The good people of Kansas City have been panting like dogs over the long awaited arrival of Eric Hosmer. I’ve read dozens of articles praising his abilities and upside. I’ve listened to AM radio talk show hosts analyze how his successes in the Minors will translate to the Big Leagues. I’ve heard endless debate about whether he’ll be an All-Star, MVP, lead the Royals to the playoffs, or even the World Series. Discussion of his monster numbers in Omaha and everywhere else have people projecting out his stats into infinity.
Admittedly, I’m just as excited as everyone else – I can’t wait to see what this guy has to offer.
But Friday night, as I watched his debut with great hope and anticipation, I couldn’t help but think about the other man involved in this story. Late this week there was another car, heading in the opposite direction on Interstate 29. And as Kila Ka’aihue drove north towards the lights of Omaha, the mood in that car had to have been one of disbelief, disappointment, and pain.
It wasn’t that long ago that Kila was the object of Royals fan’s desire. He was a great big left-handed hitting Hawaiian who was absolutely raking in Omaha. He hit 20 HR back in 2005, but had his break out year in 2008. He hit .314, pounded 37 HR, and drove in 100 runs. He was a minor-league All-Star. The Royals finally seemed to have their power hitter waiting in the wings. His season was good enough to earn him a September call up to the 60-79 Royals for his big-league debut…as a pinch runner. He made his first big-league start the next day, hitting 9th in the order and replacing another Royal fizzle, Ryan Shealy. Kila singled in his third at-bat and went 1-4 on the day.
Kila ended up with 21 Major League at-bats in 2008, and Royals fans were excited to see more of this guy. However, his numbers dipped in 2009 and he spent the entire year in Omaha. In 2010, he bounced back, putting up the kind of numbers in Omaha that Royals management wanted to see. He hit .319 with 24 HR in 94 games, and was on his way back to the Show. However, he struggled again in Kansas City and hit just .217 in 54 games to finish the year.
Still, Royals fans saw something they liked in Kila Ka’aihue. With hard work in the off-season and a fantastic spring training, he made the opening day roster and won the starting first base job – bumping Billy Butler into the DH role. After going 0 for 3 on Opening Day, he came through with his biggest moment in a Royals uniform when he smashed a walk-off home run for the first win of the 2011 season. Kila had arrived.
It was all downhill from there.
While the guys around him were experiencing all kinds of new-found success and the team was winning ballgames left and right, Kila struggled to find his swing. To compound his frustration, his offensive woes seemed to carry over to his play in the field. Balls that would be easy picks for most first basemen of his caliber were missed. You could see it on his face. The future was coming and he had the world’s biggest target on his back.
He was the weakest link.
After Wednesday night’s loss, his last before being sent down, he batted 7th and went 0-4 with 2 strikeouts. His average fell to .195 with just 2 HR and 6 RBI on the season. Sure, he only had 82 ABs, so the opinion of some was that he needed more time to figure things out. However, it was said that this move was made at this time because the team was winning. The best players needed to be in Kansas City today.
This is encouraging for Royals fans. These games mean something. It’s not like in years past where they could just call guys up whenever or wherever because the team was 20 games out of first place and it didn’t matter either way. The Royals made this move to get better right now. It makes me giddy.
Anyway, back to Kila. So at age 27, what’s his future?
On Thursday Ned Yost said, “We need to get Kila going, Kila’s an important part of our organization. We’re going to need him to be productive. He’d been fighting it up here. It gives him a chance to re-group down there and get his swing back in line. We’re going to need him sometime over the course of the year to give us a big push.”
This gives the indication that the Royals see a spot for him in Kansas City if he can get back on track. But where? If Hosmer does what he’s supposed to be capable of doing, the first base position will be locked down for several years. If Eric needs a day off, there are a number of guys who can step in.
Beyond that, it seems like their other options would be to find a new position for him or shop him around. Learning a new position and being Major League ready at it is an amazing feat. Guys who have accomplished that are few and far between. I don’t know if another American League team would be willing to take a chance on him at this point in his career. Unfortunately for him, his track record right now shows that he hits the crap out of the ball in Omaha, not so much in Kansas City.
It’s the business of baseball that puts guys in this kind of situation. It’s been going on forever and everyone knows we’ve seen tons of “great guys” not produce at the big league level and disappear. While it’s tough to swallow, it’s what has to happen for this franchise to improve. So it’s on to bigger and better things for the 2011 Royals, but just remember that while we’re all crowning a new savior, there is someone else who has just lost his job.