03/01/12 12:00 PM EST
Moustakas ready to build off rookie year
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
His hair, barely more than stubble last year, now covers his head in a flowing, luxurious brown. The "mop top," he calls it. Just being more fashionable?
"No, I think I went the other way and just got lazy and didn't go to the barber at all this offseason and just kind of kept it going," he said. "It's getting a little out of control. Need to get a little trim."
There's another, more important, change for the Royals' 23-year-old third baseman. He's done some trimming-up on his body.
"I tried to get myself in better shape to play, tried to cut down some pounds and cut down the fat and add some muscle. That's kind of what we did and I feel pretty good about it," he said.
Moustakas, living in Newport Beach, Calif., had to go just down the road to the Boras Sports Training Institute, a facility established by agent Scott Boras to give his clients a place to train. Moose has been a regular there and now has 210 well-defined pounds on his 6-foot frame, right where he wants to be for the season.
One of the Royals organization's two most visible hitters -- first baseman Eric Hosmer is the other -- Moustakas arrived from Triple-A Omaha to Kansas City on June 10. His indoctrination into the Major Leagues proved a painful process for the left-handed hitter. In his first 53 games, his average was .182 with one home run and 11 RBIs. It was Aug. 16 and his first two months had been disappointing.
At bat, that is. In the field, Moustakas surprised almost everyone with a superb glove and arm.
"He is better than I anticipated," manager Ned Yost said. "I thought he'd be an average third baseman and he was very, very solid there."
Maybe the defense was just self-defense.
"Like I always said, If I'm not hitting, I better be playing good defense because you've got to help the team win somehow. I definitely wasn't hitting so I definitely had to play good defense and try to keep myself in the lineup somehow," Moustakas said.
OK, but what about the hitting? It was worse than anticipated. True, Moustakas has had a slow start in all but one case (Double-A) when moved up a level in the farm system. But it was time for some serious consultation with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer.
"He had some adjustments to make and once he got back in the middle of the field and quit trying to do too much and quit worrying about home runs and driving the ball, that's when all of a sudden he started driving the ball," Seitzer said. "And that's the way it works. You can't go up there and try to generate and do too much or you're going to wind up in a rough way to go. But he made great adjustments and I'm hoping the confidence he finished up with is going to carry on to the start of the season."
Moose did go on quite a rampage over his last 36 games. He hit .379 from Aug. 17 to the end while whacking 12 doubles, four homers and knocking in 19 runs. In that period, he outhit everybody in the Majors except Detroit's Miguel Cabrera (.413).
Hall of Famer George Brett, who's taken a strong interest in Moustakas' progress, noted that the rookie managed to raise his overall average to .263.
"He struggled but he came back; he didn't let his lack of hitting affect his defense. To be that low with so many at-bats to where he got his average back to, that was pretty impressive for a guy in his first year in the big leagues," Brett said.
Brett, who made his mark at third base, carefully avoided effusive praise of Moustakas, keeping in mind what he'd said about another young Royals third baseman.
"I think I made a huge mistake years ago when I first saw Alex Gordon and everybody was asking me about him. I said he has unlimited potential," Brett said. "I think that's the worst tag you can ever give anybody because regardless of how good they ever get, they'll never reach their potential. I think Moose has a chance to be a solid, everyday Major League baseball player. He's got tremendous skills; he's got great baseball awareness."
Moustakas will enter 2012 firmly established in the Royals' lineup, probably batting fifth or sixth. He'll occasionally be spared facing a tough left-handed pitcher with right-handed-hitting Yuniesky Betancourt filling in.
He's one of the four freshmen who made a big impact last year, along with Hosmer, catcher Salvador Perez and second baseman Johnny Giavotella. Things seem to be coming together for the Royals.
"That's kind of what we've been gearing up for," Moustakas said, "bringing all the young guys together to get with these guys like Billy [Butler] and Jeff [Francoeur] and Alex [Gordon] and Mitch [Maier] and all these older guys and build it to that world championship level. Which we will eventually get."
He's doing his part. He's smoothed out his swing. He's dropped pounds and added muscle.
Now if he can just find a barber.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.