Judging the Royals

Has Eric Hosmer matured?

Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer (35) hits a two run homer in the first during the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners spring training baseball game at Surprise Stadium on Friday, March 27, 2015, in Surprise, Arizona.
Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer (35) hits a two run homer in the first during the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners spring training baseball game at Surprise Stadium on Friday, March 27, 2015, in Surprise, Arizona. Kansas City Star

In the first inning of Friday night’s game against the Mariners, Eric Hosmer came to the plate with two out and Alcides Escobar on third base. Seattle starting pitcher James Paxton had been struggling to throw first-pitch strikes and Hosmer’s at bat was no exception; Paxton missed the zone with a cutter and a fastball and the count went 2-0.

Baseball is a weird sport; getting excited and pumped up doesn’t help you—it hurts.

Some hitters show good plate discipline until they get a runner in scoring position, but when they get a chance at an RBI they start to chase pitches out of the zone. Some hitters are nice and relaxed until they get in a good hitter’s count, but when they think they’re getting a hittable fastball they muscle up, over-swing and miss their pitch.

Eric Hosmer had a runner in scoring position and a good hitter’s count; how would he handle the situation?

Hosmer got a 90-MPH cutter, stayed nice and loose and hit it out of the park. It was one of those home runs that you know is gone before it ever leaves the infield; the crack of the bat, the speed and trajectory of the ball—home runs like Hosmer’s are why they invented the term "no-doubter."

Afterwards I talked to Eric in the clubhouse and said that even though it was only my third day of spring training, his swing looked more relaxed and calm this year. Hos said he’d been working on it.

When a hitter has a violent swing people will say "he doesn’t get cheated" but that’s not true. A violent swing can mean tight muscles and tight muscles can mean your head moves and your head moving can mean you miss your pitch. Miss your pitch and you’re still standing at the plate and you may not get another pitch to hit.

Eric said he’d been working on staying relaxed; on swinging "quick, not hard." I’d seen him take BP that afternoon and the easy power was impressive; nice, loose swings that sent balls over the right field fence and off the batter’s eye in center.

Hos said the hard part was keeping that same relaxed approach in hitter’s counts; a hitter gets to 2-0, 2-1 or 3-1 and he starts salivating—here comes the pitch he’s been waiting for. It’s only spring training, but Hosmer stayed nice and loose when he got that 2-0 cutter; he didn’t over-swing and that nice, easy swing produced a rocket to right.

When Eric Hosmer first got to the big leagues I asked a buddy who was coaching for another big league team what he thought of the Royals new first baseman. My friend said, "That’s the most exciting young player I’ve seen in the American League in a long time."

I’ve also asked big league ballplayers with long careers how much time it took to "figure it out." How long did it take for them to understand the right approach to compete and succeed at the big league level? The most common answer was four years—Eric Hosmer is now entering his fifth year as a big league player.

After I complimented Hos on how good his swing looked he said, "Lee, I’ve matured…"

I gave him a skeptical look and Hosmer started laughing and said, "On the field."

This summer watch Hosmer when he gets into good hitter’s counts like 2-0, 2-1 and 3-1. Does he over-swing and miss the pitch or foul the pitch off? Or does he stay nice and relaxed; taking the marginal pitches and putting easy swings on the pitches that are hittable?

If Eric Hosmer has figured it out, American League pitchers are going to have hard time figuring him out.

To reach Lee Judge, call 816-234-4482 or send email to ljudge@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @leejudge8.

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