At the Royals spring training facility just outside Phoenix a murderer is on the loose. Tall, slender and scruffy in appearance, the serial killer has preyed on several innocent baseballs, routinely displacing the dented objects on a grass covered berm just beyond the outfield wall at Surprise Stadium. His violence is controlled, calculated and, to opposing hurlers, downright cold. When confronted by the cutthroat, no manager feels comfortable. No pitch is safe. No surprise Sherlock Holmes is sniffing his trail. Prospective fantasy buyers are too.
Eric Hosmer is a statistical madman on a mission.
Hide the women and children.
No player in baseball enters the regular season hotter than KC's "Hoss". Over the past two weeks of Cactus League action he's maintained a blistering pace. In 77 spring at-bats, he's slugged an insane .714, amassing a .416 BA with five homers, eight doubles and a spring-best 29 RBI. The cracking sound off his bat has resonated throughout the league. Everyone from casual fans to scouts to teammates to living legends, like Hall of Famer George Brett, have showered the 22-year-old in adulation. From the Arizona Republic:
But when The Republic asked Brett to name which players in today's game he would pay to go watch, he had to stop and think about it. Not because he'd have to pay, but because he really wanted to give it some deep thought.
"Man, that's tough," he said. …
For his final pick, Brett instead chose Eric Hosmer, the Royals' young left-handed hitting first baseman.
"He's a young kid that's way mature in a baseball sense beyond his years," Brett said. "He's a baseball player. ... He acts like a baseball player. And boy, he's going to be a damn good one, too."
Naturally, Fantasyland's citizens have caught on to Hosmania. After a campaign in which he joined All-Time greats Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Orlando Cepeda and Albert Pujols as the only players to bat at least .293 with 19 homers and 27 doubles in his first MLB season by age 21, the frenzy is understandable. Almost everyone expects a sophomore jump, not a slump. On Saturday, Rustin Dodd of the KC Star, in an excellent feature on the emerging slugger, even asked the question: Can the "superstar in waiting" blast 35 homers this year?
In short: Unless his underlying stats suddenly reverse course, 25 bombs are more realistic.
In power terms, Hosmer is the AL's version of Jayson Heyward. He's a dreamy middle-of-the-order producer who should contribute solidly for the next decade-plus. But, similar to the Bravo, his groundball-heavy profile isn't indicative of a 30 HR hitter. As the table shows (see right), the company the youngster kept last season in the HR/FB percentage and GB/FB departments wasn't exactly stellar. If the skyward stroke he's exuded this spring carries over into the regular season, increases/decreases in the right saber categories will arrow to a power breakthrough. If not, and owners banking on a Pujols-lite season could be disappointed. Kauffman Stadium isn't a homer haven. And keep in mind, the dry, warm Arizona climate can artificially add muscle. Perfunctory spring training pitching can too. Remember what last year's spring HR leader Jake Fox did in the regular season? Yep, me neither.
Still, Hosmer is a mid-round mixed-league pick destined to turn a profit at his current 71.5 Y! ADP. The 12th first baseman off the board in average drafts, the Royal's upside is significantly greater than higher picks Paul Konerko, Michael Young, Kevin Youkilis and Michael Morse. His advanced approach, rich minor league track-record, strong contact profile and well-rounded efforts (11 SBs in '11) suggest he will stuff the box score routinely. A .300-23-100-85-12 line is definitely within reach. The Royals' lineup is better than advertised.
However, just don't expect him to transform into a HR king … yet.
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Ok, gamers. What is your Hosmer HR prediction this season? Are his spring training stats meaningful or meaningless? Where will he finish in the 1B hierarchy? Offer your two cents below.