Eric Hosmer: Ready For the Next Step

Through Tuesday’s games, first baseman Eric Hosmer had a slash line of .387/.464/.570 at High-A Wilmington. He’s been ridiculously productive and has bounced back far greater than Royals fans and the organization could have hoped after a disappointing 2009. In his first full year of professional baseball, the former third overall pick produced a meager .241/.334/.361 line, battling a hand injury and eye problems along the way.

Clearly, he’s rebounding in a big way which presents the question – is he ready for Double A? Moreover, even if he is ready, should he be promoted?

2008 18 Idaho Falls Rk 15 11 4 0 2 3 2 .364 .533 .545 1.079
2009 19 2 Teams A-A+ 434 377 91 6 59 53 90 .241 .334 .361 .695
2009 19 Burlington A 327 280 71 5 49 44 68 .254 .352 .382 .734
2009 19 Wilmington A+ 107 97 20 1 10 9 22 .206 .280 .299 .579
2010 20 Wilmington A+ 166 142 55 2 29 21 12 .387 .464 .570 1.034
3 Seasons 615 530 150 8 90 77 104 .283 .374 .421 .795
A+ (2 seasons) 273 239 75 3 39 30 34 .314 .392 .460 .852
A (1 season) 327 280 71 5 49 44 68 .254 .352 .382 .734
Rk (1 season) 15 11 4 0 2 3 2 .364 .533 .545 1.079
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 5/19/2010.

My simple answer to both questions is yes. In 2009, Hosmer opened the year in Burlington, producing at an average rate – not awful for a 19 year old kid. Curiously, the Royals promoted him to Wilmington for the last quarter of the season and the health and sight problems combined with a higher level of competition to limit him to a very poor statline.

Wilmington’s Frawley Stadium is renowned for being a pitcher’s park, so Hosmer’s High-A numbers can be partly attributed to that issue (though only partly). When compared to his performance in the same league so far this season, his problems last year and success this year have to take into account both a now-recovered hand injury and Lasik surgery. For what it’s worth, Hosmer’s home production stands at a mere mortal .328/.451/.500.

Of course, it’s worth mentioning that Hosmer has benefitted from a high BABIP (.408), but he’s also making more contact this year than ever, striking out only 12 times in 166 plate appearances. When you make contact 93% of the time, like Hosmer is doing thus far, a lot of those balls will find a hole and go for a hit. Oddly, his LD% isn’t as high as you’d expect with such an elevated BABIP – shows a LD% of 13.2% so far along with a 52.7 GB% and 34.1 FB%. It seems like those kinds of trends will correct his BABIP and lower his overall numbers but there’s no denying that he’s seeing the ball better and making more (likely better) contact as a result.

Additionally, Hosmer has hit left-handed pitching better than right-handed to this point (.438 vs. 352). That’s a good sign, since he only hit .171 in 2009 against lefties. I have to attribute that to improved vision and pitch recognition.

I say he’s ready for the next level of competition. Mike Moustakas‘s numbers looked modest in his full season at Wilmington in 2009 but he did enough to earn a promotion to Double A Northwest Arkansas to start 2010. I expect that was the intention all along, and would expect that was the approach the Royals wanted to take with Hosmer before the start of the year.

In fact, some of his power numbers may improve outside of the Carolina League. In 2008 in Burlington, Mike Moustakas hit 25 doubles and 22 homers. In 2010 so far, Moustakas has 10 doubles and 8 homeruns. His one year in the Carolina League, however, only (only!) produced a 32 double season and 16 homers. It seems that more of those doubles could have been homers in a different environment. Hosmer in 2010 has 14 doubles and 2 homeruns. His power is still developing, but in a neutral park, some of those doubles would surely clear the fence.

The Royals have shown a willingness to promote in mid-season when it’s become clear a prospect has dominated their current level of competition. Look at Mike Aviles in 2008, who forced their hand and went from Omaha to Kansas City’s Player of the Year. Or Kila Ka’aihue, whose destruction of Double A pitching earned him a move up to Omaha. Want more examples? Mike Montgomery and John Lamb were too much for their initial 2010 competition and have taken a step up already in 2010. Last year, Louis Coleman held Low-A batters to a .091 batting average and earned a move up to High-A where the success continued. His 2010 numbers (1.82 ERA, .155 BA against) make him a candidate for another midseason promotion. Blake Wood‘s 2.16 ERA in Omaha through the first six weeks of the season have placed him a Joakim Soria injury away from closing for Kansas City.

Hosmer’s deserved promotion wouldn’t displace any major prospects in Northwest Arkansas. Clint Robinson and Ernesto Mejia currently man first base for the Naturals and have been adequate, but neither are as important to the organization’s long-term plans as Hosmer. Surely, Hosmer could at least equal, if not surpass, Robinson’s .252/.362/.403 line and Mejia’s .244/.305/.445.

Let’s say Hosmer does get promoted within the next few days and merely produces at his early 2009 levels. His .734 OPS before his Wilmington promotion is just slightly below both Robinson and Mejia to this point, but the improved vision would give him upside to surpass their numbers. His floor would still be reasonable, while he gained experience at the same time. If we crudely project 400 at bats at his 2009 Burlington levels, Hosmer’s full 2010 pro line would come out to .289/.370/.431. That’s not too bad for a 20 year old kid and he’d get a chance to start 2011 in Double-A building off of that experience and success.

