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Alex Gordon

The story of Alex Gordon shouldn’t have a chapter like this. He should have won an MVP award by now, maybe a Gold Glove and led the Royals to the playoffs. He should be the toast of the town and be celebrating a long-term deal the Royals have given him to keep him off the market for a few extra years. He shouldn’t be in the process of learning a new position. He shouldn’t be in his last chance. He shouldn’t be where he is today.

But he is.

Gordon was the number two overall draft pick in the 2005 draft, a loaded draft. In a draft that had Justin Upton, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Ricky Romero, Troy Tulowitzki, Andrew McCuthen, Jay Bruce, Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Garza, Colby Rasmus and Clay Buchholz in the first round alone, Alex Gordon was the best bet to succeed. Only he hasn’t. There was even brief talk that the Diamondbacks didn’t know if they would go with Gordon or Upton as the first overall pick.

Gordon grew up a Royals fan. His brother, Brett, is named after some guy who played third in Kansas City. The Royals were in Alex Gordon’s blood. This was a match made in heaven. And to top it off, he played third base! The comparisons were inevitable.

Well, you all know how this played out. He dominated the Texas League in 2006 and won Minor League Player of the Year honors. Dayton Moore talked at great length about how players needed to experience every level, so all winter, the foregone conclusion was that Gordon would spend a little time at AAA. It’d be good for him to get to play essentially in his hometown in front of hospitable fans. Then, after surely dominating there for a couple of months, he’d be brought to the big leagues to begin his Hall of Fame career.

Instead of spending time at AAA, though, Alex Gordon made the Major League roster right out of spring training and opened the season hitting fifth against the Boston Red Sox. The game was on ESPN, not for Gordon or the Royals, but it did provide a national spotlight that everybody just knew he’d have to get used to. In the very first inning, Gordon came to the plate to face Curt Schilling with the bases loaded. The atmosphere was absolutely electric at Kauffman Stadium. Gordon struck out. He’d strike out at least once in each of his next 11 games.

I’m not sure how true this is, but the story goes that on Sunday, June 7, the Royals were going to send Alex Gordon to AAA after the game. He was hitting .173/.285/.281 with just three homers and eight runs batted in. Struggling was the kind way to put it. Then something happened. Gordon went 4-4 that day with a double and a triple. He still hadn’t crossed the Mendoza line, but he was working his way there. From that game forward, Gordon hit .285/.330/.478 with 12 homers and 52 RBI in 98 games. That was more like it. While it’s an admittedly arbitrary endpoint, Gordon was hitting .306/.347/.519 from June 7 through September 19 when he seemed to hit a wall in his first time playing through September.

2008 would be a big year for Alex. He needed to build on the strong finish. Early on, it looked like he had as he was hitting .301/.363/.447 through April. He had his first real injury when he missed some time in August, but came back in September and had a strong end of the season with a .311/.367/.556 line. 2009 was going to be the breakout year. It was inevitable. He was starting to put it together.

In hitting, there’s sort of chicken versus the egg argument when it comes to what comes first for a player. Is it the patience of the power? Those who argue the power comes first believe that hitters begin to get pitched around more, thus drawing more walks and giving the illusion at the very least of being patient. Those who believe the patience comes first believe that as a hitter becomes more selective, they’re able to find their pitch to hit. As Royals fans, we were banking on the latter because Gordon had the patience and the ability to work a walk. Now it was time to turn his 15-20 homerun power into 25-35 homerun power.

2009 began and very early on Gordon got injured. He made it back after the All-Star break, but struggled enough to warrant a demotion. He would finally get a chance to conquer AAA, some believed two seasons too late. He did well enough there and was brough back up on September 9. After his recall, he was again good in the majors hitting .279/.359/.471. These were not the All-Star type numbers we had hoped for, but you can win a lot of games with that offense at third base.

2010 was a hopeful year for Gordon. After an essentially lost season with a strong ending, this had to be the year for Gordon. Only in Spring Training, he broke his thumb sliding and would miss the early portion of the season. He came back on April 17 and struggled mightily before again being demoted to AAA. Only this time, there was a catch. Gordon was going to AAA to work on his swing and a new position. Gordon was going to be shifted to the outfield. He shined offensively and was praised for his defensive improvements. When DeJesus got hurt in New York, Gordon was brought back up and had an opportunity to re-establish himself as a legitimate Major Leaguer. Upon his recall, Gordon was anything but good. The power was gone and his great patience was also beginning to dissipate.

Now the time has come to figure out exactly what the Royals have in Alex Gordon. The dreams of him being the next George Brett are over in most people’s minds. The dreams of him being a Hall of Famer are long out the window. Some still dream of an All-Star type season or two out of him.

He’s at a big time career crossroad. He still has the natural ability to hit .300/.390/.550, but he shows no signs of actually coming through with that. He strikes out too much and doesn’t appear willing to make too many adjustments as evidenced by the trouble he continues to have on the low and away breaking pitch. We’ve seen him spin out while swinging far too many times to have confidence in him learning how to hit that pitch.

Recently, Gordon made comments stating that he was going to dominate in 2011. As much as the farm system is providing serious hope for Royals fans, Alex Gordon as a legitimate middle of the order bat would do wonders for the Royals in so many ways beyond just the production. My guess is that Gordon may have a few good seasons in him. He appears to be on the road to being a pretty good defensive outfielder. I just don’t think he’ll break out in Kansas City. He’ll probably go somewhere like Pittsburgh or Cincinnati and put up some solid seasons and Royals fans will lament on the lost opportunities, but the fact is that he never would have done it here.

Up until around late April of this past season, I was the guy who kept telling people that Gordon was about to put it together. That he was on the verge of breaking out. All the preliminary signs were there, but he just hasn’t come through yet. And now, the power and the patience are beginning to wane. That’s his patience, not mine, though the same could be said for mine. He said he would dominate in 2011. At least in my mind, that’s his last chance before I completely write him off. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Royals organization has a similar opinion to mine. 2011 is make or break. It would do the franchise wonders if he makes it.

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  1. Patrick
    October 19, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    Another good article. I find Gordon’s inability/unwillingness to make adjustments kind of odd. I remember when he was in the minors, the knock on him, the only knock on him was that he tinkered too much, he was constantly making adjustments.

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