The Washington Times - June 12, 2009, 12:00AM

By JAY LeBLANC

Kansas City Royals top prospect Mike Moustakas is off to a so-so start this season for the advanced Class A Wilmington Blue Rocks, but if recent history is any indication, he’s primed for big things in the second half. The 2007 No. 2 overall pick hit just .228 with nine home runs in the first half last year for the Class A Burlington Bees, then heated up along with the weather. By season’s end the 6-foot, 195-pound third baseman had raised his average to .272 to go along with a Midwest League-best 22 homers.

Last year it was a steady diet of breaking balls that Moustakas had to adjust to; this year, it’s the more advanced Carolina League pitching. “The guys out here have more control of their stuff - all three pitches they can throw for strikes at any time,” Moustakas said Monday night before his Blue Rocks hosted the Boston Red Sox-affiliated Salem Red Sox. “The pitchers are a lot better.”

Moustakas - who is hitting .267 with 13 doubles, seven home runs and 37 RBI through 56 games - is also dealing with the challenge of playing half his games in the Carolina League’s most notorious pitchers’ park. Moustakas said he couldn’t put his finger on exactly what makes Wilmington’s Frawley Stadium such a difficult place to hit. “It’s a big field out to left-center, and the ball just doesn’t really carry well here, I guess,” he said.

Though his numbers aren’t eye-popping, Moustakas’ steady play earned him a spot in the California-Carolina All-Star Game, to be held June 23 at The Diamond in Lake Elsinore, Calif. The 20-year-old was pleasantly surprised by his selection. “I was honored, and a little shocked, too,” he said. “We’ve got guys on this team like Clint Robinson and Jeff Bianchi who definitely deserved it too - they’re playing unbelievable. But I was definitely honored, and I feel real lucky to be a part of that.”

Of course, minor league baseball isn’t about honors - it’s about getting ready for the show. Moustakas is a very advanced hitter for his age and has tremendous power potential, but he said he still needs to get better at taking outside pitches to the opposite field. Defensively, he’s focusing on improving his footwork and lateral movement. Moustakas has played exclusively third base this season after moving over from shortstop last year, but he said he also works out at second base from time to time.

Moustakas, who entered this season ranked by Baseball America as the 13th-best prospect in all of baseball, said he feels good about the progress he’s made in the two years since he was drafted, and he hopes to find his groove and possibly earn a promotion to Double-A later this season. But for now, he’s focused on the task at hand. “I’ve got to just keep getting better, and hopefully at the end of the year they’ll call me up or something,” he said. “[But] I really have no idea. All I can do is take it one day at a time and just keep getting better on the field.”

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Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at jleblanc@washingtontimes.com.

 

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