The upside to promoting a player when their production warrants it allows them to advance faster and impact the major league club much sooner than a typical year by year approach. The downside is that if the prospect struggles or outright fails at their new level, they may lose confidence or make adjustments for short-term success that may become bad habits that hinder their long-term viability.

Still, the idea of “they came up too soon” is more of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe Alex Gordon came up too soon, going from Double A to the majors. But what about Ryan Braun? He made the same jump and nobody would say he came up too soon. If the prospect fails, they’re a flash in the pan; if they thrive, they’re a phenom.

In Hosmer’s case, his struggles in Wilmington last year aren’t affecting him in 2010. The pros to moving him up mean he’s closer to the majors, he’ll be closer to making his debut at a similar time as Mike Moustakas (and probably Mike Montgomery), and he can get out of the Carolina League and likely see a power spike.

The cons are that if he fails, he could fizzle out, or it could be shown that he isn’t as good as everyone thought. I’d say that’s only a remote possibility (and maybe that’s my optimism at play). Maybe the low homerun numbers mean he’s more John Olerud than Justin Morneau. But here’s the thing – if Hosmer isn’t the superstar first baseman of the future that we think he is, three more months in Wilmington isn’t going to change that.

I say he’s ready. Let’s see what he can do.

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Tags: AL Central Alex Gordon Baseball Blake Wood Burlington Bees Clint Robinson Eric Hosmer Ernesto Mejia John Lamb Kansas City Royals KC Kila Kaaihue Louis Coleman Michael Montgomery Mike Aviles Mike Montgomery Mike Moustakas MLB Northwest Arkansas Naturals Omaha Royals Royals Wilmington Blue Rocks

  • mocan2

    Nice post Michael. I’ve been thinking the exact same thing about Hosmer. How great would it be to get him and Moose at the same level, especially with Crow, Montgomery, Osuna, Johnny G and one of my favorites, D Robinson already there. Imagine even three or four of those guys reaching the bigs at the same time. I hate looking to the future that much, but that would be great to see! Here’s hoping the Royals brass will feel the same way!


  • Wayne Hawkins

    I selfishly agree that Hos needs to be promoted. For his good as well as mine. My wife and I are driving to Springdale on Sunday to see the Naturals.

  • CL_on_the_DL

    I am absolutely in favor of the move. Let Hos and Moose play together for a month or so before moving Moose up to AAA (his numbers warrant it also, I think).

    Or let Hos and Moose play out the entire season this year at AA and then start both in AAA next year (if the numbers are there, of course) and make them mid/late season call-ups in 2011.

  • Keaton Krell

    They need to be at the K for Saberhagen Bobble Head night.

  • Michael Engel

    Mike Moustakas is 3-4 with 2 HR and 4 RBI tonight.
    He’s at .394/.462/.779 – all leading the Texas League. Also has 10 HR in 27 games.

    Needless to say, he’s probably due for a trip to Omaha, too. For what it’s worth, Scott Thorman and Wilson Betemit have been the primary third basemen there. He wouldn’t be displacing anyone of significance.

    • Keaton Krell

      Is there still talk of Moose being a catcher? I know the Royals were never hot on the idea, but the scouts I know (or read on ESPN) thought he would be a top 10 prospect if he were a catcher.

      • Michael Engel

        I heard that it was the Royals who’d asked Moustakas and he declined that move. I think at this point, he’s best off sticking at third until the (likely) point that he has to move across the way to first base or maybe DH if Butler’s gone by that point (thinking like…2017ish or something).

        At this point, moving to catcher would probably hold him up at least a year if not longer, since he hasnt played it since high school – and sparingly at that, I believe.

  • Jackie Ballgame

    I say a June promotion is in order. Any time a prospect has a ridiculous April, you want to see if it was just a hot month or if it’s sustainable. He has continued raking in May, so it’s looking more an more legit. I think two months of absurd raking is justification enough.

    Similarly, I’d like to see Moose do what he’s doing for longer than a month before he gets bumped up to AAA. You want to make sure he’s not pulling a Jose Guillen with one hot month. Even so, I’d say we’re watching Moose at Kauffman about mid-season next year. And if Hosmer were to rake at AA, maybe we see him in September of next year.

    All of a sudden your corner OF and INF are Gordon (left), Hosmer (right?), Moose (3B?), and Butler at 1B with Kila as your DH. That’s the kind of ‘power at the corners’ DMGM was talking about, even if Moose at 3B and Hosmer in RF are major question marks at this point. Question: why not just start Hos in the OF at AA? He’s supposedly very athletic with a big arm (at least that was his scouting report out of HS). Might post on this over RR.

    • Michael Engel

      I think that’s their endgame with Hosmer, since he does have a cannon arm. I’ve read that some scouts are sketchy on his footwork at first base, so I don’t know how that’d translate range-wise to right field, but it’d be about the only way to fit all those bats in the lineup.

      For that immediate future plan, I think that’d work though, and I can’t wait to see it. It presents a Phillies-esque issue that all of those except Butler are lefties, so I don’t know how you fit them in.

      You’d almost have to try something like :
      CF Lough (he could be up by then, I think, if we’re talking mid-11)
      SS Aviles
      1B Butler
      DH Kila
      LF Gordon
      2B Callaspo
      3B Moustakas
      RF Hosmer
      C Kendall/Pena/Pina (Pina’s probably 2012 and a backup)

      Depends on how the prospects adjusted to the majors but you could move Moustakas up I guess. If everyone’s hitting in that lineup, that’s not bad at all in my mind. Not a lot of team speed, but a lot of homers and doubles. I’ll take that tradeoff.