Over the years, the Royals have lacked homegrown power hitters. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are the two prospects who are supposed to change that.
But two months into the season, you wouldn’t know it from Moustakas and Hosmer’s stats. Hosmer has hit three home runs and is slugging .395 for low Class A Burlington while Moustakas is hitting .267/.306/.437 for high Class A Wilmington although he does have seven home runs.
For Moustakas, a late-May/early June slump has depressed his overall statistics. His 2-for-3 day against Lynchburg on Sunday was his first multi-hit game since May 23. Since then he is only 9-for-50 (.180) with three doubles and no home runs–his last home run came on May 18. His slugging percentage has dropped more than 60 points in the past three weeks.
The shocking part of Moustakas’ slump is how rarely he’s striking out during it. Moustakas has only fanned four times during those 50 at-bats while walking four times as well. He was striking out in 18.6 percent of his at-bats before the slump and only 8 percent of the time during his swoon. He hasn’t been swinging and missing–he’s been making contact without getting much production.
But Moustakas himself doesn’t blame it on bad luck. As he sees it, he’s working counts pretty well, but he’s not hitting the pitches he needs to connect with.
"Really I’ve been missing good pitches. I need to prove I can hit good fastballs," he said. Right now I get a good pitch to hit and I just miss it."
As the old baseball cliche’ goes, you usually get one good hitter’s pitch an at-bat. According to Moustakas, he’s just failing to connect squarely with those right now, which has led to lots of less than ideal contact or decent contact, but on tough pitches.
Hosmer has followed a more traditional route this season for a warm-weather hitter playing in the cold-weather Midwest League. In the chill of an Iowa April, Hosmer, a Florida native, found himself hitting only .140 with no home runs and two extra-base hits two weeks into the season. Moustakas, a Californian, had the same trouble last year before rebounding to lead the Midwest League in home runs.
Ever since that slow start, Hosmer has steadily been showing improvement.
"I think he got a little overanxious," Burlington manager Jim Gabella said. "One he realized he needed to stay within his swing he settled down. He has the unique ability to use the whole field to hit. Eric has the ability to use that left center gap. Once he started realizing that he started taking off."
Hosmer hit .299/.413/.493 in May, so his season has started to turnaround since the slow April. Hosmer’s significant lefty/righty splits (.156/.240/.267 against lefties compared to .303/.415/.443 against righthanders) is also typical for a young lefthanded slugger. But Gabella says he hasn’t seen any sign that Hosmer should have long-term trouble with lefties. He doesn’t bail out against them and he’s shown good swings against lefties recently.
While Hosmer and Moustakas have had their struggles, Jeff Bianchi has revitalized his prospect status with a very strong start to the 2009 season. Bianchi was the Royals’ second-round pick in 2005, so it’s fair to say that a repeat trip to high Class A Wilmington has him on the slow track to the majors–he’s already in his fifth pro season.
But Bianchi’s problems have been magnified by a long-string of injuries. Shoulder problems wiped out almost his entire 2006 season and he also battled back issues early during his career. Last year, he was moved to second base in deference to Chirs McConnell, but hamstring problems again limited him.
But Bianchi is healthy this year and back at shortstop, his most natural position. Healthy again, he’s showing solid range for Wilmington, plus the sure and steady hands that have been a trademark of his career: his .978 fielding percentage leads the league.
More importantly, he’s hitting above .300 for the first time since his stints in the Rookie-level Arizona League. Bianchi is hitting .311/.379/.456 with 11 steals in 13 attempts. He’s miscast as a cleanup hitter for the Blue Rocks, but his improved approach has helped raise the possibility that he could again be a table-setter for an organization that is thin at shortstop. And while it is his fifth season as a pro, he’s still only 22.
"He’s done everything you could possibly ask," Wilmington manager Brian Rupp said.
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