Reports earlier this week out of the Instructional League indicated that Wil Myers is beginning to take some fly balls in possible preparation of a move to the outfield at some point next season. That revelation rekindled some talk about moving another prized prospect to a corner outfield spot as well.
The thought of Eric Hosmer playing in either corner of the outfield has been around as long as he has been a member of the Royals’ organization. Considering that the year Hosmer was drafted coincided with Kila Ka’aihue’s breakout minor league campaign and also with the emergence of a then twenty-two year old Billy Butler as an everyday major league player, it is not surprising that the idea of moving Hosmer to rightfield was floated. That idea has lingered ever since – albeit moreso amongst fans than within the organization.
In some respects, the thought of moving Hosmer might even be gaining steam as we saw another first baseman/designated hitter type in Clint Robinson lead the Texas League in just about everything good. Robinson, who carries a career .909 OPS, played one game in left field for Northwest Arkansas late in the season. Just from an ‘eye test’ point of view, Robinson does not look like an outfielder, at least not as much as Hosmer might look like an outfielder.
All that said, I don’t think Eric Hosmer is going to be moving anywhere (other than up to AAA this spring) and here’s why:
- Kila Ka’aihue hasn’t proven anything…yet. In 206 plate appearances this season, Kila did hit eight home runs but otherwise posted a pretty unappealing line of .217/.307/.394/.702. Those numbers are incredibly similar to those posted by Travis Hafner in his first two hundred plate appearances and better than those compiled by Paul Konerko, who stood at .217/.276/.332 through his first 247 major league plate appearances. The point is that while Ka’aihue has a chance to be a Konerko/Hafner (or a close enough resemblance to be an effective major league hitter), he might also just be a guy who can’t consistently square up major league pitching, too. After spending two seasons scared to death to find out if Kila can hit, the Royals at last are going to find out. That’s a good thing and one that will hopefully pan out, but having crappy stats that compare to some guys who later became very good hitters is not enough reason to make Eric Hosmer change gloves.
- Billy Butler is going to start costing real money. Some people will howl and wonder how a first baseman with just 15 home runs who grounded into 32 double plays could be worth anything, but I see (and an arbitration judge might as well) see a 24 year old who hit .318/.388/.469 with 45 doubles, 15 home runs and almost as walks as strikeouts. He did that on the heels of a 2009 season in which Billy hit 51 doubles and 21 home runs with a .301/.362/.492. We will be reminded that Butler posted his 2010 numbers playing half the season with a bad hand and that, on by the way, he has missed a grand total of seven games the past two seasons. I am not sure how we got to the point in baseball where fans believe a player is either a slugger or a singles hitter with nothing in between, but I am pretty sure arbitration is not in line with that school of thought. Bottom line, Billy Butler is going to make real cash this off-season. If he hits even seven more home runs next year and grounds into 23 double plays instead of 32, he will make even more next winter. Now, after all that, I have to admit being a little hesitant to offer Butler a multi-year deal and buy out those arbitration years, plus one or two of free agency. First off, Billy is not a good first baseman and he isn’t getting any faster. While Butler has been durable thus far, you wonder about that body type being injury prone as he reaches his late twenties. Listen, I really think a lot of Billy Butler, but IF Eric Hosmer is all we think he might be, doesn’t it make sense to get the same or better production from a younger, cheaper player than to pay Butler seven, eight even ten million per year as we move forward?
- No one ever said Eric Hosmer CAN play the outfield. I imagine Hosmer played some outfield at some point in high school, but by the time he was on the draft radar, Eric was firmly entrenched at first (despite possessing a very good arm). I have read and heard reports that say Hosmer is always going to be a first baseman, but there have also been reports that he might possess the athleticism to move to the outfield. Eric did steal 14 bases in 2010, which gives the Hosmer to outfield thought some hope. That said, Hosmer possibly just months away from major league action, the time to move him may have passed. However, if it is July 1, 2011 and Kila is hitting and Billy is hitting AND Hosmer is torching AAA, maybe the Royals try Eric in the outfield. A more realistic scenario, however, may relate to the bullet point above and the Royals may make a trade to accommodate Hosmer at first base.
- If you’re not sold on Ka’aihue, then you sure can’t be on Clint Robinson. Robinson was one of my sleeper picks to watch way back in 2007, so I am delighted to have seen him hit and hit with power at all four levels he has played thus far. However, nobody is moving anywhere to make room for a twenty-five year old former twenty-fifth round pick who has not played a game in AAA yet.
In reality, the Royals have a very good, but not great, hitter in Billy Butler who has some obvious defensive weaknesses. They have a minor league star who has yet to prove much of anything at the major league level in Kila Ka’aihue who will, by the way, turn 27 next March. Behind those two, the Royals have one of the better hitting prospects in all of the minors, but Eric Hosmer really has had one very good season and a grand total of 211 plate appearances above A ball. As mentioned just above, the organization also has Clint Robinson who will make his debut in AAA at age twenty-six.
Maybe that’s a logjam, maybe it’s not. For now, Eric Hosmer is, and likely always will be, a first baseman.