Saturday, April 17, 2010

Alex Gordon Returns to Royals Roster

Alex Gordon hadn't had an at-bat against live pitching since breaking his right thumb in early spring training. But that didn't stop manager Trey Hillman from throwing him into the fire with his team down a run in the 9th to the Twins. There would be no heroics for Gordon on this day, but he didn't manage to work a walk.

How Gordon performed in this early season plate appearance of course isn't really the point. The point is that the Royals have their regular third baseman back. Gordon of course was supposed to become the franchise player for the Royals after being drafted in the first round and tearing up the minor leagues.

The Majors haven't been so kind to Gordon. While Gordon has struggled to the tune of a career triple slash of .250/.331/.415. Those aren't terrible numbers for a young player, but they certainly aren't what was envisioned. Much of Gordon's inability to develop into the player many thought he could be can be attributed to the litany of injuries he's suffered.

But what really matters at this point, is what Gordon can contribute going forward. Judging by his minor league performances the past few seasons, the abilities that intoxicated scouts and fans alike still seems to be there. Haunting Gordon are very high strikeout rates. I've written about how high strikeout rates can turn great Minor League hitters into Major League cannon fodder at length. But Gordon's MiLB strikeout rates, while high weren't high enough to convince me he could succeed at the next level.

Which isn't to say he hasn't been plagued by the issue. It's difficult to be a great hitter at this level when you aren't able to put the ball in play in 25% of your at-bats, and Gordon has learned this the hard way. All the same, Gordon still possess very good power, and an ability to draw walks (which helps offset his strikeout numbers). It's unlikely that Gordon will ever hit for average, but if he can play solid defense - he has a career UZR of 1.4, so right around league average - hit for power and draw walks, he retains the ability to be a well above average player.

The question is how much of all that talent remains? We'll have to wait for that answer.

In the meantime, the return of Gordon will allow the Royals to move Alberto Callaspo back to his natural position of second base. That brings the Royals just one step away from what I view as their ideal middle infield, with Mike Aviles eventually returning to shortstop once hi arm strength is back to an acceptable level.

While horrendous bullpen performances have ruined much of the early season for the Royals, the starting pitching has been surprisingly effective, and the offense has hit a lot. It's unlikely those two trends are anything more than mirages, but it's encouraging all the same.

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