Is Alex Gordon Still Part of The Process?


By now, you’ve heard the news of Alex Gordon’s demotion to Omaha. And now, the news is that the Royals organization wants him to work on learning the outfield and playing more at first base. So how did Gordon, 2005′s second overall pick, get to this point and where does he go from here?

You know the names of other selections from the 2005 draft: Ryan Braun, Ryan Zimmerman, Troy Tulowitski for starters. It’s painful to watch them rise to stardom while Gordon spins his wheels. At the time, nobody would have expected that five years later, Gordon would be giving way to Chris Getz in the playing time pecking order. But that’s how it is.

Gordon’s the victim of immense expectations and he’s obviously yet to meet them. When he was drafted, he became anointed as the next George Brett, a left-handed slugging third baseman who would lead Kansas City’s offense back to the playoffs. Maybe it was the jump from AA straight to the majors, maybe he just wasn’t ready yet, but Gordon struggled right away, but there was still hope. Young players can turn it around quickly when the talent is there, and as a former NCAA player of the year and the 2006 Minor League Player of the Year, Gordon’s talent was apparent. He just needed to turn it around.

Here’s an interesting table:

Player A Player B
Age 23 23
PA 600 443
Hits 134 72
HR 15 18
RBI 60 52
BB 41 62
SO 137 136
Avg .247 .196
OBP .314 .324
Slg % .411 .373
OPS .725 .697

Player A is Gordon in 2007, his rookie year. Player B is Mike Schmidt. Both prone to strikeouts, both with moderate power in their first season. Not too far apart from a production standpoint (though Schmidt had more power and patience and did more with 25% less appearances). Mike Schmidt went on to a Hall of Fame career after that season. Alex Gordon hasn’t had the same career path thus far:

Year G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2007 151 600 60 134 36 4 15 60 41 137 .247 .314 .411 .725 90
2008 134 571 72 128 35 1 16 59 66 120 .260 .351 .432 .783 109
2009 49 189 28 38 6 0 6 22 21 43 .232 .324 .378 .703 86
2010 12 38 5 6 1 0 1 1 7 8 .194 .342 .323 .665 84
4 Seasons 346 1398 165 306 78 5 38 142 135 308 .249 .331 .413 .744 97
162 Game Avg. 162 655 77 143 37 2 18 66 63 144 .249 .331 .413 .744 97
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/4/2010.

You can see that Gordon’s follow-up season wasn’t much improved from his rookie year, but there was a bit of progress in lowering his strikeout rate and nearly doubling his walkrate. With an OPS+ of 109, he performed 9% better than league average.

Gordon’s also ran into injuries which has slowed his progress. Gordon played a few games with an obvious injury early in the 2009 season, eventually having surgery to repair cartilage in his hip and missing three months. Early in spring training this season, he broke his thumb sliding into second base on a steal. He started the season on the disabled list.

You could attribute his slow start in 2010 to that lost time, and could say that Gordon’s 12 games at the major league level were essentially his spring training, except it counts. For that reason, I’m not sure it’s the right move for the Royals to send him to Omaha. He won’t regain a feel for major league pitching by facing minor leaguers. And what Gordon needs to work on is hitting major league pitching.

But a trip to Omaha will allow Gordon to see everyday playing time, something he wasn’t going to do in Kansas City with Chris Getz back. I wouldn’t say Chris Getz has more talent than Gordon or that he’s a better player, but for what the Royals have on the roster, he’s the most solid second baseman they have. Additionally, Gordon suffered by both Alberto Callaspo’s abilities and his lack of abilities. Much has been made of Callaspo’s defensive problems, as he lacks the range and reaction necessary to play second base adequately. However, he makes such consistent contact, he could hit .300 in his sleep. Also his power has increased since coming to the Royals from Arizona. His bat is too valuable to leave on the bench, especially with a .194-hitting Gordon. And if nothing else, Callaspo isn’t quite the butcher at third base that he is at second.

One knock on Gordon stems from his high strikeout totals, and as long as strikeouts are an issue, he’ll never make enough contact to hit .300. His patience has improved, but only in an increase in walks, not in recognizing – and driving – hitter’s pitches. Gordon’s the type of hitter that takes advantage of mistake pitches, but not necessarily any hittable pitch.

