Everything changes in a blink. Hope is in that blink. Stardom is in that blink. The payoff for sitting through a two-hour rain delay on a weekday afternoon is in that blink.
Eric Hosmer stands in the batter’s box at Kauffman Stadium. He has worked the count in his favor, expecting a fastball, and lately he has been obliterating fastballs. This one comes in at 95 miles per hour, starting toward the inside corner but cutting out and catching too much plate. Way too much plate.
Hosmer lifts his right leg, steps forward just a tad, plants and swings. Hard. His bat catches the ball completely, the kind of contact that hitters say they don’t feel. The ball rockets out toward center field, and at first Hosmer is hoping for a double because it has been a rainy day, and this is more of a line drive than a fly ball. But the thing just keeps going, zooming over the outfielder’s head, crashing against a railing behind the center field wall 416 feet from home plate.
“The power he has is amazing,” Royals manager Ned Yost says.
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It is the the single biggest hit of the Royals’ 7-4 win over the Indians on Thursday, and Hosmer’s fourth home run in eight games. He has done this only twice before, most recently in 2013.
Hosmer is wildly talented, a combination of quick hands, smooth athleticism and natural power for which the Royals paid him $6 million after he graduated high school in Florida.
He is now 25 years old, in his fifth big-league season. He has been a postseason star, the driving force behind a captivating playoff run. He is still young but no longer a young player. A few years ago his age was often referenced to explain his growing pains. Now it is a sign of strength. He is already good and quickly getting better.
This should be the beginning of the peak of a career that the Royals have been building around for some time.
The Royals’ encore to their 2014 American League pennant was always going to be determined in large part by Hosmer, the most gifted hitter on a team that needs more offense.
This is only May, of course, just 28 games — but this is his best 28-game stretch in years.
That home run was his fifth of the season, a mark that took 90 games to achieve last year. He is hitting .324 with an on-base percentage now above .400 and the line-drive power to all fields that scouts have seen in him all these years.
This eight-game stretch includes two home runs off Indians starter Danny Salazar that came in different games in different ballparks but look remarkably similar – each measured at 417 feet, each to left center field, each leaving baseball men with their jaws dropped.
This talent has always been in Hosmer, but the timing here — hot right away, following up his breakout in the playoffs – suggests we are seeing a star on the rise.
There is nothing dramatically different in what he’s doing. Like most things in baseball, this is about subtle tweaks. Yost says he is swinging quicker, not harder, a distinction that Hosmer appreciates and agrees with.
Hosmer says he’s taking more chances now, starting what hitters call their load earlier, in an effort to better attack certain pitches in certain counts. This is about more than strength. This is the intersection of preparation and raw talent, with Hosmer more confidently reading both pitches and situations.
Some of the advanced metrics suggest Hosmer is swinging less often, and missing more but making harder contact. That generally jives with what he’s saying about swinging quicker, and starting the process earlier.
“When (your swing) is quicker, it’s more fluid and you get that backspin on the ball,” Hosmer says.
Mike Moustakas had three more hits on Thursday, and his emergence has been a critical part of an offense that entered the day third in scoring among American League teams.
Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon, Kendrys Morales and Salvador Perez have also been very good, the biggest reason the Royals have been able to cover a run of injuries and suspensions with an 18-10 start that has them in first place.
Baseball is about timing, in both the macro and micro sense, and there is no telling how long the Royals can keep scoring at this rate.
But there is a near consensus that Hosmer is their most talented hitter, the player most capable of the kind of numbers playoff teams usually get from their cleanup hitter.
Hosmer’s first four years were largely about patience and progress, of a player growing into his talent at the sport’s highest level. It has been obvious he had a bright future for some time.
Especially after the playoff run, the start of this season is a strong indication that future is now.