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Moose is Loose

Similar to last month when Eric Hosmer was called up, there’s not much better to talk about than the promotion of Mike Moustakas to the Major League level. I don’t want to toot my own horn too terribly much, but I do have to say that I’m pretty proud of myself for making the prediction on Twitter on May 19 that June 10 would be Moose’s debut. Now that I’ve got the self back patting out of the way, we can talk about what kind of impact this has on the team because in ways it’s absolutely huge and in other ways it doesn’t mean much at all. In order to bring Moustakas to the big leagues, the Royals sent Mike Aviles to AAA Omaha, and the demotion was well deserved. I mentioned on Twitter the other day that the regression of his offense and defense was quite possibly the most disappointing part of the 2011 season. I thought Aviles had a chance to be a role player on the Royals for at least a few years, but that ship has pretty much sailed at this point.

Let’s get back to Moustakas now, though. The immediate impact is that he is now the starter at third base and will be handled pretty similarly to Hosmer in that he will play against everybody to get acclimated to the big league level. If there’s one thing I trust Yost about without a doubt, it’s that he has a pretty good idea of how to develop young, premier talent coming to the big leagues. I like that Moustakas will play against pretty much everybody, though I do hope they sit him against some of the tougher lefties. In addition to Mike Aviles being sent down to make room for him, Wilson Betemit also will see a big time loss in playing time. As far as the impact that change has on the lineup, I think the Royals have added a little more power than they were getting from Betemit and are sacrificing a little of the on base percentage.

That said, Betemit’s been struggling a bit, so the immediate impact might be pretty nice for the lineup. The other issue that the move provides for the Royals is a backup to their middle infield positions, which is the role that Mike Aviles sort of served. At some point, Escobar is going to need another day off, and right now there is nobody on the roster who can give him one. Yost has said that Betemit will serve as his backup shortstop, but a left side of the infield with Moustakas and Betemit will provide many a headache for whatever pitcher is on the mound. Moustakas is fine defensively, just limited range-wise. A shortstop like Escobar next to him helps mitigate that, but a shortstop like Betemit next to that will pretty much be the most stationary left side of an infield in the big leagues.

I think there are some options of what could happen here. One is that Betemit is traded within the next week or so and part (or all) of the return is a middle infielder. I hope it’s not all of the return because Betemit is worth at least a high risk, high reward prospect, but that’s a possibility. Another possibility is that Betemit is traded for a minor league prospect and someone like Lance Zawadzki or Irving Falu is called up to replace Betemit on the roster. The move I prefer here would be to send down one of the eight relievers and bring up one of the middle infielders. I’m just not quite ready to move Betemit yet unless the price is right. Of course, the issue comes up that Betemit’s trade value will decrease more and more as he sits on the bench, which is what he’ll be doing more often than not. I think Betemit will be moved, and I think it will be sooner than later.

As far as what to expect out of Moustakas, the short answer is that I’m not really sure. On one hand, he’s done extremely well in the beginning parts of each of his last two promotions. If you remember he absolutely tore up AA when he finally got his 2010 season underway. When he was called up to AAA he did the same thing. On the other hand, I think Major League pitching will prove to be a bit of a problem for Moose at first. I don’t think we can expect the immediate impact that Hosmer had simply because he is more advanced as a hitter than Moustakas is. I think Moustakas is a better power hitter, but a good Major League pitcher can find a way to exploit him, whereas Hosmer has fewer holes in his swing. I do think that Moustakas has a real chance to lead the team in homers this season, which is sort of sad. He has ten in AAA this year and will get about probably 350 at bats or so in the big leagues. I could see him finishing with 17 or 18 homers and that number leading the team.

Ultimately, my best guess is that Moustakas starts off a little cold. I don’t think he’ll be as cold as Gordon was at the start of his career, but he’ll have his struggles and he’ll do his fair share of striking out. Somewhere around the All-Star break, though, I think he’ll get hot. For the first month, think something like .230/.270/.400 with five or six homers. Then after that, I think he hits about .280/.330/.490 the rest of the way with 10-12 homers and a bunch of doubles. The one thing I can pretty much guarantee from everything I’ve seen and read is that no matter what happens, Moustakas will be a confident player and an instant leader on the field. I don’t typically buy into hype of leadership and all that, but because of what I know, I’m confident that Moustakas can mentally handle any struggles in the big leagues better than many prospects making their debuts.

It’s hard to believe that a 27-36 team is in an exciting time, but that’s the truth of the matter right now. The Royals have their corner infielders for hopefully the next decade up with the team and have put The Process® in motion. I know that I’m as excited to see Moose’s first at bat tonight as I was to see Hosmer’s. Don’t get me wrong, the Royals are still a bad team. Their starting pitching is just so atrocious that they can’t be expected to win much of anything until that gets fixed, but that help will come soon enough. We all knew that 2011 was probably not going to be a winning campaign, so I’m ready to enjoy watching Hosmer and Moustakas smack the ball all over the ballpark for the next four months.

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