Mike Moustakas in the middle of a scorching September. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE
It’s almost spring training, so it’s almost time to stop looking back to 2011 and looking forward to “Our Time.” So to work towards a conclusion in reviewing the seasons of the Royals top prospects, let’s look at #3 on that countdown: Mike Moustakas*.
*The original intent was to finish off the last three spots in reviewing how the prospects in our top 25 from 2011’s preseason fared by the end of January. Maybe it’s a combination of being busy and that prospect lists kind of get boring after the first 80% of names are listed. It’s like the NCAA tournament selection – the top four seeds are usually pretty obvious, but how the 2-5 seeds shake out carries a lot of intrigue and generates discussion. I think it’s the same way here.
After a huge 2010 where he led the minor leagues in homers and RBIs, Moustakas looked close to the big leagues. There were even rumors swirling that he might get a look in late August or September. Of course, that didn’t happen but he entered 2011 ready to make the jump. In 2010, he’d split time between Double A and Triple A, finishing with 52 games in Omaha. In 2011, he opened the year with 55 games in Omaha and produced at basically the same level that he’d finished 2010. He hit less homers in his second trip to Omaha, but walked more frequently.
After Eric Hosmer had been promoted in May, the clock was ticking for Moustakas to get his promotion. Finally, he got the call in early June, he had both a hit and walk in his first four games, including his first major league homer in his second game on June 11.
His next homer came more than three months later on September13.
In between the two homers, Moose had some struggles. That’s nothing new – his narrative has always included struggles and adjustments when moving to a new level. He struggled in 2009, then hit well out of the gate in 2010. After a promotion to Triple A, he struggled again before going on a rampage in August. He started out well in 2011 and then struggled upon reaching the big leagues.
Kevin Goldstein was on 610 Sports in Kansas City a couple of times this past week and mentioned that Moustakas is an interesting player because of those struggles. He made mention that during last season, Moustakas had to adjust after slumps dropped his average to .182 on August 16. He started to focus on hitting the ball, but not necessarily for power. It worked and a huge September brought Moustakas to a respectable (though not great) .263/.309/.367 line. Goldstein mentioned that the trick will be to maintain the adjustments that led to the resurgence while adding the power back into his game. As Marcus Meade discussed last week, Moose will have to hit for power to be of value going forward – it’s just who he is.
That’s the key element to watch in 2012.
As for the adjustments made by Moustakas, he improved his plate discipline slightly and drove the ball a lot better – especially against right-handed pitchers:
Spray chart vs. RHP from 6/10-8/16.
Spray chart from 8/17 and on vs. RHP
That spray chart shows a lot more balls getting to the outfield and a lot more headed towards the wall – or over it. Moose hit four of his five homers in September, all against righties.
He did a lot of damage against the fastball, particularly when out over the plate.
Pitches from RHP swung at in 2011.
So that’s a good thing to build on. Most pitchers worked him from the middle out. This was the case among pitchers from both sides of the mound:
It looks like pitchers focused on going down and away in particular, and he didn’t do great on those pitches:
Moose vs. all pitchers.
Overall, he didn’t do poorly either from what the heat map suggests. During games, it seemed that he was willing to go with the pitch and take what contact he could get rather than trying to pull the ball all the time. As pitchers continued to hammer the ball away from him, he kept going with it.
That may have been the key adjustment he made that spurred his late-season explosion.
Compare where batted balls went up to 8/16, where an 0-3 day dropped his average to its low point:
From 6/10 to 8/16 vs. all pitchers
He’s hitting a lot to the shallow outfield, but so many outs are pop ups in foul territory or to infielders or grounders to the infield that he was making it easy on the defense. When he did get a hit, it looks like it was falling in front of an outfielder instead of between or past one.
Starting on 8/17, he was turning things around, starting with a 3-3 day against the Yankees. For the rest of the year, he used the whole field a lot better:
Spray chart from 8/17 and on, vs. all pitchers
He still had some weak outs to the infield but what stands out is how often the ball gets out to the warning track, the gaps and down the lines. There aren’t the same clusters around shortstop and second base and instead many of those balls ended up getting into the outfield. Up to 8/16, Moose had grounded out over 21% of the time and popped out 13.7%. From 8/17 on, he grounded out just over 14% of the time and popped out 12.75% of the time. That’s going to help. During July, in the midst of his slump, Moustakas was hitting a grounder 41% of the time but a line drive only 12%. In August, he hit a line drive 19% of the time. In September, he hit a liner 24% of the time and a ground ball just 27% of the time.
That’s what it will take – hit the ball hard, drive the ball deep, and, as Goldstein said on his segment on 610, that might add the power back into Moustakas’s game. He’ll open 2012 as the everyday third baseman, probably batting 6th in the lineup unless his power really comes on. Some projections have him hovering in the .270 range with his batting average and anywhere from 15 to 20 homers.
I think most Royals fans would find that production acceptable for his first full season in the big leagues.
All spray charts and pitch locations from TexasLeaguers.com while I also want to thank Twitter follower @phoggg for helping me dig up the heat maps from the Bill James IQ app for iPhone (as I own a Droid). If you like Kansas Jayhawk sports, he’s a great follow.