By JAY LeBLANC
The Kansas City Royals have finished below .500 in 14 of the past 15 seasons, with the one positive side effect being that they’ve consistently had high selections in the annual draft. Missing on a couple of those high first-round picks - Colt Griffin (2001) and Chris Lubanski (2003) - hasn’t helped matters, and the jury is still out on guys like Billy Butler (2004), Alex Gordon (2005) and Luke Hochevar (2006). However, it looks like Kansas City has found a future cornerstone in 2007 No. 2 overall pick Mike Moustakas.
Moustakas was overshadowed by Chatsworth (Calif.) High School teammate and current Florida Marlins prospect Matt Dominguez for much of his prep career but shot to the top of draft charts as a senior by slugging a state-record 24 home runs. The Royals loved the 6-foot, 195-pound shortstop’s power potential and took him one spot behind David Price despite signability concerns bolstered by a commitment to USC. Negotiations went right up to the Aug. 15 signing deadline before Moustakas and superagent Scott Boras agreed to a deal that included a $4 million bonus.
So far, Moustakas looks like a great investment. He got his feet wet with the Rookie-level Idaho Falls Chukars in the summer of 2007 and held his own with a .293 average in 41 at bats, then overcame early-season struggles to hit .272 with a Midwest League-best 22 home runs last season for the Class A Burlington Bees while making a smooth transition from shortstop to third base. After the season, Baseball America ranked Moustakas, who bats left-handed and throws right-handed, as the top prospect in the Royals organization and the 13th best in all of baseball.
Moustakas is off to a good start with the advanced Class A Wilmington Blue Rocks this season with a .288 average, four homers and 15 RBI in his first 17 games. I caught up with the 20-year-old slugger Tuesday night after his Blue Rocks fell 6-5 to the Washington Nationals-affiliated Potomac Nationals in Woodbridge, Va.
Q: Your contract negotiations went right up to the deadline in 2007. Were you confident all along that a deal would get done, or did you think you might be headed to USC?
A: Whichever option was going to happen, it was a great option for me. I mean, I loved USC, and it ended up working out well for me. I was always confident with my agent - he always had my best interests in mind, so I was never too worried.
Q: You started slow at the plate last season but really came on as the weather got warmer. What kinds of adjustments did you make?
A: I just settled down and got used to all the pitching that they had - guys throwing three pitches for strikes and things like that - and [started being] able to make adjustments in the middle of an at bat rather than at the end of the game.
Q: Do you step up to the plate with a plan, or do you just trust your reactions?
A: A little bit of both. I mean, you always want to have a plan when you step up to the plate, but hitting is seeing the ball and hitting the ball, and the easier you make it, the easier you’re going to be able to hit it.
Q: You started your pro career as a shortstop but switched to third base last year. I also saw you taking grounders at second base during batting practice. Where do you think you’ll end up in the long run?
A: If it was up to me, I’d play wherever they want me to play as long as I make it to the big leagues. I love third base - it’s been fun to learn a new position. And as for second base, it’s just to keep me loose, keep me mobile. But third base, if that’s where I end up, I’ll be happy there.
Q: What are some of your goals for this season?
A: Just to play as good as I can throughout the whole year, and try to win a championship out here.
Q: Is there any player, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model your approach after?
A: Not really. Obviously I like George Brett a lot - he’s an awesome, awesome guy, and he’s helped me out a lot. My favorite player growing up was always Chipper Jones, so I always see how he’s doing, look what he’s doing with the bat and look at how he’s approaching different pitchers and try to use that to my advantage down here.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Royals?
A: Whenever they tell me I’m ready. If they tell me I’m ready now, I’ll be there. If it takes me a couple more years … it’s really up to them. I don’t have a timetable or anything, so whenever they let me know, I’ll be ready.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s:
2009: Jack McGeary, Nationals; L.J. Hoes, Orioles; Jordan Danks, White Sox
2008: Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Nick Weglarz, Indians; Gorkys Hernandez, Braves; Beau Mills, Indians; Stephen King, Nationals; Brad Bergesen, Orioles; Fernando Martinez, Mets; Derrick Robinson, Royals; David Hernandez, Orioles; Jason Castro, Astros; Bobby Parnell, Mets; George Kontos, Yankees; Brian Matusz, Orioles; Matt LaPorta, Indians; Austin Jackson, Yankees; Jeff Bianchi, Royals; Cole Rohrbough, Braves; Pat Venditte, Yankees.