Looking Ahead

This is an important offseason organizationally for the Royals.  The free agent market is fairly tame, and other than Zack Greinke and David DeJesus trade rumors, there aren’t many other deals out there for the team to make right now.  With contention in 2011 a pipe dream, the focus then turns to development.

The first steps are already underway, as the Royals are looking ahead to their key prospects and their future role on the team.

Current discussion revolves around Mike Moustakas. It’s very possible that Moose will skip Winter League ball, according to reports. The reasons the Royals give are that he’s shown the ability to hit in Triple A, and winter ball was an opportunity for him to hit against different pitching looks than what he’d seen in Double A.

“When we made that decision (to send Moustakas to winter ball) in July,” Picollo said, “it was to see whether he can handle better pitching. But I saw him in the last week of the season in Omaha, and he faced a soft lefty, a hard-throwing lefty, a power righty, guys pitching backward – and he handled all of it.

“So the things we wanted to see him do in the Dominican, he’s already done them. Some guys still want him to go. We’re still discussing it.”

One benefit to sending Moustakas for extra seasoning would be to get him acclimated to more at bats, closer to what he’d see in a full-time role at the big league level. Eric Hosmer, between the minor league season, Texas League postseason, the Pan Am Games and Arizona Fall League games, could see 800 plate appearances in 2010. More at bats could help Moustakas, but again, he’s already shown what he’s capable of, and there are diminishing returns involved. An injury in the Dominican League would be devastating.

The Royals, I think, feel that Moustakas will have a role on the major league team in 2011. It may not be until June, but he’ll be in Kansas City at some point. More games over the winter won’t change that. If it were up to me, I’d keep Moustakas stateside and work on refining his tools and perhaps working on improvements in patience and batting eye (if it’s even possible to “train” someone for those traits).

But Moustakas isn’t the only big hitting prospect the Royals are considering. Wil Myers, currently still slated to be a catcher in 2011, has started taking fly balls in the outfield.

At 19 years old, Myers has shown the ability to hit in the A level of the minors that should start him in Double A Northwest Arkansas next year. That puts him awfully close to Omaha if he continues to hit, perhaps as soon as July. A shift to the outfield could push his bat into the majors by the end of 2012.

The other side of that coin is that as a catcher, Myers would be an elite bat at a thin position offensively. He’s shown some improvement behind the plate and while it would delay his arrival in the big leagues, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Again, he’s only 19 right now.

Imagine this, it’s 2012. Mike Moustakas is coming off a season where he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting, showing solid power but only flashes of hitting finesse. A surge in August and September showed improvement in pitch selection and his average has jumped as a result. Eric Hosmer, fresh off coming up three homers shy of the Pacific Coast League triple crown, is in camp at spring training competing for a spot on the roster. Myers, still behind the plate, is getting work but not in the plans for the season. Hosmer wins the Rookie of the Year voting after batting .300 and hitting 45 doubles. Moustakas, in his first full season in the majors, hits 28 homers and has gradually improved his walkrate, flashing an OPS of .890 overall.

Now, it’s 2013. Moustakas, now 24 years old, is among the best young sluggers in the game. Hosmer, a year younger, is getting there. Myers, now 22, is making the club as a hard-hitting catcher. Surrounded by young talent and two of the American League’s best young hitters, he adjusts well. Meanwhile, the Royals have an outfield of solid contributors and as a team, they push 900 runs.

It’s a nice thought, and here’s the point of it all. Myers coming up while Moustakas and Hosmer are both fully developed (or 90% there) should be more advantageous to a developing catcher. Plus, putting a solid hitter in a position that isn’t usually relied upon relative to other positions is a benefit. If the Royals develop, sign or trade for young outfield bats, they gain a lot over other teams by having a decent enough defensive catcher and maintaining average to strong production elsewhere.

The Royals have some excellent hitting prospects. Now it’s a matter of finding what will get the most out of them for today and for tomorrow.

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Eric Hosmer Kansas City Royals KC Mike Moustakas Wil Myers

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