The new baseball lives of Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer include no more hype.
No more quotes from anonymous scouts about Moustakas’ “light pole power” or Hosmer’s “can’t miss talent.” No more talk about how young players take time to develop, ormisguided defenses
about society’s need for instant gratification, especially the segment of society that’s waited through the longest playoff drought in North American sports and has so far seen a combined 2,526 plate appearances of Hosmer and Moustakas often being overmatched.
George Brett’s new job as Royals hitting coach is a clear message that Moustakas and Hosmer need to grow up. Take the training wheels off. Scholarships are over.
Hosmer is 23 and Moustakas 24. They are young players, sure, but you may have noticed that Texas’ Jurickson Profar hit the go-ahead home run against the Royals on Sunday. Profar is 20 years old, and now has more home runs in 40 plate appearances this season than Hosmer has in 207.
No more blaming it on youth, because just in the last three years we’ve seen Justin Upton, Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey, Andrew McCutchen, Bryce Harper, Evan Longoria, Carlos Gonzalez, Billy Butler (yes, Billy) and others turn in star numbers at Moustakas’ age or younger.
The truism about the Royals’ latest attempted march into baseball relevancy has been that the whole thing is dependent upon Hosmer and Moustakas being good players. They don’t need to be Hall of Famers, or even perennial All-Stars, but if they become Juan LeBron and Dee Brown then nothing else matters. It all falls apart, many baseball people lose their jobs, and Dayton Moore’s “Process” is remembered in Kansas City like Carl Peterson’s five-year plan.
They must at least be thinking about the worst-case scenario during private moments in the Royals’ front office:what if we were wrong about these guys?
The Royals have no safety net here, and are operating accordingly. Hosmer and Moustakas are important enough and scuffling enough that in the last eight months the Royals have fired three hitting coaches and this is where their new baseball lives are interesting.
Because Brett is in uniform now, and if Hosmer and Moustakas continue to underwhelm nobody will blame The Greatest Royal Of All-Time. Brett is the first hitting coach with the stature and nature to call them out. The first with a big league resume they look up to.
No more excuses, in other words.
No more blaming it on a lack of veteran leadership, because Butler and Alex Gordon are friendly examples of players who’ve navigated what Hosmer and Moustakas are struggling with.
In the first few days of Brett’s new job, you don’t have to read too hard to see code words about Hosmer and Moustakas needing to transition from Baseball America champions to legitimate big league sluggers.
Dayton Moore: “The fierce competitiveness that George brought (in his playing days) is something I feel we need in our clubhouse.”
Ned Yost: “It’s a special mindset that you have to have to be able to accomplish all he has.”
Brett himself: “Get rid of the (baby) bottles, let’s go.”
This is all directed at Moustakas and Hosmer, and these are drastic measures because the Royals know the inconvenient truth. Nothing else matters if these two continue to flounder.
David Glass changed his penny-hoarding ways in 2006 and started spending like a legitimate small-market owner. He hired Moore, who turned a farm system that had been an industry joke into the best in baseball. An international program that was effectively non-existent became one of the best. The Royals went from running out of bonus money after four or five rounds to paying third-round pick Wil Myers $2 million in 2009.
Sal Perez, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler and Alcides Escobar are all signed long-term to club-friendly terms. James Shields and others have moved the Royals from one of the five worst in team ERA last year to one of the five best this year.
And none of that matters if Moustakas and Hosmer don’t hit.
The Royals will continue to lose 90-plus games if they were wrong about Moustakas and Hosmer.
There is no Plan B here. Not until the next leadership group inherits those club-friendly contracts and a minor league system with some morepotential stars
So far, we’ve seen flashes of the potential that made both men rich and famous. Moustakas hit 20 homers and 34 doubles last year. Hosmer finished third in Rookie of the Year voting in 2011.
But the fuller picture is ugly. Moustakas is hitting .186 this year and his on-base percentage entering Sunday’s game (.293) was the eighth-worst in baseball among players with at least 1,000 plate appearances since 2011. Hosmer is hitting .242 the last two seasons and has somehow turned into a singles hitter: only Ichiro and Juan Pierre have fewer extra-base hits this year among regulars at a corner position.
There is still enough talent here that most within baseball expect Moustakas and Hosmer to each become good big leaguers – maybe very good, perhaps even great. They’ll get their chances, too, no matter what they do with the Royals.
But this team’s only chance to be good in the immediate future is if Moustakas and Hosmer do it soon. Brett’s new job is a clear sign that thegood-job-good-effort spirit of encouragement
has its limits. This is Moustakas’ and Hosmer’s new baseball life.
A franchise and its fans wait to see if it makes any difference.
To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send e-mail email@example.com or follow twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.