At various points this offseason, Gage, Wally and myself at Kings of Kauffman will be collaborating to reminisce a little bit about a wild 2010 season and the things we’ll remember most. The goal is to apply some 20/20 hindsight to events of the past to remember our opinions at the time and how they may have changed since. Today, we’ll take a glance at Alex Gordon and his demotion to Omaha in May 2010.
In 2005, the Royals selected Alex Gordon with the second overall pick in the amateur draft. Gordon was finishing up a huge season at the University of Nebraska where he was named College Player of the Year. He made an immediate impact in the minor leagues, destroying Double A pitching to the tune of .325/.427/.588/1.015 with 29 homers in 2006 en route to being named the Minor League Player of the Year as well. Before 2007, he was ranked as the second best prospect in baseball by Baseball America.
With accolades like that, it’s no surprise that Gordon was in the lineup on opening day in 2007. Facing Curt Schilling, Gordon’s first at-bat came with the bases loaded. Here, the future of the Royals – the next “George Brett” – facing a future Hall of Famer in a big situation. A chance to make an impact right away and cement his name in Royals folklore.
And he struck out.
Fast forward to 2010 and Gordon had ended up with a reasonable though disappointing rookie season. He followed it up with signs of improvement in 2008, but 2009 was mostly lost due to hip surgery. That made 2010 an important year for Gordon, and the best way he found to prepare for that was to break his thumb diving into second base in spring training. He started the season on the DL and missed the first ten games of the season.
He played in 12 games up until May 1st when he was sent to Omaha after a .194/.342/.323/.665 start. At the time, the stated purpose was to get him some work in left field and to get regular playing time. Oddly, Gordon had been supplanted at third, in a roundabout way, by Mark Teahen who had moved to the outfield upon the promotion of Alex Gordon. It was Chris Getz‘s return from the disabled list that moved Alberto Callaspo to third and Gordon to Omaha. Getz, of course, is the last remnant of the Carlos Beltran trade that brought Mark Teahen to Kansas City.
After hitting lights out in Triple A, Gordon returned to Kansas City and hit .218/.311/.360/.661 with seven homers and 19 RBI in 243 plate appearances. For a while, it seemed Gordon could only drive in a run if it was via a homer, including a season highlight when he hit a three run walkoff homer against Baltimore in the bottom of the ninth on July 30th. For a moment, it seemed like that was the Gordon we’d been waiting for.
Gordon will open 2011 as the starting left fielder for the Royals (barring any trades). Now’s as good a time as any to look back on the entire saga.
Wally starts us off:
When I first heard the news that Alex had been sent back to Triple-A a certain level of rage welled up inside of me. 2010 was supposed to be time for Gordon to sink or swim and yet again the organization was jerking him around and mishandling him. Then I learned that they were moving him to the outfield and I was a little less frustrated with Dayton Moore and company. A position switch made sense to me and I was elated weren’t converting him to 1B. A change that would have been very Royals-esque and served only to jack with the futures of Kila Ka’aihue, Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer. When I read that Alex had requested the position change and was willing to go to Omaha to make the switch, I was 100% on board and I gained a whole new appreciation for Gordon as a person and as a player.
I have always been in Alex’s corner and have defended him against all comers in discussions with friends, family and other fans I have interacted with along the way. I still believe in his future with this organization and still believe he has a chance to become a star along the lines that we all expected. Maybe that’s just me being naieve, but it’s hard to ignore that he has a career minor league line of 0.321/.438/.578 in 235 games.
By getting away from 3B, Alex distances himself from the “next-George Brett” nonsense that was heaped upon him during his 2006 season in Double-A which earned him Minor League Player of the Year honors. Expectations are a bear to deal with and having to live up to being the next greatest Royals player or the franchise savior only added to the difficult circumstances Gordon has been dealing with. The move to the OF is a way for both the organization and Alex to hit reset and start fresh. Based on his defensive performance in the OF in Omaha and roaming LF in the majors (9.1 UZR/150) it apprears that he has all the tools to be an above average defensive outfielder. Since the Royals are severly lacking guys who are above average defensively this turn of events is an added bonus.
So now we have a still ultra-talented, athletic player who will turn 27 in February as our projected opening day LF. A player who despite the disappointment and setbacks still has as much offensive potential as anyone in the organization. His move gives the Royals their only legitimate home-grown corner outfielder and it allows Mike Moustakas to take over the 3B job in Kansas City as soon as he is ready (I’m hoping for Opening Day). One other benefit to Alex’s demotion and position shift is that it allowed Wilson Betemit a chance to flash some of his skills (offensively speaking anyway), which forced the Royals to bring him back for the 2011 season at a very reasonable $1 million salary. The worst case scenario is that Gordon fails in 2011 as our LF, but if he does he will at least be playing solid defense and filling a position of need at the same time. That’s better than having him fail at 3B, play subpar defense and potentially block the arrival of Moustakas in the process. Based on that and all of the above, I don’t see how anyone can view this as anything but a positive move all the way around.