The KC Royals have been rather quiet this offseason, making just two trades and a few signings to end 2016. They kicked off 2017 with a trade, this one with the Arizona Diamondbacks. It could just be a minor trade, or it could end up a big one.
The Royals, regularly lacking power, traded for Peter O’Brien, who the Arizona Diamondbacks designated for assignment. O’Brien is a home run hitter, with ten home runs being his lowest total since being drafted out of Miami by the NY Yankees in 2012.
I first saw O’Brien (and became a huge fan) back in 2014 when he was promoted to Double-A Trenton after 30 games in the Florida State League. While his average dropped from .321 to .245 after the promotion, O’Brien hit 23 homers and drove in 51 in 72 games with the Thunder. Splitting time at catcher with Gary Sanchez (who wasn’t very good behind the plate either at the time), O’Brien saw time at first base (27 games) where he committed one error.
The Yankees, overflowing with catching prospects, traded O’Brien to Arizona that summer. The Dbacks sent him to the Arizona Fall League, where he both caught and played first base.
2015 was the last season that O’Brien caught, and that was just 11 games. He started playing the outfield more (at his own request) and now only plays first base sparingly (I honestly liked him at first base). He made his big league debut in 2015, playing in eight games (he hit a homer). In 2016, he played in 28 games at the big league level, hitting five homers, but struck out 27 times in 64 at-bats (to go with his 147 strikeouts in 105 games at Triple-A Reno).
Right now, O’Brien fills the DH hole that the Royals said earlier this offseason they would rotate players as the DH. A good spring puts him on the big league roster, but he could also be sent to Triple-A Omaha and join the logjam of players that play first base, outfield, or DH (including recent minor league signing Garin Cecchini).
What did the Royals give up in return? Minor league reliever Sam Lewis.
I was just beginning to write articles about players to keep an eye on in 2017 and Lewis was one of those players. In 2016, he pitched at three levels in the Royals minor league system. After staying in extended spring training until rookie ball opened up, Lewis started his season with Idaho Falls, throwing four innings in two games (5H, 3R, HR, 0BB, 3K).
Lewis allowed just three earned runs over 24.1 innings with Low-A Lexington (15H, HR). The biggest eye-opening stat was the just one walk issued compared to 24 strikeouts. He moved up to High-A Wilmington to finish the 2016 season and allowed three runs on seven hits (including a homer) over nine innings. He walked two and struck out six. Overall in 2016, opponents hit just .193 against him.
Sure, Lewis had only pitched at the rookie levels since signing out of Indiana Wesleyan in 2012 and he missed the entire 2015 season due to injury. But he made strides in 2016 and could have easily moved quickly through the ranks again in 2017. I guess we will just have to watch to see how he does in Arizona.