In the bottom of the 11th, the Tigers had the bases loaded with one out, but with the winning run ninety feet away, Joe Nelson struck out Brandon Inge. He was immediately lifted for Jimmy Gobble, who struck out Curtis Granderson to get out of the inning. The Royals would score two in the 12th to win. That may well prove to be Joe Nelson’s final pitch in the major leagues. No truth to the rumor that he spent all of last season on the DL with an evil eye.
As bad as I felt at the time, I felt even worse about that day the following spring, when it became increasingly clear that 1) David Price was head-and-shoulders above the pack as the best player available in the draft, and 2) no one could agree on who was the second-best player in the draft.
But if there was a consensus #2 player in the draft, it was Rick Porcello, the high school right-hander from New Jersey who some have called the best high school pitcher of the decade. The Royals did not draft him. Worse still, the Tigers, who figure to be one of the team’s biggest roadblocks to a playoff spot over the next five years, landed him with the 27th pick in the draft, then signed him for a major-league contract worth about $7 million.
For the span of almost 24 hours last August, it appeared the while the Tigers had signed their man, the Royals were not going to come to terms with the player they selected at least in part because he was more signable than Porcello. Fortunately, Mike Moustakas accepted the Royals’ $4 million offer minutes before the deadline.
You have to wonder at least a little about an organization that thinks the proper answer to the equation “Rick Porcello” – “Mike Moustakas” = “Brett Tomko.” And the talk out of Tiger camp this spring certainly hasn’t made me feel better about passing on Porcello. In his first outing of the year, he retired all six batters he faced, didn’t let the ball out of the infield, and struck out Frank Thomas. In his second outing he wasn’t quite as dominant; a front office source told me “he looked a lot like Justin Verlander in his first camp.” And that was on a bad day. (And Verlander was
Having said all that, Moustakas isn’t exactly chopped liver. He’s a guy the scouts and the stats can agree on. The scouts love his athleticism (he served as his high school team’s closer and touched 97 on the mound) and a swing that’s perfectly tailored for power. The stats say that he set all-time
The fact that Moustakas has already hit for prodigious power is important, because he doesn’t have the build that projects for additional power down the road (he’s a compact 6’0”,
The negatives here are that Moustakas was very old for a high school draftee; he turned 19 less than a month after signing. By comparison, Josh Vitters (who the Royals almost took instead of Moustakas, and went #3 overall to the Cubs) is about 11 months younger. On the other hand, Moustakas had better numbers as a high school junior than Vitters had as a senior. Age is important, and an additional year of development can make an enormous difference at that age, but it’s not everything.
The other negative is that while Moustakas should hit well enough to hit at any position, no one knows what position that will be yet. The Royals are keeping him at shortstop for now, which is nice, but no one outside the organization thinks he’ll last at the position, and even a whisper that a minor league player will have to switch positions almost invariably comes true. This is one instance where his height serves him well – if Moustakas has to move, it’s because he doesn’t show the range for shortstop, not because he “outgrows” the position.
If he can last even a few years at shortstop in the majors, sort of like Stephen Drew with the Diamondbacks, he’ll be an immensely valuable player. But even that seems wishful thinking. Third base would make a lot of sense, but that position is sort of taken for the next five years. He has the arm for rightfield, but you lose a lot of positional value if you move him there. There’s even been talk that, given his arm and build, he could move behind the plate. Moving a top hitting prospect to catcher is the baseball equivalent of day-trading on the NASDAQ – the one or two success stories (Brandon Inge, Michael Barrett) get all the buzz, while the 99% that crash and burn get swept under the rug.
That leaves second base, which at least one respected baseball man thinks is his best position. It’s a waste of his arm, and the injury rate among second baseman is almost as bad as among catchers, but the impact of a power bat at the position can not be overstated. Chase Utley, anyone?
I’d still rather have Price, and not just because he got a standing ovation in spring training – on the Yankees’ home field. (Granted, the Yankees play in
But the Royals, at least for the moment, seem to have enough pitching. They certainly don’t have enough hitters. Moustakas might not be a better player than Price or Porcello, but he might prove to be the better fit for the Royals in the long run. No regrets here. At least not yet.
If you can’t get enough of the Brian Bannister Phenomenon, our buddy Jeff Passan has a terrific article that sums it all up.