Steve Carter at projectprospect.com did a thorough (and amazing) scouting analysis of Gordon’s swing, comparing it to Joe Mauer and Andre Ethier. Guess which of those three players has the most flawed swing in that contest? You should check it out, but here’s the quick rundown: Gordon relied on his upper body to overpower college and minor league pitching, but a slower, elongated swing can be exploited by major league pitchers.

Gordon’s swing is less efficient than some of the elite hitters, as his hands are slower to the ball, his hips create less power, and as a result, he has less time to read the pitch and make solid contact. This also makes him susceptible to offspeed pitches and pitches away. At a certain point, mere talent alone can’t get it done. The major leagues aren’t meant to be easy, so when someone has Gordon’s raw talent, they either refine it and become more efficient to take advantage of it, or they don’t. So far Gordon hasn’t made those adjustments.

All is not lost

So now Gordon’s in Omaha, but also, he’s going to be working in left field and at first base. Some, like Sam Mellinger see this idea as a sign that the Royals don’t see Gordon as a cornerstone any longer. I’m not so sure. When Ryan Braun came up in 2007 he played exclusively at third base. In 2008, defensive liabilities caused Milwaukee to move him to left field. In Gordon’s case, he’s not a great defensive third baseman, but he’s not far from average, at least. But neither is Callaspo, and third may be the only position Callaspo may be able to play at all.

Gordon, we don’t know yet. He’s played a limited amount of time at first base, and that may be his eventual destination if the outfield doesn’t work out. I say it’s worth a shot. There’s no rule that moving a player ultimately damages their potential. Sure, Mark Teahen moved from third base to the outfield when Gordon came up and his production suffered. But that’s more on Teahen than anything. For every Teahen there’s a Craig Biggio or Paul Molitor or Robin Yount. (Okay so there are more Teahens than Hall of Famers, you get the idea.)

At any rate, Gordon’s trade value is lower than it could ever be, especially considering that the Royals have control over his rights through 2014. To trade him now would be crazy unless there was a solid return. Gordon hasn’t had solid playing time for the last 13 months due to injuries and Trey Hillman. Maybe with a healthy 2009, Gordon would have experienced the breakout everyone’s been waiting on. We just don’t know. If you consider only Gordon’s second half numbers in 2009, he hit .252/.333/.399 with an OPS of .732. That’s a total OPS+ of 108, 8% better than average. It’s not progress, but it’s not bad for missing so much time.

So now what
Let’s take a look into the future.

Players under team control after 2010 (final year in parentheses)
Yuniesky Betancourt (2012)
Jason Kendall (2012)
Billy Butler (2013)
Alberto Callaspo (2013)
Brayan Pena (2013)
Alex Gordon (2014)
Josh Fields (2014)
Mike Aviles (2015)
Chris Getz (2015)
Mitch Maier (2015)
David DeJesus (2011 – team option)
Rick Ankiel (2011 – team option)
Scott Podsednik (2011 – team option)

Looking at that list, the outfield looks like the most opportune position for regular playing time for Gordon if he can make the adjustment. And if not, Jose Guillen’s contract finally comes off the books after this season, opening up for Butler and allowing Gordon to slide over to first base.

Or in a perfect world, you could see this lineup in 2011:
C Kendall
1B Butler
2B Getz
SS Aviles
3B Callaspo
LF Gordon
CF Maier
RF DeJesus
DH Ka’aihue

That’s assuming the option for DeJesus is exercised (and he hasn’t been traded by season’s end) and that Ankiel and Podsednik’s options have been declined. Even if one of them did stay around, they’d likely split time with Maier, who I like, but he’s not a major cog in the organization.

Would I prefer to see Gordon playing everyday for Kansas City? Of course. He can’t improve against major league pitching if he doesn’t see it. But he also has mechanical issues to work out in his swing, and he wouldn’t see enough playing time in the majors to implement those adjustments. Longer-term, if he can make the adjustment to left field, it creates opportunities for other arrangements of the lineup, allowing the corner infield spots to two big bats in Butler and Callaspo, and, if he ever gets up to the big league club, Kila Ka’aihue.

