Such an outcome isn’t as unlikely as most fans might think.
The Kansas City Royals drafted Mike Moustakas no. 2 overall in the 2007 draft. Moustakas dominated in the minor leagues, culminating with The Sporting News naming him Minor League Hitter Of The Year in 2010 after he smashed 36 home runs in AA and AAA.
Moustakas, however, struggled through his first four years of major league baseball after getting called up in the middle of the 2011 season. His highest OPS came in 2012 with a mere .708, which was 9 percent below a league average hitter that season. In 2014, Moustakas struggled so badly that he was sent to Omaha for a month. He hit a mere .212/.271/.361 that season with 15 home runs.
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In short, despite hitting five home runs in the KC Royals run to the 2014 World Series, Mike Moustakas looked like a bust.
As most KC Royals fans now know, Mike Moustakas completely turned his career around in 2015 by learning how to hit to the opposite field. Now, at age 27, Mike Moustakas is a threat to win an American League Most Valuable Player Award.
Does that seem outrageous? Perhaps it is if you look at last season’s .284/.348/.470 slash line and say, “Well, John, 22 home runs, 82 RBI’s, and a 4.4 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) are nice, but they sure don’t compare to Josh Donaldson.”
The fact is, Mike Moustakas age-26 breakthrough in 2015 looks a lot like Josh Donaldson’s age-26 emergence in 2012. Donaldson wallowed early in the season, compiling a .153/.160/.235 slash line in 100 plate appearances through June. After tearing up AAA Sacramento, Donaldson returned to Oakland and finished with a .290/.356/.489 ending kick in August and September with eight home runs and 26 RBI’s.
Those final two months served as early notice for the player that would establish himself as a star in 2013, and finish fourth in the American League MVP vote.
That season, former first round pick Donaldson overcame the “bust” label to slash .301/.384/.499 with 24 home runs and 93 RBI’s while putting up an impressive 7.7 bWAR as the starting third baseman for the A’s.
While 7.7 WAR seems much better than Moose’s 4.4 WAR in 2015, Mike Moustakas’ 2015 season was even better than his numbers indicate. Moustakas’ mother passed away in July, and Mike’s production tanked. Throw out his .188/.261/.306 July, and Moustakas slashes .301/.362/.500 in 2015, for a much healthier .862 OPS.
Moustakas begins to look a lot more like Donaldson when you notice that Moose’s power numbers soared in August and September. After Mike Moustakas established early in 2015 that he could beat the shift, pitchers could no longer pitch him away and expect him to hit weak grounders and pop ups to the left side. Moustakas was able to go back to pulling the ball.
Moose slashed .281/.375/.562 in August and followed up with .291/.342/.563 in September. He slammed 12 of his 22 home runs in the last two months of the season. To put it in simple terms, Moustakas finally became the type of player scouts envisioned when he was a prospect.
Maybe, like Josh Donaldson, those last two months are a signal to what Mike Moustakas will become over the next few years: a guy that you can imagine hitting 30+ home runs despite playing half of his games in Kauffman Stadium.
Josh Donaldson’s power continued to improve after 2013. Donaldson slammed 29 home runs in 2014, and then added 41 dingers (and a .939 OPS) in his MVP season for the Blue Jays in 2015.
If Mike Moustakas follows Josh Donaldson’s late-bloomer path, he could become a viable MVP candidate for the KC Royals in 2016.