SURPRISE, Ariz. — Eric Hosmer bought a home on the eastern edge of the Everglades in the offseason and then got to work on reversing the disappointing downward trend of his sophomore season.
“I put a batting cage in the back there,” he said, “and had a little workout room put in. A bunch of my buddies would come over. We had a good little group every day. Get a workout in and hit in the cage afterward. It was cool.”
It was a reflective time for Hosmer, a can’t-miss talent who somehow misfired alarmingly a year ago when his slash lines crashed to a .232 average, a .304 on-base percentage and a .359 slugging percentage.
“Let’s not kid ourselves,” one Royals official said. “All the moves we made to improve our starting rotation won’t amount to much if Eric Hosmer doesn’t bounce back and become the player we believe he can be.”
So much depends on Hosmer.
If he rediscovers the promise of his rookie season, he projects as a potent No. 3 hitter, which would then permit Alex Gordon to take his pop and on-base skills back to the top of a lineup that brims with promise.
“It’s extremely important,” manager Ned Yost confirmed, “but I don’t even question his bounceback. It’s not like, ‘I hope he bounces back.’ I’m pretty firm in my mind that it’s a done deal. He’s bouncing back. He’s going to have a tremendous year.”
That will be hard to prove down here. It’s worth remembering that Hosmer torched the Cactus League a year ago by batting .398 with a .453 OBP and a .675 slugging percentage along with 29 RBIs in 28 games.
So what went wrong last year?
“I just think,” he said, “I started leaking out in front with my back side a lot.”
That can’t possibly be as bad as it sounds but, for a hitter, it’s plenty bad enough. In effect, it means Hosmer was moving his back leg instead of keeping it stable.
“That caused me not to be able to catch up on pitches,” he said. “Then I wanted to get going earlier because I was late on pitches. It got worse. I’d see a breaking ball but, because I’m cheating earlier and already going, I didn’t have enough time to hold back.”
Hosmer knew this, intellectually, even as he buried himself deeper in a slump. Former hitting coach Kevin Seitzer repeatedly pointed it out. Even so, Hosmer couldn’t rein himself in for any sustained period.
“That’s the thing from last year,” he said. “The pitch recognition was there for me. I just couldn’t get to it, and I didn’t know why I wasn’t getting to it.”
Hosmer’s season ended with an appropriate thud when, with a week left, he suffered a slight tear in his right rotator cuff after landing awkwardly while diving for a ground ball.
His shoulder soon healed, and an offseason of reflection at his new home in his own batting cage among friends eventually enabled him to crystallize everything else that went wrong.
“In the offseason,” Hosmer said, “everything, obviously, is at a slower pace. During the season, there’s just so much going on. You’ve got a game that night, and you want to get there early to work on stuff. It’s just so much of a faster pace.
“I don’t want to say you don’t have the time to fix things but, being a younger guy, I didn’t really know how to go about it. Last year, it seemed everything happened so fast. And me, I didn’t seem to realize how long the season actually was.
“It was a mixture of those things.
“This offseason, I had a chance to go home, and everything really slowed down. I watched a lot of video and, pretty much, just got back to basics.”
(An aside here: Hosmer’s new home in Southwest Ranches, Fla., is only a few miles from where the Gator Boys “rescue” alligators from backyards, swimming pools, garages, etc., for a show airing on Animal Planet. So far, no calls from Chez Hosmer.)
Hosmer set up a video recorder in his batting cage to track his adjustments. He sent the tapes to new hitting coach Jack Maloof, who previously helped guide his swift rise through the farm system as the organization’s minor-league hitting instructor.
“He sent me five tapes,” Maloof said, “and, after looking at each one, I’d either call him back on it or email him. We talked pretty extensively.
“I was looking for what I remembered. The couple, they weren’t what I remembered. We worked through that and got it to where he was shorter in his hands and his approach. And then we tried to quiet his front side, his front foot, down.
“The last tape I saw, I told him, ‘That’s what it needs to be like.’ He took it from there through December and January until he got here. Seeing him now, it’s pretty much like I remembered.”
All the Royals can do now is wait. And watch.
“What you want to see,” Hosmer said while tapping his back leg, “is my back side is not going forward. You want to see the back side just sitting back there and letting the front foot reach (for the ball).”