If you look up the definition of the word ‘enigma’ in the dictionary, you will find that it means “A person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand”. But depending on which edition you’re looking at, you may also see a photo of Royals prospect Mike Moustakas accompanied by his monthly splits from the 2011 season.
What is Moustakas? It’s hard to say at this point. The 23 year old had a roller coaster 2011 that somewhat clouded his position as one of the brightest young prospects in the game. Let’s break down Moustakas’ 2011 month by month, and then see what can be gleaned from the figures.
April: Moustakas entered the year as the #9 ranked prospect in all of baseball, according to Baseball America. Coming off a season in which he hit 36 home runs with a .999 OPS over two minor league levels, that was not a shock. What was a shock, however, was how Moustakas began the season in Omaha. Remember, Moustakas was pegged as the team’s most MLB-ready prospect heading into 2011. Eric Hosmer was younger and considered farther away, a player who could potentially find his way to Kansas City by the end of the season. But Moustakas was ready, ostensibly only in Omaha to delay his service clock.
But then April happened. Moustakas batted .229 in the month, while also sporting a .304 OBP. He recorded only six extra base hits. Even if the Royals wanted to call him up after April, they couldn’t have warranted it based on merit. Meanwhile, Hosmer was crushing Triple-A pitching to the tune of a .410 batting average and 1.027 OPS.
In just one short month, Moustakas had been leapfrogged.
Month of April Assessment: Bad.
May: May was an excellent bounce-back month for Moustakas, and was generally taken as a sign that his slow April was an anomaly. He looked like uber-prospect Mike Moustakas all over again. He hit five home runs and 11 doubles on his way to a .321 average and .942 OPS in May. He was back.
One narrative bandied about during this time was that Moustakas was motivated by the May 6 promotion of his friend Hosmer, and was now especially committed to joining him up in the majors. Ultimately, Royals fans didn’t care why Moustakas started raking in May. Maybe he was motivated by the promotion of Hosmer. Or maybe he was simply due. It was just nice to see Moustakas pounding the ball again.
Month of May Assessment: Excellent.
June: Moustakas played only seven games for Omaha in June before finally earning his much anticipated promotion to Kansas City. But once he made it to the majors, Moustakas was a mixed bag.
He took a walk in each of his first four games with the Royals, and ended the month with eight walks against nine strikeouts. His OBP was a healthy .354. Moustakas also looked steadier than expected in the field. There was one point of concern, however.
Moustakas was hitting for no power. I don’t mean that to say “less power than usual”. It means that Moustakas had just one extra base hit in the entire month, a home run in his second game with the team. He didn’t have a double or a triple all month. For Royals fans who’d been hearing about his light tower power for years, his performance was, well, bewildering. We had no idea what we were in for.
Month of June Assessment: Up and down.
July: On July 3rd Moustakas hit his first two major league doubles in a 16-8 win over the Rockies. He went 3 for 6 in the game, raising his average to .290, his OBP t0 .370, and his OPS to a respectable .734. In an up and down season, it looked like he was getting ready to take another glorious trip up to the peaks.
But then Moustakas went five games without a hit. After breaking that slide with a modest two-game hit streak, he went hitless for another five straight. Moustakas hit only six doubles in the month, and did not record a home run. He wasn’t swinging with authority, and he was letting pitchers control his at-bats. By the end of the month, Moustakas* had dipped below the dreaded Mendoza line: he was batting .199 with a .259 OBP and an almost unbelievable .258 slugging percentage.
*So the word ‘Moustakas’ has now shown up in this article on 24 different occasions, including in this very sentence. For now, I will maintain journalistic integrity and hold off on referring to him as a 1,500 pound beast with antlers. For now.
At this point he looked like he was in need of, gulp, the dreaded trip back down to Omaha for more “seasoning”.
Month of July Assessment: Especially awful.
August: At this point, Moustakas’ slump was getting painfully hard to watch. I still remember living and dying with each subsequent at-bat during the slump, cheering him on like a small child whenever he put a sting on the ball. I don’t know Moustakas personally, but I know his reputation as a competitor. It must have been brutal to suffer through such a difficult stretch.
On August 16, Moustakas was hitting .182 with a .237 OBP and a .227 slugging percentage on the season. He had two walks against 13 strikeouts for the month. And he still hadn’t hit a home run since June 11. If he had looked like he needed a trip to Omaha at the end of July, then he was long overdue now. After every game, I found myself bracing for the announcement of his demotion.
But on August 17th, Moustakas went 3 for 3 with a double. Something had finally clicked. The next day he got another hit in four at bats. The day after that, he went one for two with a double and a walk. That may not seem like much, but after essentially two months of incessant struggle, it was like the parting of the Red Sea for Royals fans.
Although Moustakas still didn’t break his home run drought in August, his aforementioned hitting outburst was the beginning of a 15 game hit streak that would raise his season batting average to .232 and his OPS to .576. He had finally turned the corner.
Month of August Assessment: Average, and that’s with bonus points for finishing strong.
September: Despite finishing off his 15 game hitting streak on September 1st, Moustakas was just beginning to catch fire.
He was otherworldly, actually faring better in September at the major-league level than he did during his time at Omaha. He put up a .352 batting average and a .960 OPS during the month. On September 8 Moustakas began another hitting streak, this one eleven games, and finally cured his power outage. After going more than three months without a single long ball, he hit home runs in three of four games from September 14 until September 17.
You could see the pressure melting off of Moustakas’ body. He seemed free, loose. And the numbers showed. Moustakas ended the season with a .263 average and .675 OPS, respectable numbers for a rookie. Combined with his above average defense and considering the fact that he dug himself out of a seemingly infinite hole, I call that a win.
Month of September Assessment: Superb.
So, Moustakas’ 2011 looked something like this, month by month: Bad, Excellent, Up and Down, Especially Awful, Average, and Superb. How’s that for variation? From what we saw last year, Moustakas should essentially be a wild card heading into 2012. He could potentially fall anywhere within the spectrum he occupied in 2011. For that reason, it should be an intriguing season. And now, for those of you who have stuck around this long, I suppose that I owe you my (wild and purely subjective) predictions for Moustakas this season.
Projected 2012 line for Mike Moustakas: .278/.337/.460 with 29 doubles, 17 home runs, and 76 RBI’s.
And if I had to choose, I’d say it’s more likely that he exceeds those figures than falls short of them. But that’s just my (wild and purely subjective) opinion, so take it for what it’s worth.