Many people look at the Kansas City Royals’ 71-91 record last season and quickly ignore everything about them heading into 2012. I say look a little deeper. The Royals finished fourth in the AL in average, third in hits and second in stolen bases. Much of that production was because of the improvements of outfielders Melky Cabrera, Jeff Francoeur and Alex Gordon. But the reason the Royals will get even better starts with Eric Hosmer.
The 6′-4″, sweet-swinging lefty was the third pick overall for the Royals back 2008 and got off to a rough start. At the single-A level, he hit .241 with six home runs in 377 at bats, and as a result, his conditioning was called into question. He put that all to rest in 2010 hitting .338 with 20 home runs, 86 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in 137 games between single-A and double-A ball. Last season, he took it one step further. While at triple-A, he hit .439 in 26 games before enough was enough.
On May 5, Hosmer was called up because of his dominance against minor-league pitching and he pick up right where he left off. For the season, he hit .293 with 19 home runs, 58 RBIs and 11 stolen bases in 128 games. He hit everywhere from third to sixth in the batting order but cemented himself as the team’s cleanup hitter by season’s end. Defensively, he also showed promise picking balls out of the dirt and showing off the arm that used to strikeout hitters with mid-90s gas when he pitched in high school.
When thinking about Hosmer, I can’t help but compare him to Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria. Longoria was the third pick overall in ’06 and got called up to the majors earlier than expected with high expectations attached to him. Right away, the smooth-swinging righty made a huge impact in the middle of Tampa Bay’s lineup, and he went on to be the AL Rookie of the Year. Today, he is the centerpiece of a young team that is one of the best in baseball.
The same could possibly be said for Hosmer. He has raked everything thrown at him over the last two years and 2012 should see that continue. Just like Longoria, Hosmer is a franchise bat for a team full of talent on the rise. The Royals aren’t likely to see the same success as the Rays right away because their pitching isn’t quite up to par. At the time, the Rays had arms ready to succeed at the major-league level while the Royals young guns are likely at least another year away.
What you should see, however, is this team remain as on of the top offensive teams in the AL. At his current pace, Hosmer should put together a season with an average above .300 and power numbers around 30 homers and 100 RBIs. He has also shown he can swipe a few bags as well (14 SB in 2011). With the likes of Gordon and Billy Butler hitting in front of him, the young slugger should have plenty of chances to hit with runners on base in 2012. And in the process, rise to one of the top young hitters in all of baseball.