On Wednesday, Sports Illustrated writer Joe Sheehan named Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon to the magazine’s All-MLB pre-season team. In essence, Sheehan is saying Gordon is the best leftfielder in baseball. This token of respect for a Royals position player is just one more small indication of the improved talent level in Kansas City these days.
In short, it’s a small measure of vindication for Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore.
Moore’s slow accumulation of talent in the eight years since he took over as general manager in Kansas City has led him to become something of a punchline among baseball pundits. He’s the longest-tenured GM in baseball that has yet to made the playoffs and still keep his job. Dayton Moore’s trade of AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers for short-term starter James Shields earned him harsh criticism from both Royals fans and sabermetric analysts across baseball (including me). Yet, the 2013 Royals posted the team’s best record in 25 years.
The franchise turnaround is, in no small part, due to Alex Gordon‘s development.
Gordon came to Kansas City as a celebrated prospect after the Royals selected him no. 2 overall in the 2005 draft. He was expected to become a superstar after winning the Golden Spikes Award at Nebraska as the best collegiate player in 2005, and following it up with Baseball America naming him 2006 Minor League Player of the Year. Yet, four years after reaching the majors in 2007, Alex Gordon was widely considered a bust.
He turned that around after pledging to “dominate” in the 2011 off-season following a 2010 conversion from 3rd base to leftfield. While many smirked at Gordon’s bravado, he lived up to his boast with an outstanding .303/.376/.502 slash line and by winning his first Gold Glove in LF. Overall, Gordon put up a 7.2 bWAR season that established him as a star.
Alex Gordon is something of an underrated player. He has a solid, but not spectacular, bat that causes many to overlook his all-around production. Gordon has won three consecutive Gold Gloves in LF, gunned down more base-runners than any outfielder in MLB over the last three years (54 outfield assists), and has chipped in on the basepaths with 38 steals. Gordon’s arm is particularly impressive. According to Fangraphs.com, his nearest peer in outfield assists is former Royal Jeff Francoeur, who only has 40 over the same period.
Alex Gordon is unlikely to end up in Cooperstown, but he’s matured into a star. Alex Gordon helps the Royals in every phase of the game and is the unquestioned leader in the lineup. If the 2014 Royals are to break their 29-year playoff drought, they will need yet another year of quiet excellence from Gordon.