Last year the Carolina League taught Eric Hosmer a lesson. This year, he's exacting some revenge.
Hosmer's 27-game stretch with high Class A Wilmington last year wasn't without it's highlights—he called the Blue Rocks dogpile after clinching a playoff spot one of the greatest moments of his baseball career. But the Royals' 20-year-old first baseman was wise to focus on team accomplishments—his .206/.290/.299 numbers in Wilmington left many wondering what had happened to a hitter who was acclaimed as the best high school bat in the 2008 draft.
But now that he's healthy and seeing the ball better, Hosmer has taken off in a second stint with Wilmington. Hosmer is hitting .417/.509/.583 in 14 games this season, leading the league in average and OBP. The sweet-swinging lefty already equaled his hit, RBIs and home run numbers from last year's lengthier stay in the Carolina League, and he's done it despite facing lefthanders for 19 of his 48 at-bats.
"He's been pretty impressive to watch," Wilmington manager Brian Rupp said. "Last year was tough for him. It was one thing after another and to his credit he didn't complain about anything. He kept trying to get it done, but it got to the point where they had to get something done. Now he's hitting the ground running."
There never was a point last year when Hosmer realized he couldn't see as well as he should. He didn't all of a sudden discover that he couldn't read the spin on a slider any more. But his coaches saw that something was wrong.
"During the year some of the coaches and my manager noticed I was flinching a little bit when I was catching the ball," Hosmer said. "They asked me to get checked out again."
Hosmer had been diagnosed during spring training 2009 with a mild astigmatism. The return trip to the eye doctor confirmed that it had gotten bad enough for him to need glasses. If that had been the worse of it, it would have been a minor annoyance. But when Hosmer got the glasses he was also trying to play through a knuckle injury. Then the glasses became scratched. Hosmer didn't have a back-up pair and all of a sudden he was having to sit on the bench while he waited for a new pair to arrive. Eventually he decided to get LASIK surgery to permanently correct his vision problem.
"You can definitely tell a difference after (the surgery). I couldn't tell at the time because it was what I was dealing with," he said.
Hosmer said that he now sees the ball better than he did in 2009. The healthy hand (he fractured a knuckle on his right hand last June) has helped regain some of the bat speed he lost last year, and it hasn't hurt that he showed up in great shape this year. Last year scouts were disappointed with Hosmer's athleticism and foot speed. Hosmer spent the offseason back in Florida working out with his old high school coach.
"I took it real serious this offseason. He got me on a nutrition plan," Hosmer said.
It's too early to write off last season's struggles as an injury-induced fluke, but Homser's start to his 2010 season is quickly reminding everyone why he was the third pick in the 2008 draft.
Bringing The Gas
Reds lefthander Aroldis Chapman has lit up radar guns and sold tickets wherever he's gone. His most recent start on Thursday night showed both the good (a fastball that ranged from 91 to 99 mph, eight strikeouts and only one unearned run in 5.1 IP) and the not-so-good
"You've got to be careful with him. Have to hold your breath with him. Have to make sure you do everything right," a coach for a National League team said. "His stuff is so good that he's too close to the big leagues. The people will want to push this boy. He'll dominate wherever he goes."
The coach went on to say that in an ideal situation, the Reds would have been able to start him off at a lower level to allow him to work on refining his command and work on pitching instead of throwing. But because his stuff is so good, it will be hard to hold Chapman back until he's added some polish.
"The only thing that will hurt his command. He has a chance to be absolutely special," he said.
Chapman has frequently topped 100 mph this season and has been recorded on some guns up to 102 mph. That already makes him one of the hardest throwing lefties of all time, but he may not be finished. "He's 22. If that's his correct age, the older he gets he might throw harder," the coach said. "He can add some good weight. Right now it's elasticity that gives him velocity. That's what causes his stroke to be so fabulous."
• There has been no official announcement or roster move, but it appears that Royals No. 1 prospect Mike Montgomery will be promoted to Double-A Northwest Arkansas in time for his next start, scheduled for Friday. The move comes after Montgomery left little doubt that there wasn't much more he could learn against high Class A hitters—he was 2-0, 1.09 in four starts with 33 strikeouts and four walks in 25 innings. His final start with Wilmington on Saturday night was actually his worst of the season—he allowed eight hits in six innings after allowing six hits combined in his first three starts.
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