Monday, June 13, 2011

The Royals Rebuilding Continues: Mike Moustakas Arrives

The Royals' other top 10 prospect, third baseman Mike Moustakas, was called up on Friday and started the past three games, going 3 for 10 with three walks and the first of what could be many home runs. Moustakas follows Eric Hosmer, who debuted a month ago, along with pitchers Tim Collins, Aaron Crow and Jeremy Jeffress in the Royals youth movement.

Drafted #2 overall in the 2007 draft out of Chatsworth High School, the same school that produced Dwight Evans, Moustakas saw his status jump around over the years due to some fluctuations in batting average. He had a breakout season in 2010, going .322/.369/.630 with 36 home runs and 124 RBI at AA and AAA as a 21 year old, vaulting him to #9 in Baseball America's status. The one concern was his low K/BB rate, consistently striking out at least twice as often as he walked, an issue that some believed would keep his batting average down.

Beginning the 2011 season in AAA, Moustakas continued to show power, with 15 2B and 10 HR in 250 PA. However, 41 strikeouts to only 19 walks had some scouts worried, and it kept his overall production at .287/.347/.498 - good, but not fantastic. Still, the Royals are committed to their rebuilding, and decided that Moustakas, likely past being eligible for the "Super Two" status that's become the bugaboo among GMs recently, should get his chance.

So, Moustakas deserves his status as a top prospect, but he is hardly flawless. The three walks in his first three MLB games are a good sign, but are not really in line with his past performance. If Moustakas continues his free-swinging ways, major league pitchers with better control and more ability to make adjustments than their minor league counterparts, will simply give Moustakas little in the way of hittable pitches. Moustakas replaces Wilson Betemit, who was hitting .289/.348/.411, his second consecutive good season for Kansas City. It seems like forever ago when Betemit was a top-10 prospect himself, but he is only 29 years old and has a career .268/.336/.443 line. His defense leaves something to be desired, and I'm skeptical of the Royals' plan to use him in a utility role that includes being a backup SS and 2B, but I don't expect him to be a Royal much longer. Betemit could be had in trade with a team that needs a starting 3B or switch hitter off the bench who can play the four corners and possibly the middle infield in a real emergency. The Rockies, who have run out of patience with Ian Stewart, or the Mariners if they decide they are contenders and are willing to accept that Chone Figgins isn't getting the job done, are destinations that could make sense.

I'm not sure if Moustakas is an immediate upgrade over Betemit offensively in 2011, but the Royals are not playing for this year. Moustakas has such advanced power that there's little more he can do to improve in AAA - he'll always have that power to fall back on, and he'll be facing a lot of pitchers who are in AAA because they give up too many home runs. That combination will make it hard for him to improve his other skills, such as improving his plate discipline and making more consistent contact. With the Royals likely aiming for a 2013 date for being real contenders, getting Moustakas 1000 or so plate appearances by then will allow him to make those necessary adjustments. I like Hosmer's upside more, because I see him as a more well-rounded hitter, but Moustakas has an upside as a 45 home run type, settling in nicely as a #5 hitter behind Hosmer, Billy Butler, and a finally-producing Alex Gordon.


Miles said...

Great article. I picked up Moustakas in my fantasy league the moment he was called up. He's actually showing a lot of patience at the plate, but he only has the one home run (his only extra-base hit thus far) to go along with just one RBI through 13 games. I can't wait until he starts putting his power on display

The Dunne Deal said...

It's a little misleading - he does have seven walks, which is good - but he's only gotten himself to 12 three ball counts so far. That's compared to 11 balls he's put into play on the first pitch. First pitch swinging is fine when you're good at it, but he's only 2 for 10. Too small of a sample to make anything of it, but he needs to see more pitches - it KILLS managers to see a player make a quick out on the first pitch of an at bat.

Miles said...

Very valid points! You are very thorough and do very good research. May I ask where you get your information?

James Dunne said...

Mostly from I'll usually consult fangraphs for some of the more advanced stuff (I like UZR for defense, for example), and Baseball Prospectus (for team defensive efficiency).

Sometimes if I'm looking for extra/specific information I'll consult retrosheet or another source of game logs, but I'm not really a "computer guy" so compiling statistics tends to be a time consuming manual process.

Miles said...

Good deal. Baseball-reference is a very good site...I've used it often myself. I really enjoy your articles and your insight. Thanks for the great reads.