s a motherload of prospects to be fetched, it’s for a pitcher whose going to get a team between 10 and 18 WAR over two years, who is locked in well below what the market would bare.

philosofool
Member
Member
philosofool
6 years 16 days ago

What do they get out of playing him now? Is there some urgent need they’re dealing with?

I think you may be right about Greinke. The big question about him is whether he could be a better trade candidate in the future since this season hasn’t gone well.

Not David
Guest
Not David
6 years 16 days ago

No losing team should ever play any prospects, what would they get out of it? They should leave them all in the minors indefinitely until the day the team magically becomes good and all those prospects can finally contribute something meaningful.

HalIncandenza
Guest
HalIncandenza
6 years 16 days ago

Aren’t the Omaha Royals in the PCL? It makes a big difference because the international league is a pitcher’s league with a much lower avg OPS.

PJ
Guest
6 years 16 days ago

And just like the doctor ordered, Jose Guillen left last nights game with a “serious” leg injury.

God
Guest
God
6 years 16 days ago

Ask and ye shall receive. Now, who else must I smite in order to free Kila?

UZR is a Joke
Guest
UZR is a Joke
6 years 16 days ago

Where were you two months ago?

Paul
Guest
Paul
6 years 16 days ago

Wilson Betemit… no wait, they need him to take ABs away from Callaspo.

this guy
Guest
this guy
6 years 16 days ago

“There are two possible reasons for the Royals leaving Ka’aihue in the minors: first, they simply don’t believe that he’s good enough to hit major league pitching, or second, they don’t believe he fits in the roster as currently constructed.”

Incorrect. This is about manipulating service time at the cost of the integrity of the sport (which the Royals clearly don’t understand. Not saying they should understand. Just stating the obvious.). Nothing more. It’s a tragic loophole in the current labor agreement. What’s worse is that as long as MLB is willing to pay guys like Aaron Rowand and Eric Byrnes absurd amounts of money to be terrible, and as long as masses of fans are willing to surrender genuine purchasing power to watch such pathetic performance, there is no urgency/incentive to correct this flaw in the system. Fortunately, the world continues to churn new deficiencies that do much more damage to the quality of life of humanity, thus creating a context in which such a waste of talent is acceptable.

BobLoblaw
Guest
BobLoblaw
6 years 16 days ago

Nah. They promoted Alex Gordon right out of spring training back in ’07.

this guy
Guest
this guy
6 years 16 days ago

Gordon was given a pretty big bonus. There was an incentive to shorten the duration on that investment.

BobLoblaw
Guest
BobLoblaw
6 years 16 days ago

“There was certainly an argument to leaving him in the minors to start the season – ZiPS projected a mere .319 wOBA, and CHONE projected a .333 wOBA, neither of which is good enough given Ka’aihue’s position and questionable defensive skills.”

Oh man, gimme a break. Get over the projection systems!

this guy
Guest
this guy
6 years 16 days ago

Agreed. The projections are a joke. Just another case of human stupidity attempting to marginalize variance in order to feign credibility. This is what happens when you give stupid people numbers.

Pat
Guest
Pat
6 years 16 days ago

I’d think that another team would take a chance on Guillen if all they had to pay was the minimum and KC ate everything else. It’s only a one year cheap committment, and he’s hit well in a contract year before, and I see no reason why he can’t keep this up for the rest of the season at least. Then again, they’ve said they would eat money in a deal and still have no takers, but I feel like they have to give him away at some point and see what they have in Kila.

The Hit Dog
Guest
The Hit Dog
6 years 16 days ago

Kila should fucking sue DM and co.

Bradsbeard
Guest
Bradsbeard
6 years 16 days ago

I really wish the Cubs would trade for this guy. I’d love to see them jetison Lee and give Kila 6-8 weeks of MLB playing time to see if he could be their 1B next year. It seems like he is just there for the taking… sigh.

The issue with Kila being a long-term Royal is Eric Hosmer (356/431/551 in High-A). What Moore may be asking himself is, am I better off playing Kila this year and next (while waiting for Hosmer) and risking him floundering at the MLB level, or do I trade him when his gaudy AAA numbers will most entice another team? At least I hope he is asking himself this, because if he does neither, he is simply squandering an asset, even if all Kila nets him is a couple prospects in return.

deadpool
Guest
deadpool
6 years 16 days ago

I tend to agree that this is just a case where KC figures there’s no reason to add another MLB salary. If they’re going to lose with or without him might as well not pay him much.

As for the rags on projection systems, I tend to think there’s value there. It’s proven that the dramatic majority of the time players regress towards the mean, then improve or degrade based on age. It’s just that HR and 2b aren’t really an accurate reflection of skill, as neither are necessary and sufficient for the other. The result is that the systems pick out what underlying skill is represented by numbers and project it forward, they may miss some skill that doesn’t show up while picking up skill from another stat that really doesn’t exist.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
6 years 16 days ago

I just figured KC kept playing Guillen while he’s doing reasonably well to give him some trade value.

Daniel Berlyn
Member
Daniel Berlyn
6 years 16 days ago

The problem for the Royals long-term is that all their best young players are at corners. Hosmer, Moustakas, and Ka’aihue, and Gordon are all in the minors while Butler mans first. I can’t imagine if Ka’aihue is still on the team come next spring he’s still in the minors, but I have to feel he will get some time this year, probably for the Royals. It’s doubtful they all pan out but they’re all hitting right now.

this guy
Guest
this guy
6 years 16 days ago

Hand the organization to Kenny Williams. He would clear up this “problem” in 1 transaction. The team would be in the playoffs by 2011.

YG
Guest
YG
6 years 16 days ago

If its about money then they should trade him for more younger prospects at positions they could actually use who they can farm longer in the minors to buy them some time.

If its not about money and you feel he can’t play a corner then he needs to learn an outfield position. If he’s going to be terrible defensively one way or another might as well move someone like Dejesus to center and put him in right or left. I haven’t looked at his splits but if he mashes one type of pitcher throw him out there on those days for the weaker players. Platoon this guy if need be, short of the story, find this guy ABs anyway possible. Even if his minor league success doesn’t pan out to major league success they need to find out sooner than later.

JamesDaBear
Guest
6 years 15 days ago

Another option… trade Kila for value! They’re determined to let Butler and Guillen go with at 1b and dh. Trade Kila to a team that could use a 1b/dh for another prospect, that might eventually have a place with the Royals. At least you’d get something for him instead of waste his prime years.

CDI
Guest
CDI
6 years 9 days ago

@philosofool: this isn’t fantasy baseball, this is real life. the point of bringing up a prospect who has already dominated AAA pitching is to continue to challenge him, to see if he can develop more skills.

leaving him at a level where he has nothing left to learn does him no good at all from a development persecptive, does the club no good at all from the perspective of finding out if he can be successful at the ML level. rookies are going to struggle no matter what when they come up (go look at Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey’s first season numbers). would you rather have him struggle for half a year now while the royals are out of it, or at the start of next season when the royals might magically be competitive for some unknown reason (see: San Diego Padres).

re: sunk costs. it’s not true you can’t get something back for this guy’s contract. some other team might be willing to cover some or all of it – though I have to agree it’s *EXTREMELY* unlikely. if they *keep* Guillen, then absolutely there’s no difference payroll wise if he’s on the bench or starting every day, and a GM that doesn’t understand that (actually, any person in a position of business management) should be fired on the spot. is that what’s happening here? no idea – cuz i’m not a mind reader.

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