By JAY LeBLANC
Most organizations take a cautious approach with their prized prospects and move them slowly up the minor league ladder while putting them in positions in which they’re likely to succeed as they develop. The Kansas City Royals, on the other hand, recently made 19-year-old first baseman Eric Hosmer the youngest player in the advanced Class A Carolina League in spite of the fact that he hadn’t exactly been tearing it up in Class A. Hosmer - the third overall pick in the 2008 draft - is off to a slow start for the Wilmington Blue Rocks, but team officials are confident he’ll rise to the challenge and benefit from it in the long run.
Hosmer established himself as the top high school hitter available in last year’s draft by leading American Heritage High School in Plantation, Fla., to the No. 1 spot in Baseball America‘s final prep rankings. Armed with the leverage of a scholarship to Arizona State and represented by superagent Scott Boras, he held out until the very last minute before agreeing to a deal that included a club-record $6 million signing bonus at the Aug. 15 deadline. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder went 4-for-11 with a pair of doubles in three games for the Rookie-level Idaho Falls Chukars, but his pro debut was cut short when the MLB Players Association filed a grievance claiming Hosmer and Pedro Alvarez - chosen second overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates - had agreed to terms with their respective teams moments after the deadline. The issue wasn’t resolved until several weeks after the minor league season ended.
Hosmer began the 2009 season with the Class A Burlington Bees, and though he hit just .254 with five home runs in 79 games, he sufficiently impressed the Royals with his approach that they promoted him to Wilmington in mid-July. The left-handed hitter has a .209 average and one home run in 18 games with the Blue Rocks, but his mere 13 strikeouts in 67 at bats indicate he hasn’t been as overmatched as those statistics suggest. Scouts have long raved about Hosmer’s bat speed and raw power - he’s also an above-average defender at first - and the Royals hope that, in time, he and 2007 first-rounder and current Blue Rocks teammate Mike Moustakas will form a powerful one-two punch in the middle of their lineup.
I had the chance to speak with Hosmer - who entered the season ranked by Baseball America as the second-best prospect in the Royals organization and the 24th best in all of baseball - Sunday afternoon before he and his Blue Rocks teammates took on the Washington Nationals-affiliated Potomac Nationals at Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge, Va.
Q: The Royals aggressively promoted you to advanced Class A halfway through your first full pro season. Do you think the challenge of facing older, more experienced pitchers so early in your pro career will help you in the long run?
A: Yeah, definitely. The faster I can go through it, I think, the better. I’m up here with a great bunch of guys, and all these guys want to do is win, and it’s great. It’s definitely a good mixture of guys, and I’m up for the challenge. I love it.
Q: Could you talk a bit about your approach to hitting? Do you step into the batter’s box with a plan, or do you just trust your reactions and try to hit the ball where it’s pitched?
A: You step in with somewhat of a plan, but you can only plan so much and when you’re in there you’ve just got to react. Don’t change anything - just do the same thing you’ve been doing since you were a little guy.
Q: Your contract negotiations with the Royals went right up to the signing deadline last summer. Were you confident all along that a deal would get done, or did you think you might be headed to Arizona State?
A: It was just up to me the whole time, and it was a tough decision. It was basically deciding the next three or four years of my life, and me and my family came to a conclusion on what we wanted to do, and we ended up making the decision to go the pro route.
Q: What are some of the things you do off the field to help prepare you to succeed on it?
A: There’s so much baseball in one year that off the field you just try and get your mind away from it every once in a while and just have fun and be a regular kid, a teenager like everyone else.
Q: What are some of the things you’ll need to work on in order to be a successful big leaguer?
A: Just come here every day and get used to your routine. Get your work in and don’t take anything lightly or for granted in this game, and just keep working hard.
Q: Is there any player, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model yourself after?
A: Yeah, there’s definitely a whole bunch of players. There’s one player on [the opposing] team, Chris Marrero - I’ve always grown up watching him and looking at the things he does and the way he goes about his business.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Royals?
A: That’s not up to me. I just control what I can control, and I’m just going to go out here every day and give it my best and keep working hard.
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; Mike Moustakas, Royals; Danny Duffy, Royals; Kyle Skipworth, Marlins; Xavier Avery, Orioles; Ryan Kalish, Red Sox; Derek Norris, Nationals; Zach Britton, Orioles; Pedro Alvarez, Pirates; Robbie Grossman, Pirates; Brandon Waring, Orioles; Casey Kelly, Red Sox; Michael Taylor, Phillies; Brandon Snyder, Orioles; Kyle Drabek, Phillies; Drew Storen, Nationals; Nick Hagadone, Red Sox; Matt Moore, Rays; Madison Bumgarner, Giants.
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.