Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas has certainly been a favorite target for disgruntled Royals fans over the past two seasons. His struggles at the plate, particularly in 2013, have inspired disdain from large segments of the fan base and in truth, probably were key to the Royals signing Danny Valencia this off-season. It wasn’t so long ago that things were very different.
Moustakas (a.k.a. Moose) was the team’s first, and the 2nd overall, selection in the 2007 MLB amateur player draft. He garnered that lofty spot by virtue of one thing; his bat. He was a prolific hitter at Chatsworth High in California having been named California High Schools’ Player of the Year as both a Sophomore and a Junior and posting California state single season (14 HRs) and career (52 HRs) home run records.
After hitting .321 as a freshman, he posted an average of over .400 during his remaining three seasons, leading Chatsworth to back-to-back National Championships. Moustakas closed out his high school career by being named Baseball America’s High School Player of the Year.
He continued to post good numbers at every stop in the minor leagues but it didn’t come as quickly as it had in High School. Going into the 2009 season, while playing in High-A ball with the Wilmington Blue Rocks, Moustakas was regarded by Baseball America as the 13th ranked Major League top prospect. He struggled for the better part of the year closing out the season with a respectable but less-than-expected line of 16 HRs/86 RBI/.250 BA/.715 OPS; decent power numbers but a serious decline in batting average.
He began 2010 with AA Northwest Arkansas of the Texas League, where he showed he had clearly figured out AA pitching, posting a line of 21 HRs/76 RBI/.352 BA/and 1.110 OPS in 66 games. By July, he was promoted to AAA Omaha where he continued to post solid numbers with a line of 15 HRs/48 RBI/.293 BA/.878 OPS in 52 games.
In sum, during his final season in the minors, he posted an impressive 34 HRs/124 RBI/.324 BA/.999 OPS. So it took him a smidge over 2 seasons to adjust from High School to high end minor league pitching. Not bad…in fact, probably exactly what you’d want to see out of your top overall pick.
So it was no surprise when by the summer of 2011, Moose got the call to the Major Leagues. He posted a rookie-like line of 5 HRs/30 RBI/.263 BA/.675 OPS in 89 games with the big squad.
In 2012, Moustakas made the squad as the everyday third baseman and he posted an improved line of 20 HRs/73 RBI/.242 BA/.708 OPS in 149 games. On top of that, he played Gold Glove caliber defense. All seemed to be on schedule for a breakout year in 2013 for Moustakas.
But that’s not what happened. The proverbial wheels seemed to fall of the wagon last season as Moustakas ranked among the least productive everyday players in the major leagues posting an abysmal line of 12 HRs/42 RBI/.233 BA/.651 OPS in 136 games. Worse yet, he hit an appallingly bad .196 against left handed pitching.
Now it would be pretty obtuse of me to tell KC fans not to worry, that Moose will be fine, particularly when so much has been invested in him and given the sharp decline in his productivity this past season. Certainly, he’s not trending in the right direction, but trust me when I say, all is not lost.
Was it fair to expect George Brett-like numbers from this kid as he came up through the system? Perhaps not, but the comparisons were probably unavoidable, if not completely misguided, given the fact that they were both left-handed, third basemen from California.
Comparing him, or any other twenty-something year old, to a Hall of Famer like Brett is a bit much to ask of anyone. Aside from the obvious similarities above, there really weren’t a lot of similarities between the two as youngsters coming up through the minors.
In case you missed it, even Brett didn’t post Brett-like numbers in the minor leagues. He struggled mightily posting perhaps his best line while in A-ball in the California league with 10 HRs/68 RBI/.274 BA/.750 OPS in 117 games. Not exactly the stuff of legends.
In fact, Brett didn’t really do much of anything offensively until he ran into a Royals hitting coach named Charlie Lau in 1974. Of course, the rest is history.
Conversely, Moustakas showed promise early on and validated that promise by posting impressive numbers at each stop in the minors. Granted, sometimes it took him a little time to adjust, but the key is, he DID adjust.
So Mike Moustakas is not George Brett but, as noted previously, the similarities between the two from a productivity perspective were never really accurate. However, there is one area where the two have shown they may be cut from the same cloth; they are/were both very determined guys.
Brett knew he needed help offensively if he wanted to stick with the Royals. He asked Charlie Lau for help and more importantly, he put in the untold hours of hard work and dedication necessary to improve.
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