Mike Moustakas made an early New Year’s Resolution for 2014 when he resolved to head to the Venezuelan Winter League this December for three to five weeks in order to get his swing back together. From December 1st through December 22nd, Moustakas played for the Cardenales de Lara, managed by Royals hitting coach Pedro Grifol. There, under his tutelage, it was hoped that Moustakas would be able to tap into his power and show signs of being the hitter that the Royals hoped he would be.
Overall, in his 17 games with Lara, Moustakas hit at a .288/.360/.515 rate with three home runs and six doubles. Although he did strike out 16 times in 66 at bats, there were still positive signs. Over his last nine games, Moustakas struck out only seven times in his final 33 at bats, and he ended his time with a five game hitting streak, slugging four doubles in that span.
Another encouraging sign was how Mike Moustakas performed against left handed pitching. After struggling against lefties throughout his career, Moustakas held his own against southpaws in the VWL, producing a .259/.394/.296 batting line. While the power was disappointing, as Moustakas only had one extra base hit, a double, against left handed pitching, his ability to make contact and actually get on base against left handers may be a sign that the adjustments are starting to work.
The power increase was also significant. Moustakas had an extra base hit in 13.6% of his at bats for Lara, up from his career mark of 7.8% for the Royals. Extrapolated out over a full season for Moustakas, that would give him approximately 76 extra base hits based on the average number of at bats that he has had over the past two seasons. While it is unlikely that Moustakas gets that much playing time with the acquisition of Danny Valencia, if he can produce extra base hits at that rate, then the Royals may finally get the power hitter that they envisioned when Moustakas was drafted with the second overall pick.
Perhaps the acquisition of Valencia proved to be the spark that Mike Moustakas needed to put in the effort and get himself back on track. Perhaps he just needed the refresher in Lara to work on getting his swing back in shape. Perhaps it was a combination of both. At any rate, the time spent in the VWL appears to have been a positive experience for Moustakas with the bat.
While it is difficult to know whether or not those adjustments made in the past three weeks will remain with Moustakas through Spring Training and throughout the 2014 season, the early returns are favorable. Now, he just needs to continue those improvements going forward.