As a boy in his home country of Nicaragua, Cheslor Cuthbert gravitated to the position that befits most talented young baseball players: Shortstop.
Cuthbert grew up playing baseball on the fields of Big Corn Island, a chunk of land just 50 miles off the Nicaraguan coast, and for most of his teenage years, his skills were polished at shortstop. It wasn’t until he signed with the Royals, for a $1.35 million bonus in 2009, that he transitioned to third base.
In those early days, Cuthbert says, his comfort level at third base was low. His defense was a work in progress.
Nearly seven years later, Cuthbert is getting an opportunity to showcase how far his third-base skills have come. With Mike Moustakas on the disabled list with a left thumb fracture, Cuthbert probably will occupy the Royals’ starting third-base position for the next two to three weeks. On Sunday in Cleveland, he put on a defensive show, making two terrific diving stops in a 5-4 loss to the Indians.
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“We’ve got a lot of confidence in his defense,” Royals manager Ned Yost said on Monday, in the hours before a series opener at Yankee Stadium. “He’s very composed as a defender.”
And yet, with Moustakas firmly entrenched at third base for the next two seasons, Cuthbert is mostly blocked from a full-time role with the big-league club. Which leads to an intriguing question: Could Cuthbert ever be considered as a possible answer at second base?
“He’s athletic enough,” Yost said, mulling the question. “He’s played some second base in spring training. He’ll take his ground balls at third, and then take some at second.”
The Royals, of course, have considered such an experiment before. Two years ago, Cuthbert began working at second base while at Class AA Northwest Arkansas. His time at the spot, however, has been limited. He made just three starts at the position before moving back to third base (and spot starts at first base) in 2015. At 6 feet 1 and 190 pounds, he lacks above-average range and the footwork that comes with years of reps at second.
“They always tell me: ‘Keep working on second base, you never know what can happen,’” Cuthbert said. “So I’ll always take my ground balls at second base.”
For now, Cuthbert is fully comfortable at third base. But when Moustakas returns in late May, he will likely head back to Class AAA. Because of that reality, he would welcome any chance to make himself more versatile in the future.
“I feel like I have the range to play it,” Cuthbert said. “I just need to keep working and get better, like I did at third base.”
Cain feels he’s starting to click
There are tangible signs that center fielder Lorenzo Cain is starting to emerge from an April funk. Entering Monday night’s series opener in New York, Cain was batting .367 (11 for 30) during the month of May, raising his season average to .259. He recorded his first double on Sunday in a loss at Cleveland.
There are other signs, too. According to one study of batted-ball data, Cain was one of the least fortunate hitters during the first five weeks of the season. According to statistics compiled by baseball researcher Daren Willman of MLB.com, Cain entered Saturdaybatting just .286 (4 for 14) on batted balls hit harder than 100 mph. The number was the lowest in major-league baseball. As ofSaturday, major-leaguer hitters were batting .609 on balls hit harder than 100 mph.
“It’s been that kind of year, to start off,” Cain said, hearing the numbers. “But at the same time, it’s baseball; that’s how it works. You go up there and the goal is to hit the ball hard. If it’s at somebody, you can’t do anything about it. So between that, and me completely not getting hits or striking out, it kind of adds up.”