Brett Eibner takes a lead off first base. (Photo: Michelle Meade)

Kansas City Royals Post-Hype Prospect: Brett Eibner

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I’m not sure where the term “post-hype” came from, but the first time I remember hearing it was on ESPN’s Fantasy Focus podcast. They used it as a way to describe a young baseball player who had debuted to much fanfare, struggled, and then years later, after the hype had died down, finally put something together and started producing as hoped.

Alex Gordon‘s a great example of this. We all know his career trajectory by now – College and Minor League Player of the Year, second overall pick, Opening Day 2007 standing ovation, struggles, injuries, a position change. Then two Gold Gloves. An All-Star Game. Just about when many were starting to give up all hope, he turned everything around.

Right now, the Royals have two prospects in their system who were highly touted back when the Royals had the best farm system the world has ever seen (I might be paraphrasing). They were considered big parts of the future and, like prospects do, struggled.

Brett Eibner was drafted out of the University of Arkansas in the second round of the 2010 draft and, like many 2nd round picks, had high expectations placed on him. Eibner had pitched and played outfield in college and some teams wanted to draft him as a pitcher. Eibner wanted to hit. The Royals gave him his wish.

Eibner had been ranked 10th (2011) and 12th (2012) among Royals prospects by Baseball America and both year’s he was considered to have the best outfield arm in the organization (remember, he’s a former college pitcher). But before 2013, he’d dropped to 29th in their ranks, a token placement almost, just because he was highly regarded for the first two years he was in the league and a former second rounder.

Only in most of two-plus seasons, Eibner hasn’t hit that much. He’s struck out in nearly a third of his plate appearances in the minors (30.8%). His career line entering Thursday is .216/.316/.413.

When he does make contact, he hits for power, and he’s been able to get on base via the walk, so he’s not a complete out machine at the plate. But that lack of contact has limited him from developing as a hitter. He’s also battled numerous injuries – a broken hand, a torn thumb ligament, a jammed shoulder – which have kept him off the field and kept him from seeing more pro at bats. The Royals remained confident that he could get things going if he could get the mental side of the game under control. J.J. Picollo raved about his potential during spring training.

He didn’t get the good start he’d wanted. Through the first two months of the year, Eibner was hanging out in Double A with a .208/.301/.344 line and had four homers. Speculation grew about a potential shift back to pitching.

Since, though, he’s hit for better average, he’s still been getting on base, and he’s been a reliable source of power. In his first two months, he had eight extra base hits total. Since June 1, Eibner’s collected six doubles, six triples, and nine homers. On Monday he was named Texas League player of the week for his July 8-14 stretch where he’d hit four doubles, a triple, and three homers. In June and July, he’s had a .273/.333/.535 line. He’s gotten help from Arvest Ballpark, a hitter-friendly park, but he’s also hit better on the road than at home, so it’s not just the ballpark helping him out.

Still, seven weeks aren’t enough to erase two years of difficulties. At least his recent performance is a sign that hope isn’t dead as far as Eibner’s bat is concerned. If he can continue to build confidence and make hard contact, he could start seeing time in Triple A, and, with no more Wil Myers in the picture, might be a dark horse for big league time in 2014. It’s up to Eibner though. He has to hit to show that the bad days are behind him and he’s ready to jump back into the top ranks of Royals prospects.

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