Let’s face it: Concerns surrounding first baseman Eric Hosmer escalated within the Royals’ organization when he followed 2012’s disappointing sophomore slide by scuffling through the first weeks of the 2013 season.
Hosmer was, after all, the can’t-miss centerpiece in the Royals’ yearslong revitalization project under general manager Dayton Moore. If Hosmer turned into a bust, well…
Well, nothing. Put those worries aside.
It turns out Hosmer was battling a sore left hand throughout the season’s opening weeks. Once that healed, his bat heated up and — fast forward — he was announced Tuesday as the Royals’ player of the year.
“Early on, (opening day) in Chicago, my hand blew up,” Hosmer said. “It was cold, and facing (left-hander Chris) Sale and getting jammed a little bit. The swelling was always there, but … that’s part of grinding out a full season. …
“You’ve just got to work through it At the same time, I knew when it warmed up, (the swelling) would go away, and a lot of good things would come from that.”
A lot of good things.
Hosmer, 24, batted .319 from May 19 through the end of the season and led the American League with 156 hits in that span. He also hit 16 of his 17 homers and produced 68 of his 79 RBIs.
Manager Ned Yost also pointed to mechanical adjustments that permitted Hosmer to rediscover his power. Yost and others in the organization think Hosmer became too content last year to push the ball to the opposite field.
“He got to the point where he just couldn’t pull the ball. He just couldn’t do it,” Yost said “We had to get him back to where he was using the entire field.”
The Royals brought in Hall of Famer George Brett and Pedro Grifol to replace hitting coaches Jack Maloof and Andre David in late May, largely to get Hosmer and struggling third baseman Mike Moustakas on track
“When we got here, (Hosmer’s) hands were in close (to his head),” Brett said “We moved them back a little bit. So now, he doesn’t have to move his hands back to hit. They’re already back. He just has to bring them forward.”
“When Pedro and George came, it just changed the attitude for the whole offense,” he said “The confidence and attitude that (Brett) brought, along with Pedro’s game plan (approach), really helped me grow as a player.”
Whatever the explanation for his turnaround, Hosmer evolved, by season’s end, into the reliable run-production bat as the lineup’s No 3 hitter that the Royals always had envisioned.
Hosmer finished the season batting a club-leading .302, led the American League with 60 multihit games and also topped the club with a .448 slugging percentage and an .801 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).
His defense at first base, always a plus, resulted in his selection as a Gold Glove recipient. He was one of three Royals to win the award, joining left fielder Alex Gordon, a three-time winner, and catcher Salvy Perez.
“What’s so great about the guys,” Hosmer said, “is I got calls or text messages from almost every one of my teammates.”
And now he can add the Les Milgram Player of the Year award, which is determined through a vote by the Kansas City Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
The group previously selected starting pitcher James Shields as recipient of the Joe Burke Special Achievement award and closer Greg Holland as the Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year.
Hosmer is the 26th recipient in the Milgram award’s 43-year history Designated hitter Billy Butler was last year’s winner. Seven of the award’s previous recipients are in the club’s Hall of Fame.
“What’s so special about winning this award is, obviously, you can’t do this stuff alone,” Hosmer said “My parents and family back here in South Florida, they live and die on every pitch.
“Obviously, 2012 was really tough. … It’s really special to win this, and I couldn’t have done it without them. They did a lot behind the scenes that nobody knows about that really helped me out.”
The award is named for the former president of Milgram Food Stores, who also served on the Royals’ first board of directors. Les Milgram was the 1972 recipient of the Mr Baseball Award for contributions to professional baseball in Kansas City.
Those efforts included helping to bring the A’s to town in 1954 from Philadelphia and, later, persuading Ewing Kauffman, a former classmate, to invest in an expansion franchise, the Royals, after the A’s departed for Oakland in 1968.
Milgram died in 1976, at 58, from brain cancer.