Is Alex Gordon going to be the next George Brett? No he isn’t. He’s not going to be the next Mike Schmidt. He may only turn out to be average. But at 26 years old and with obvious raw talent, Alex Gordon is and should still be part of “The Process”. It’s too early to cut bait now.

I hope.

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Tags: AL Central Alberto Callaspo Alex Gordon Baseball Billy Butler Chris Getz Dayton Moore Kansas City Royals KC Mark Teahen Mike Aviles MLB Royals Trey Hillman

  • Jon Twibell

    The thing that I’m worried about is that Gordon has had holes in his swing for a long time now and it doesn’t look like much has been done to rectify the issue (at least to me)…

    The fact of the matter is that he is just not good right now. But like you said, hopefully he can get to fishin’ in Omaha before the Royals have to cut bait.

  • Keaton Krell

    Yeah, I see no reason why we should cut him, but like Jon said, these have been his problems for years now. Is it his fault for not adjusting, or is it the coaches fault for not properly developing him? I got to think it’s the fault of both parties. If information about Alex Gordon’s swing is readily available on the internet to schmucks like us, then I would think that guys who are getting paid big bucks would have fixed his swing by now.

    And yikes… Our “perfect world” lineup for 2011 looks good enough for last. I’m going to play devil’s advocate here, and I’m sure the idea has already been thought of by you guys, but what if we trade Zack Greinke? I know, I know, you don’t trade the most dominat pitcher in the American League. But when will we be good enough to have his starts matter? Hell, when will we be good enough to win the games he starts? Now, this isn’t trading away Carlos Beltran with an expiring contract. This isn’t trading away an unhappy player. This is trading away an Ace at bargain price, with 3 years (I think) left on his contract. Zack Greinke is a young man entering the prime of his career. His psychological flaws are years and a Cy Young in his past. Trading Zack Greinke to a fellow small market team (where he would remain comfortable) would absolutely bring in a King’s Ransom. Especially if that team were ready to win now… Especially if their farm system has been one of the most fruitful in baseball in the last 10 years. Zack Greinke to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays makes a whole lot of sense.

    • Michael Engel

      I’ve just started re-reading Moneyball and came across some interesting parallels between Gordon and Billy Beane. Beane was a first round pick, touted by scouts as THE big prospect. He almost went #1 overall but the Mets chose Darryl Strawberry instead.

      Part of what Michael Lewis discussed was Beane’s fear of failure and how a bad at bat early would ruin the rest of his game. He thought about everything too much instead of just playing. All the talent in the world, but are the expectations too much? I don’t know.

      I’m willing to give Gordon a pass for ’09. He hit a homer on Opening Day on the first pitch he saw from lefty Mark Buehrle. Somewhere in that game or in the next one, he hurt his hip and it ruined the rest of his season. In 2008, he had a reasonably strong season for a 24 year old, so he may have made strides in 2009 power-wise, he might not have.

      I still think he has 25-30 homer upside, and if he can hit .270 and get on base near .370 with that average, I’ll be disappointed that he isn’t Braun or Zimmerman, but he could still be among the top third baseman in the league and an above average outfield producer with that line.

      Also, the ideal lineup are just major leaguers under contract for next year. Prospects like David Lough or Jordan Parraz could be up and sometime in 2011 we may even see Mike Moustakas the way he’s hitting.

      As for Greinke to Tampa, he’d have to command a Cliff Lee/Roy Halladay return of course, so I’d be expecting Desmond Jennings and or Tim Beckham or Reid Brignac. I’m just not sure they’d ever trade him unless the return was immense.

  • Keaton Krell

    And if we don’t get the King’s Ransom that I was speaking of, then there is no way in the world I’d trade him. Desmond Jennings is the guy I was thinking about. I look back at the CC trade from Cleveland to Milwaukee a couple of years ago and what they got, and that was just for the playoff push. In my mind (and you may indeed take that with a grain of salt) Greinke is worth more than either Halladay or Lee. This isn’t MLB 05 where I’d make a trade to just make it. This is the freaking Kansas City Royals, where we make trades to make our team better. Right? Right?!