By JAY LeBLANC
August 18, 2008
Some people are fast, some are really fast, and then there’s Derrick Robinson. The 5’ 11”, 170-pounder was a standout defensive back at PK Yonge High School in Gainesville, Fla., and reportedly ran a 4.25-second 40-yard dash before signing a letter of intent to play football for his hometown University of Florida Gators. However, Robinson also showed enough promise as a high school outfielder to be selected in the fourth round of the 2006 MLB draft, and he elected to sign with the Kansas City Royals for a well-above-slot $850,000 bonus.
At first, Robinson’s speed didn’t translate to the diamond as well as the Royals had hoped. In his first taste of pro ball, with the Rookie-level Arizona League Royals in 2005, Robinson hit just .233 and was caught in 14 of his 34 stolen base attempts. Fortunately, things began to click for Robinson in 2007 with the Class A Burlington Bees. He continued to struggle at the plate as he hit just .243 with two home runs and 26 RBI while fanning 100 times in 407 at bats, but he played outstanding defense in center field and stole 34 bases in 41 attempts, earning a late-season promotion to the advanced Class A Wilmington Blue Rocks, for whom he hit .385 in 13 at bats.
Robinson entered this season ranked by Baseball America as the No. 10 prospect in the Royals organization, and he’s continued his development as a ballplayer with the Blue Rocks in 2008. Through 113 games, the switch-hitting leadoff man is hitting .250 with a .317 on-base percentage, and has 20 more stolen bases - 57, in 73 attempts - than any other player in the Carolina League. Robinson has continued to shine in the outfield and has also cut down on his strikeout rate, fanning about once every five at bats this year after averaging a K for every four last season. The Royals believe the 20-year-old has a bright future and a very high ceiling, and will be patient with him as he continues to work hard to hone his skills on the diamond. I recently had a chance to speak with Robinson:
Q: You were a star defensive back in high school and passed up a football scholarship to the University of Florida to sign with the Royals. How difficult of a decision was that for you, and why did you decide to go the baseball route?
A: It wasn’t too difficult. I was ready to get started with my pro career, so that made it a little easier. Plus, they made a nice offer, so that helped out a lot also.
Q: What’s your favorite aspect of the game - is it hitting, defense or baserunning?
A: Ahhhh … I have to say … I like all of them. I love hitting - it’s a challenge. I love baserunning, of course, because I can use my speed to try to steal bases, and I also use my speed in the outfield on defense. I love them all, actually.
Q: Are you more comfortable batting right-handed or left-handed? Does your approach change at all as a result of which batter’s box you’re standing in?
A: It doesn’t matter. I actually started on my right side - that’s the side I’m more consistent on. But now that I’m starting to get more at bats as a lefty, I’m kind of even on both sides now.
Q: Do you try to get into the pitcher’s head, or do you just react to what’s thrown?
A: I just react to what’s thrown; that’s all I can do. If I get up there guessing, it’s gonna be a loooong night (Laughs).
Q: There are plenty of players who are fast, but aren’t good base stealers. What makes you so effective on the base paths?
A: You’ve just got to read the pitcher; get good reads and react. You can’t second-guess yourself.
Q: What are some aspects of your game that you focused on improving upon this season.
A: Really, just becoming a more consistent leadoff hitter.
Q: Is there any player, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model yourself after?
A: In the past I used to look up to [Ken] Griffey. I loved how he played the outfield.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Royals?
A: I couldn’t tell you. I wish I could tell you, but it’s out of my hands.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and Mayor of the National Pastime web community. His Prospect Q&A column runs every Monday and Thursday throughout the season. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Jason Colley
Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s: Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Nick Weglarz, Indians; Gorkys Hernandez, Braves; Beau Mills, Indians; Stephen King, Nationals; Brad Bergesen, Orioles; Fernando Martinez, Mets.