Friday, May 6, 2011

MLB Player to Watch: Eric Hosmer

Earlier this year, I wrote about how Kila Ka'aihue was an MLB Player to Watch.  So, you might wonder, why did you write about a guy who batted .195 in 23 games this season before getting sent down to Triple-A, Charlie?  Part of the answer, of course, was that he had a pretty impressive minor league track record of getting on base and hitting for power, and those types of guys are always worth watching when they get a shot in the big leagues.  Not only would it be interesting to see if he could be a successful major leaguer, but his fate would, no doubt, be connected to another young first baseman in the Royals system.  Never mind that that GM Dayton Moore and the Royals front office probably mishandled the whole situation by not giving him an earnest opportunity to play and it's questionable if they will ever understand how to value and assemble a major league roster, because that may not even matter soon.  

Why, you ask again?  BECAUSE ERIC HOSMER IS MAKING HIS DEBUT TONIGHT!!!!  That's the second reason I wrote about Kila -- because Hosmer is a stud we knew he'd be making it difficult to keep him in the minors very long, especially if Ka'aiahue struggled.  Well, he struggled, and Hosmer was even better than we expected, and now he's in Kansas City for all of us to watch.

The Past

Hosmer was drafted 3rd overall by the Royals in the 2008 Rule IV Draft out of American Heritage High School in Plantation, Florida.  He signed for a $6 million signing bonus, but played only three games that summer after signing, which is not uncommon for top picks who sign around the deadline (and he actually signed after it).  Despite his age and lack of professional playing time, Baseball America ranked him as the 24th best prospect in the majors, a ranking he followed up with a disappointing .241/..334/.361 season between Low-A and High-A.  The numbers weren't good, but the guy was still young for each level.

Then 2010 happened. He went back to High-A Wilmington to start the season and absolutely raked, earning a promotion to Double-A Northwest Arkansas for the last 50 games of the year.  This, of course, was significant, because very rarely had we seen such a collection of talent on one minor league team at the same time, possibly not since the Dodgers' Jacksonville 5.  By the end of the season, the Naturals, as the team was/is appropriately named, boasted a complete rotation of top prospects (Aaron Crow, Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Chris Dwyer and Danny Duffy) and two of the top young hitters in baseball in Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.  With this many promising players within a year of the majors, Kansas City easily ranked as the best system in baseball.  With a combined batting line of .338/.406/.571 and 20 homers across two levels, Hosmer was the best of them all.

The Present

Coming into this season, Keith Law had Hosmer ranked as the 5th best prospect in all of baseball and Baseball America had him eighth, but many predicted Moustakas would be the first of the two to get called up.  Part of that probably had to do with the fact that there was actually some depth with Billy Butler and Ka'aiahue in KC, but there also appeared little chance that the Royals had a chance to contend, even in a so-so division.  Few doubted that Hosmer was capable of leaving spring training with the big club, but there was no need to rush him, from both either a financial (keeping him in the minors into June would help delay his arbitration status an extra year) or a development perspective.

As is often the case, things didn't go quite as planned.  Kila struggled.  The division has turned out to be worse than anyone could have expected, with Cleveland in the lead and Kansas City in second, only 4.5 games back. But most importantly, Hosmer gave them no choice.  There are times when we can feel free to disregard sample size, and when a guy like this goes out and hits .439/.525/.582 in 26 games at Triple-A and his team has a chance at the playoffs, it qualifies as one of those times.

The Royals couldn't wait any longer -- first baseman Eric Hosmer will be in their lineup on Friday night... 
"We feel the time is now," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said... 
Manager Ned Yost said Hosmer will go into the lineup immediately.  "He's in a league of his own, the time is right," Yost said... 
"He's ready, it's as simple as that," Yost said. "The kid's hitting .440 and he's ready to come up."
Well, there you have it.  He's ready, and now he's here.

No comments: