The first noticeable change this spring in Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas is a face framed by oiled, wavy locks instead of buzzed stubble.
“It’s no big story,” he counters with an easy laugh while finger-combing everything back into place after a workout under the desert sun on the Frank White Field at the Surprise Recreation Campus. “I just decided not to cut it this off-season.”
Does this new look survive the spring?
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“I don’t know yet,” he said, laughing again. “It all depends on what’s going on. If it starts getting a little hot, I might trim it up a little bit. But as of right now, everyone is saying they like it. So I’m going to keep it going for as long as they tell me to.”
A closer look reveals it isn’t just a change in hairstyle. Moustakas also sports a more chiseled cut to a physique that previously tended toward fireplug status. And that, he says, is a big story.
“I’m at 210 (pounds),” he said. “I was around 218-220 last year. The year before that, I was pretty big. I think I was around 230 or so. Just being able to cut it down the past couple of years … that’s the goal; to get the weight down and build the muscle.”
Moustakas credits the Boras Sports Training Institute — located in Aliso Viejo, Calif., and operated under the auspices his agent, Scott Boras — for the toned look.
“I’m in the best shape of my life,” he said. “I’m quicker. I’m better athletically. I mean, if you lose 10 pounds, you’ve got to be more athletic, right? I feel good with my swing. I feel light on my feet. I’m able to move better left and right. I feel more agile.
“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to the guys I worked with at BSTI in the off-season. I’ve been down there for three or four years, and those guys had it leveled for me. They got me to where I wanted to be.”
As much as anyone, Moustakas embodies the new-look Royals. He was the second overall pick in the 2007 draft, and the first player selected under Dayton Moore’s watch as general manager.
Moore had been GM for less than a week when the Royals took pitcher Luke Hochevar with the first overall pick in the 2006 draft. Officially, Moore had no input into that year’s selections.
Moustakas, now 23, was one of 12 rookies who made their debut a year ago and is an undeniable lynchpin in the Moore’s plan to rebuild the organization through homegrown talent.
And like the club itself, Moustakas is generally assessed with cautious-but-hopeful optimism. He struggled for roughly two months last year following his June 10 promotion before batting .379 over his final 36 games and finishing at .263.
“I was hitting under .200 for a long time,” he recalled. “For me, the most important thing was being able to lean on my teammates. Those guys were unbelievable. They’d come over and say, ` Moose, you’re all right. Just get them tomorrow.’
“They had my back the entire time. It made me almost feel like I was hitting .300. Having those guys in my corner, and having the coaching staff in my corner, really helped me.”
His strong closing kick, following such a rough stretch, provided renewed confidence for a player who, the previous season, won several player-of-the-year awards in the minor leagues after batting .322 with 36 homers and 124 RBIs in 118 games.
“He got frustrated,” manager Ned Yost said. “He got down. He didn’t understand what was going on. He never showed it outwardly, but it was a tough go for him. But he never stopped working. He persevered through it and finally got untracked and relaxed.
“He just needs to go out and play his game. He just needs to be relaxed and play with confidence like he did the last month of the season.”
Moustakas embodies the Royals in another way: He can’t wait for what comes next. He was one of many players who arrived weeks ahead of schedule at the club’s spring home for an early start on the coming season.
“We believe in it,” he said. “We’ve bought into it. We think we have something special out here. I take that back … we know we have something special out here. There’s no other reason to come out here. That’s why there are so many guys out here early.
“We’re building that team chemistry early this year. We’re getting it going, and we’re going to try to surprise some people this year.”