It is an annual Arizona staple by now, as ever-present as the towering saguaro cactus and oppressive summer heat. It is the middle of March, the Royals are in the midst of another spring training, and third baseman Mike Moustakas is carving up opposing pitchers again.
When the day began Monday, Moustakas was batting .500 in seven games, racking up nine hits and five RBIs. As the Royals faced the Chicago White Sox inside Surprise Stadium, Moustakas added a walk to the ledger in three more at-bats in a 9-3 KC victory.
For Moustakas, blistering springs are nothing new. A year ago, he batted .333 with two homers and five doubles. In 2014, he put up a .429 average with four homers and seven doubles in 56 at-bats. In all, Moustakas has grown into something like the Ted Williams of the Cactus League, batting .390 in 54 games over the last three springs.
“It’s pretty crazy that I’m hitting that well in spring training,” Moustakas said. “But once again, I’m just trying to work things out.”
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Moustakas is coming off a transformational season in 2015. He reworked his approach, refashioned his swing and enjoyed a breakout campaign, hitting .284 with a career-high 22 homers. His OPS (on-base plus slugging) surpassed .800 for the first time. He spent the first month of the season ripping base hits to left field, beating the defensive shifts that had flummoxed him during the previous two seasons.
So when spring training began, Moustakas forged a plan to replicate the opposite-field approach.
“I’m working on going the other way,” Moustakas says. “But I’ve gotten a couple of hanging change-ups and hanging breaking balls I’ve been able to pull. So it’s actually working out pretty good.”
Moustakas has no great explanation for his dominance in Arizona. He is seeing the ball well, he says. He is working good at-bats. Other than that, the phenomenon is hard to explain.
“He’s just locked in,” manager Ned Yost said.
For now, Moustakas is hopeful the spring performance will carry over to the regular season. That has not always been the case. Two years ago, he followed a torrid spring performance by hitting .212 in 140 games. The key, Moustakas says, comes in the approach.
“I’m trying to make sure I stay with that approach this year, trying not to get too happy or too confident going to right (field),” Moustakas said. “So I’m trying to really bear down on hitting the ball to left field.”