Missouri is known as the Show-Me state, a nickname garnered from the inherent skepticism that lies within nearly every born and bred Midwesterner. Perhaps no fan base embodies this attitude more than the Kansas City Royals fan base. Surrounded by the sometimes over the top optimism of the other major sports teams in the area, the Royals are the exception. After years of being promised that ‘things will get turned around,’ and being told players like Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Carlos Beltran, and Zack Greinke are the future only to see them traded away and seeing others like Angel Berroa and Alex Gordon show promise but not lead to any more wins, the fan base is understandably skeptical.
General Manager Dayton Moore has kept his manta of process, process, process but there has been nothing to show for it at the major league level as of yet. The question the fan base has is why should we expect something different this time? Royals fans have been drug through the ringer many times and it is no surprise that they keep the recent publicity around the farm system at arm’s length.
The most recent example of what can go wrong in these scenarios is apparent in who was supposed to be the “next George Brett” Alex Gordon. Gordon had a huge story in Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine, he was regarded as a “can’t miss” prospect. Gordon was supposed to be the savior of the franchise and was all over the media. Sound familiar? The recent stories in Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine about the Royals young contingent are eerily similar to what happened with Gordon. Yet, there are some marked differences that we should have realized were red flags with Gordon and should give us more hope for how our current crop of young talent is being handled.
We’re going to take a look at Gordon not from a “will he ever pan out?” perspective; rather, we will look at Gordon as the worst case scenario and show why the young KC prospects are in better shape this time around. Since Alex Gordon was a 3rd baseman with loads of offensive talent, to show the differences this time around I will compare him with the current 3rd baseman with loads of offensive talent, Mike Moustakas. Moustakas was the first pick of the Dayton Moore era, barely signed under the deadline, and was one of the most talented players the Royals had drafted right out of high school in a long while. Word on the street was that Moustakas would be ready for the Majors in just a couple of years. The first building block of the Royals resurgence was on its way. Sound familiar?
The difference in the two (and with all the current prospects) is that Moustakas is being handled much differently than Gordon was. Perhaps Gordon was a victim of his own hype and perhaps the Royals fell too in love and grew too impatient with trying to get Gordon up to the majors and get some butts in the seats, either way, he was moved through the system too quickly. As good as Gordon was in the Minors you can’t be blinded by the numbers and not give him the time he needs to fully mature. Let’s take a look at the rise of these two players.
Here are Gordon’s stats to date:
[Stats obtained from fangraphs.com]
The first thing you notice from this is that Gordon came on the scene and just blew up in Double A. The Royals decided that putting up those monster numbers meant he could go straight to the majors, even after only one year in minor league baseball. He started the year with the club in 2007 and never looked back. In his first full year in the majors in 2007 he started off slow then started to warm up a bit and ended up with a line of .247/.314/.411. This was by no means great or even good, but enough to show some promise looking towards the future. What was missing was looking a little deeper at what was in front of them.
Looking at his first year in Double A Gordon’s strikeout rate 23.3% and he only walked 12.5% of the time. The walk rate was decent but that is pretty high strikeout rate for Double A ball. You would want Gordon to have a little bit more time to get those numbers down and adjust to seeing that level of pitching. This stat just showed that he had the raw talent, but the rest of it wasn’t quite there yet. He wasn’t ready. To exacerbate this issue, when he reached the majors these numbers only got worse. His strikeout rate increased to over 25% and his walk rate decreased to a paltry 6.8%. These were all signs that he was not ready to face big league pitching and needed mor etime to adjust. Sometimes you can take high strikeout rates if the player gives you the numbers to look past it, but Gordon didn’t. At this point he should have been sent back down to the minors, but the Royals kept riding him in the majors.
After that it was all downhill. He started off 2008 slow again, then started to heat up but only managed to muster a .260/.352./432 line, an improvement, but not big enough. His walk rate increased but still wasn’t better than his year in Double A and his strikeout rate was still hovering around 25%. The organization should have seen the signs and given Gordon more time to feel comfortable before vaulting him to the majors, but what’s done is done and it was too late at this point.
Now let’s take a look at Mike Moustakas and see how his route was different. Here are Moustakas’ stats to date:
As a 19 year old Moustakas put up modest numbers in his first year in Single A ball. Some slight improvement in 2009 still had people doubting his prospect status but as he got more comfortable at each level his numbers began to improve more and more to the point where he absolutely killed it in Double A in 2010 and continued his impressive showing in Triple A last year completing a .293/.314/.564 line. His numbers don’t seem to wow until you look at the splits and realize that he hit a ridiculous .331/.357/.636 in August compared to his start in Triple A in July where he was hitting a pedestrian .247/.253/.468. This is the type of improvement you want to see in a young prospect as they get used to different levels of competition. It will be good for Moustakas to season a bit more at the start of the year and see if he can keep it up at the Triple A level before he gets his call up for a shot at the majors.
I know the argument against this situation, Alex Gordon came from college and Moustakas came from high school so of course Gordon should have had a quicker route to the majors. However, I bring up one example, Evan Longoria. Longoria also came from college, in the same draft as Gordon no less, and he still started in low A ball. Let’s take a look at Longoria’s progression and his stats to date:
If Evan Longoria was Alex Gordon, Longoria would have been shipped to the majors after his 2007 .307/.403/528 stint in Double A, which is eerily similar to Gordon’s Double A numbers of .325/.427/.588. Even if Longoria was sent up at this time, he still would have had an entire year longer than Gordon at this level. The Rays kept Longoria down for another year to gain experience and the results speak for themselves. Longoria is an all-star and Gordon is an also-ran.
Now, the instant comparisons between Longoria and Moustakas are apparent, they both started in Low A or Rookie ball and worked their way up through the system not skipping a step along the way. Both have spent time in Triple A, but weren’t moved at the first sign of success. They both had great years in Double AA ball but weren’t shipped the majors from there. They were given time to adjust at the next level in Triple A ball. Longoria and Moustakas have nearly the same exact career path to this point. Longoria started the 2008 season in Triple A ball and then came up to help the Rays make a run to the 2008 World Series.
Moustakas has shown the ability to improve his numbers at each level like Longoria. More important than his triple slash line, Moustakas has shown the ability to decrease his strikeout numbers which is something that Gordon was never able to do. Perhaps if Gordon was given another year in the minors we would be talking about our all-star third baseman we have. As it stands now, Gordon is next on the long list of players that were rushed and made the jump to the pros too early.
The Royals do not seem to be keen on making that mistake twice, they are bringing Moustakas and the others along slowly putting them at every level and not just moving them to the big league team when they show a little bit of success. The Royals are letting these players get their footing and that will pay off huge dividends in the future. The way Dayton Moore and the Royals have handled their young players should make it a little easier for Royals fans to stomach the process. Moore is doing it the right way and we all need to “trust the process.”