Opinion

Mike Moustakas could become Royals No. 2 hitter to start season

Kansas City Star

Ned Yost has learned to embrace the unorthodoxy of his lineup. His leadoff hitter, Alcides Escobar, has a .299 career on-base percentage. His No. 3 hitter, Lorenzo Cain, has hit 17 home runs since his debut in 2010.

Yost's new proposed No. 2 hitter would also fly in the face of convention. Mike Moustakas batted second for the Royals in both games of an exhibition series with Houston this weekend. Yost indicated Moustakas could reprise that role once the season begins on Monday at Kauffman Stadium.

“We’re just looking at it,” Yost said. “We’ve been talking about it for a while. Everybody on the staff likes the at-bats that Moose is putting forth, and his ability to go the opposite way a bit more consistently now. We just don’t have like a prototypical No. 1 or No. 2 type guy.”

Moustakas shined in this role on Friday evening. He went three for three and collected a pair of walks. All three of his hits went to the opposite field, including a nifty bunt single. In 21 spring games, he batted .345 with a .940 on-base plus slugging percentage. As he did last spring, Moustakas impressed team officials with his ability to combat the shift.

Of course, Moustakas has often starred in the spring. It is the actual season that exposes his offensive limitations. He hit .212 and posted a .270 on-base percentage last season, both of which ranked 147th among the 149 players with 500 plate appearances. His .632 on-base plus slugging percentage ranked 142nd.

Yet Kansas City continues to show faith in the former No. 2 overall pick. Royals coaches and rival scouts alike consider Moustakas a strong defender. His performance in the playoffs, when he hit .232 but still bashed five homers in 15 games, heartened team officials. He avoided arbitration with a $2.64 million deal for 2015 and looked bound for a spot near the end of the lineup.

When the spring began, Yost targeted Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Alex Rios as his three options for the No. 2 spot. Gordon looked bound for that position. But as he returns from wrist surgery, Yost hopes to ease his offensive load while capitalizing on his power.

“You let him ease back into things a little bit,” Yost said. “You know, last year, Gordie was one of our best run producers. Being a little bit further down in the lineup may give him more of an opportunity to drive in more runs, like he’s capable of doing.”

Around the game, baseball officials consider analysis of lineup construction to be overblown. But there is a logical bent to the concept of giving your best hitters as many at-bats as possible. The Royals appear content with granting an excess of opportunities to a hitter in Moustakas who was, in statistical terms, one of the worst in the majors last season.

The Royals did not ignore Moustakas’ struggles in 2014. They shipped him to the minors after a miserable start. Yost praised Moustakas’ commitment to hitting the baseball to left field. He also suggested the promotion would aid Moustakas from a mental perspective.

“I just think the confidence that it gives a player could help,” Yost said. “I think that Moose feels like he may be a little more into the game in the two-spot, instead of dragging up the rear in the eighth. Feels like he can do some things with the bat. It was obvious (Friday) night.”

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4730 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @McCulloughStar. Download True Blue, The Star’s free Royals app, here.

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