RC Prospect Report: Derrick Robinson

Derrick Robinson spurned a football scholarship offer from the Florida Gators in favor of signing a contract with the Royals, who selected him in the fourth round of the 2006 draft. Talented but raw, Robinson is one of the most intriguing position player prospects the Royals have. RC takes a detailed look at Robinson's progress in our latest scouting report.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Derrick Robinson
Position: OF
DOB: 09/28/1987
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 170
Bats: Both
Throws: Left
RC 2008 Rank: 9

Background: Derrick Robinson was a two-sport star at P.K. Yonge High School in Gainesville, Florida, and Division-I football coaches flocked to the school to see him play quarterback for the Blue Wave. Known widely for running a 4.25 second 40-yard dash, Robinson was proclaimed to be one of the fastest high school football players in the 2006 class, and in October 2005, he broke a lot of coaches' hearts by committing to play cornerback for his hometown Florida Gators. However, Robinson also starred on the baseball diamond, and Gator football fans knew there was a good chance he might never step foot in the Swamp. For his part, Robinson hit .488 with 42 stolen bases during his senior campaign at P.K. Yonge, and he seemed likely to be selected in the first two rounds of the 2006 draft.

Indeed, Robinson's talents on the baseball field caused scouts to salivate, as did his 6.19 second time in the 60-yard dash at the 2005 Perfect Game National Showcase. However, the wide consensus across baseball in the days leading up to the 2006 draft was that Robinson's commitment to Florida would make him an exceptionally tough sign, and every team passed on him through the first three rounds. The Royals, however, had done their homework, and they were thrilled when Robinson was still on the board in the fourth round. The club selected him with the first pick of round four, and Robinson signed in mid-June for an above-slot bonus of $850,000.

"It wasn't too tough," said Robinson when asked by RC whether he had struggled to come to a decision on whether or not to sign. "I always loved baseball, and I was ready to start my professional career."

Unfortunately, all the time Robinson spent playing football during the fall months stunted his baseball development, and he arrived in Arizona as an athletic but very raw player.

"It definitely set me back because in high school, I spent a lot of time lifting and speed training for football, instead of working on my switch hitting," said Robinson.

He struggled to hit consistently in his professional debut for the Arizona Royals, finishing the season with a line of .233/.335/.318 and 20 stolen bases in 34 attempts. A natural right handed hitter who began switch hitting full-time during his junior year in high school, Robinson hit .357 in 42 at bats versus southpaws, but just .194 against righthanders.

2007 Season: Robinson was out of action for nearly half of spring training in 2007, so he stayed behind at extended spring training for the first month of the season, getting at bats and working on his timing. In late April, the 19-year old outfielder was sent to Burlington in the Midwest League. It was an aggressive move by the Royals to send him to a full season league, and the club expected him to struggle a bit as he learned to hit.

However, after a 2-for-14 patch to start his season, Robinson hit .275 during a two-month stretch in May and June, and his average stood at .266 on July 1, putting him on a pace to exceed the club's expectations. Unfortunately, he couldn't follow up his strong June showing with an equally good July, and he hit just .196/.276/.207 on the month. His numbers climbed a bit in August, but he was hitting just .243/.299/.300 for the Bees when he was promoted to Wilmington during the last week of the minor league season. For the Blue Rocks, Robinson went 5-for-13 and stole one base in three games prior to the Carolina League playoffs, giving him a final season line between the two affiliates of .248/.303/.305 with 12 doubles, three triples, two homers, and 35 stolen bases in 42 chances.

Despite his relatively lackluster numbers, the Royals were very encouraged with how Robinson's game progressed in 2007. Defensively, he really started to take advantage of his blazing speed, turning himself into one of the best defensive outfielders in the system. On the bases, Robinson improved his stolen base success rate from 59 percent in 2006 to 83 percent in 2007. And at the plate, the Royals saw the types of small improvements that keep them encouraged.

"Obviously, D-Rob is a guy that can run," said one Burlington coach. "He works on his bunting game a lot. He works on staying on top of the ball, staying out of the air."

Indeed, one of the improvements Robinson made in 2007 at the plate came with his success in keeping the ball out of the air. Much like the fictional Indians and Willie Mays Hayes in the movie Major League, the Royals want Robinson to hit the ball on the ground and take advantage of his speed. In 2006, a full one-third of the balls Robinson hit were fly balls, including 39 percent of the balls he hit from the left side of the plate. In 2007, however, he succeeded in hitting ground balls or line drives 75 percent of the time, both overall and as a left-handed batter. In fact, Robinson raised his batting average from the left side by more than 40 points over his 2006 numbers, hitting .237 against right handed pitchers in 2007.

Tools and Skills: Right now, Robinson projects as a plus defender and plus baserunner at the Major League level. His arm grades out as a tick below average, but it should play fine in centerfield. Whether or not he will hit at higher levels is the biggest question surrounding his future, but the Royals remain confident that he will do so. Indeed, the club feels strongly that he will hit, and that he won't merely be a slap-hitter when he does. One scout RC spoke with even likens him to a young Kenny Lofton, predicting that he should develop adequate gap power as he fills out and moves forward. When we asked him about the comparison in May, Robinson chuckled.

"I ‘m just trying to become a consistent hitter and a solid defensive player," said Robinson. "If it resembles Kenny, then I guess it's like Kenny."

Burlington hitting coach Ryan Long told us that Robinson spent the 2007 season making several adjustments to his stance and swing.

"[Robinson] is a young professional hitter who is working on a lot of things - his balance, and from a mechanical standpoint just being in good positions to hit," said Long. "From a physical aspect, he is just trying to get in the right positions to hit."

In batting practice, Robinson often looks better from the left side of the plate, which is encouraging given that he's still relatively new to switch hitting. While his batting average has consistently been much higher as a right-handed hitter, only two of his career extra base hits have come against southpaws. When asked about his approach at the plate, Robinson kept it simple.

"I get up there and look for a fastball to drive and find the gaps," said Robinson.

2008 Outlook: There is a talented group of outfielders behind Robinson in the system who should push their way up to Burlington this season, so it seems likely that he'll be assigned to High-A Wilmington out of spring training. The Carolina League will obviously be a significant challenge, much like the Midwest League was for Robinson in 2007. His athleticism and ceiling have made him one of the top outfield prospects in the system, but he must continue showing improvement at the plate, particularly from the left side, to remain a significant prospect. The Royals are clearly very high on Robinson's potential, and the club recognizes that a player as raw as Robinson takes time to develop. For his part, Robinson has worked hard to make up for the time he lost due to football as an amateur, and that determination could carry him to Kansas City one day.

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