The Royals selected Derrick Robinson in the fourth round of the 2006 draft and paid him $850,000 to abandon his football commitment to the University of Florida. Since joining the organization, the young outfielder has been one of the most intriguing yet frustrating players in the system. Among the fastest players in all of minor league baseball, Robinson through the first three years of his pro career failed to show the type of offensive improvement the Royals had hoped for.
Last season, the Royals began kicking around the idea of having the switch-hitting Robinson abandon hitting from the left side of the plate, and instead concentrate solely on hitting righthanded – his natural side. Rather than ditching lefthanded hitting, Robinson in late July made a small adjustment to his stance.
"It's just mainly standing more upright, getting in a more athletic position," said Robinson in an interview with RC over the weekend. "Earlier in the year (2009), I was spread out with pretty much no stride at all. And then I switched and went to standing more upright, and I've been feeling good ever since."
Indeed, August 2009 was a banner month for Robinson, by far his best as a professional. A .240 hitter with just three career home runs entering last August, Robinson hit .311/.362/.513 with five home runs in August alone, along with five doubles and a pair of triples. He finished the year with a slump in September, but August's power surge certainly caught the organization's attention.
After spending two full seasons in Wilmington, the Royals invited the 22-year-old speedster to big league camp this spring. Robinson spoke fondly of the experience.
"It was a blast, just learning from those guys and being around those guys," said Robinson. "It's always fun."
Robinson was reassigned to minor league camp on March 11, and after a solid spring he broke camp with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, finally escaping the pitching-friendly Carolina League.
RC was on hand for Robinson's Double-A debut, and we spent four days with the club last week. After going 0-for-3 with a walk in the season opener against the San Antonio Missions, Robinson and the Naturals drew a tough assignment. Taking the mound for the Missions in game two was the Padres' top prospect, Simon Castro, a righthanded fireballer with a mid-90s fastball and a devastating slider.
Robinson connects for a triple
After flying out in the first inning, Robinson stepped up to the plate in the third and drilled a Castro fastball to deep left-center, one-hopping the wall for a double. He hit the ball on the button again against Castro in the fifth as he reached on an error by the Missions' second baseman, and he added a line drive single later in the game against a righthanded reliever.
After drawing an 0-for-4 in the season's third game on Saturday, Robinson delivered another fine performance on Sunday, going 2-for-4 with a bunt single and a booming triple into the right-center gap, again as a lefthanded hitter.
Prior to this season, we saw Robinson play somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 games. In all that time, we only saw him hit one or two balls like the two extra base hits we saw in our four-game look last week, and none of those were to the opposite field. Since we left Springdale, Robinson has gone 5-for-11 with two more extra base hits – a double and a triple – raising his early season line to .333/.379/.556.
So the question is, was last August a fluke, or did Robinson's adjustment from the left side really unlock something? Is this current six-game stretch a sign of things to come, or can we expect Robinson to regress to something more like the .243/.307/.318 career line he carried into this season? Perhaps nobody knows, but Robinson's fast start is certainly a welcome development worth following closely. For his part, Robinson keeps it simple.
"I'm just getting the barrel on the ball," said Robinson. "I told someone else earlier that ever since I've been able to stand up in my stance, I've been a lot more comfortable."
Robinson's stance through the years
Below is a small photo gallery showing Robinson's various lefthanded stances since 2007. As you can see, his stance this season is quite a bit more upright than it was in previous seasons.