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April 27, 2011

Future Shock

Flavor of the Month Syndrome

by Kevin Goldstein

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Let's get this out of the way: I have no bone to pick with neither Royals fans, nor their favorite club's first-base prospect, Clint Robinson. However, he's the current example of a prospect overexcitement symptom that's sweeping the nation. Royals fans and bloggers are clamoring for Robinson to be sent the big leagues to shore up a position where the current holder of the job, Kila Ka'aihue, is hitting just .186/.301/.329 in 20 games. Maybe it's to keep alive the myth of Kansas City actually being competitive this year (it's coming soon Royals fans, but not this soon), or maybe fans are sick of getting nothing out of a bat-only position, but it has gotten to the point where Robinson is suddenly the most talked-about prospect in baseball's best system, when there are 20-plus players in the organization with better big-league futures ahead of them.

First off, what is a Clint Robinson? A 25th-round pick in 2007 as a senior out of Troy University, Robinson was simply seen as an organizational soldier until last year, when he won Texas League MVP honors with a .335/.410/.625 line for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. That led to a little attention, and with a sudden focus on the future of the franchise, his .373/.462/.731 start in 18 contests for Triple-A Omaha has the hype train rolling. The numbers are certainly there, but the scouting reports are not: He's much older (26) than your standard stud prospect, and he doesn't offer much room for error as a bat-only player with no speed and poor defense at the only position he's capable of manning.

In some ways, the calls for Robinson show remarkable maturity on the part of Royals fans, as they are not calling for Eric Hosmer, one of the best offensive prospects in the game and the true first baseman of the future at Kauffman Stadium. Hosmer is off to a great start of his own for Omaha and has bumped Robinson to designated hitter, where the Troy product sees most of his action. Royals fans seem to understand that Hosmer is just 21 years old and has played less than 70 games at the upper levels. They seem to trust and understand the process in place for the bigger name prospects in the system.

Yet there is more than a bit of Flavor of the Month Syndrome here, and it's not about what Clint Robinson has done on the field: It's about what we haven't seen him do yet. Many of the Robinson supporters so insistent on seeing him replace Ka'aihue in the big leagues were the same ones screaming Kila's name 12 months ago while he was putting up his own crazy numbers—.319/.463/.598 in 94 games—at Omaha. The difference in talent is measurable, as Ka'aihue gets an edge in terms of both raw power and plate discipline, and he has done the one thing we've yet to see from Robinson: fail in the big leagues. Failure is something most players, even future stars (something Ka'aihue and Robinson are almost assuredly not) encounter when they first get to the majors.

But what of the players who have already failed and deserve another chance? Where are the calls for them?

Based on what was seen by many as a fluky big-league debut in which he hit .304/.350/.414 in 54 games, the Tigers happily handed Will Rhymes the second-base job during spring training, and the results have been nothing short of disastrous, as the diminutive 28-year-old has turned back into a pumpkin by hitting .196 in 14 games without an extra-base hit. He has been so bad that manager Jim Leyland has taken to playing Ryan Raburn, who should never be at an up-the-middle position on a big-league field, over Rhymes at second base, while Scott Sizemore sits at Triple-A waiting for another shot.

You might remember Sizemore. He got his chance at Detroit's second-base job in 2010, and he failed, hitting just .224/.296/.336 in 48 games before Leyland pulled the plug on him. A fifth-round pick in 2006, Sizemore has a long track record of impressing scouts with his bat and filling up a stat sheet—he's a career .311 hitter at the upper levels and is 23-for-56 (.411) for Toledo this year—but that scarlet letter of two bad months in the majors hangs over him until he gets a shot at redemption. It’s a shot he has deserved for some time now based on his performance since returning to the minors.

 Be it two weeks or two months, small sample sizes of failure can lead to hasty and, at times, emotional reactions. You remember that girl or guy that you dated a couple of times and everything seemed perfect? That's where people are with Clint Robinson. They haven't had their first fight yet, or had to meet the parents, or seen the flaws when the reality of life, or in this case, major-league, baseball rears its ugly head. Flavor of the Month Syndrome is nothing more than puppy love, just like it was with Ka'aihue 12 months ago, and in the end, it just doesn't matter much, because neither one is marriage material. 

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

7 comments have been left for this article.

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