Monday, January 24, 2011

Up and Coming Third Basemen: Part 5

Over the past two days we've gotten to take a plunge into Jonathan Mayo's list of the Top-10 Third Base Prospects for 2011. It's stacked with AL Central talent with a representative from every team. So far we've profiled the Tigers Nick Castellanos (#10), the Twins Miguel Sano (#5), the White Sox Brent Morel (#3), and the Indians Lonnie Chisenhall (#2). It's been a fun series to do and should give hope for the future of the hot corner to every fan base.

Now of course, it's time for the top third base prospect in baseball;

Mike Moustakas

The last time the Royals had an elite minor league third base talent, it didn't work out quite like most prognosticators expected, or most fans hoped. Alex Gordon was supposed to be a savior. He was supposed to anchor the middle of the Royals lineup for a decade and help bash the team back to relevence. Instead, his career has been a cautionary tale about the hype machine that surrounds so many prospects and a lesson in why the best laid plans can go seriously awry. Gordon is by no means done as a player, and one still wonders what he could be if completely healthy for anything approaching a full season. Still, Gordon will be entering his fifth Major League season and his best performance ever remains a .783 OPS in an injury interupted 2008 season that seems like a distant memory at this point.

Enter Mike Moustakas. Taken 2nd overall in the 2007 draft out of Chatsworth High School, Moustakas signed for a massive four million dollar bonus and immediately began making an impact with his bat. Though he signed in enough time to get his feet wet in rookie ball during the 207 season, his real introduction to pro-ball came the following year when the Royals aggressively opened him with their A ball affiliate at just 19 years old. Like the second prospect on Mayo's list, Lonnie Chisenhall Moustakas posted a good but not great .805 OPS.

His second professional season was a disaster. After holding his own in the Midwest League, the Royals debuted him in the High A Carolina League in 2009 and he struggled. Hampered by a .275 BABIP his batting average plummeted. But there were other issues, walk rate and isolated power fell. His strikeout rate went up. Pitchers had learned they could get him to chase breaking balls out of the zone. It was a disaster, as his .718 OPS attested to. There was suddenly a lot of concern about Moustakas' ability to hit in the upper levels of the minors.

Despite Moustakas' struggles in the Carolina League, the Royals decided to have him start he season with AA Travelers. It was an aggressive sink-or-swim kind of move and boy, did he swim. In 298 plate appearances he hit .347/.413/.687, he lashed 21 homeruns. In short, he pulverized the league, posting a 1.100 OPS.

The Royals had seen enough and decided to provide one last challenge, a mid-season call-up to AAA Omaha. Moustakas proved equal to the challenge and as a 21 year old and hit .293/.314/.564 in 236 plate appearances. It wasn't quite the same sort of demolition derby that he had put on in AA, but it was impressive all the same. Still, concerns remain.

The greatest thing that has derailed the career of Gordon - aside from the injuries - has been a huge strikeout rate. Moustakas hasn't ever shown nearly the same susceptibility to swing-and-miss, but with a career walk rate of just 5.3% he remains an extremely aggressive hitter. That's something Major League pitchers can and will exploit. Thankfully to say he's still very young and has plenty of time to develop that aspect of his game.

If he can learn to take a few more pitches and force pitchers to come into the strike zone more often he'll be a phenomenal Major League hitter. He's got a very fast bat - a weakness Gordon has frequently been critized for - that should allow him to wait back and drive balls all over the field with his legitimately plus-plus power. I'm not certain he'll ever hit for a big average, he strikes me as more of a .270 hitter, but his power will play anywhere.

There are questions about how long Moustakas will be able to remain at third base. He's already a really big kid, tipping the scales at 230lbs. His lateral range is already below average, and that's not going to get better as he ages and gets bigger still. Short-term however he has a very strong arm and a good enough first-step to keep him from being a fall-down range defender. Long-term however, his lack of athleticism will likely push him off of third base and across the diamond to first.

Moustakas isn't a perfect prospect, but his power is exceptionally rare and if he can make some minor adjustments to his approach at the plate, he's going to leave a lot of fans slack-jawed with his ability to demolish pitches.

1 comment:

  1. Corey,
    Really enjoy reading your stuff. We'd like the opportunity to talk to you about having you join the Sports Network in some capacity (either as a general MLB writer or as a contributor on one of our AL Central team sites).

    Unfortunately, I can find no other way to contact you other than leaving this comment.

    If you have any interest please email our general MLB Editor: