Columns & Blogs

Bob Lutz: Moose finally delivers big

Kansas City third baseman Mike Moustakas was in the mood to chest bump after his home run in the 11th inning led the Royals to a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday night in Game 1 of the ALDS.
Kansas City third baseman Mike Moustakas was in the mood to chest bump after his home run in the 11th inning led the Royals to a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday night in Game 1 of the ALDS.

Imagine being Mike Moustakas, who was so good as a high school baseball player in California that starry-eyed scouts constantly congregated around him and he became the second overall pick in the 2007 draft behind only left-handed pitcher David Price, of Vanderbilt.

Moustakas started carrying that “can’t miss” prospect tag around with him at an early age. It’s handed out to only the best, and Moustakas hit everything on a line in high school. He had a sweet, powerful swing and the Kansas City Royals couldn’t resist picking him.

But Moustakas, to put it kindly, has missed. At 26, it’s too early to say he has been a bust as a major leaguer because there’s still time for him to turn things around.

Ask a Royals fan about Moustakas, though, and you’re likely to get a look of anguish.

Until late Thursday night, that is. Until Moustakas hit a Fernando Salas fastball over the right-field fence at Angels Stadium to give the Royals a 3-2, 11-inning win over LA in the best-of-five American League Division Series.

What a huge win. What a huge hit.

And nobody needed it more than Moustakas, who was packed off to the minor leagues with a .152 batting average in late May. After he returned less than two weeks later, Moustakas’ average sunk to a season-low .145 after an 0-for-3 game against the New York Yankees.

He was lost, but the Royals and manager Ned Yost stuck with him because he had that one ingredient the Royals have so desperately been missing – power.

It showed up only occasionally. Moustakas hit only 15 home runs this season in 457 at-bats. And for Thursday night’s game, he was in the ninth spot in the Kansas City batting order. Let’s face it: If the Royals had a better option, Moustakas likely would be somewhere else.

But teams are reluctant to throw in the towel on hitters like Moustakas, who at times shows a flash. And Kansas City spent $4 million just to sign Moustakas in 2007.

Moustakas has been fighting for his baseball life ever since. Nothing has come easy. He batted .263 in 89 games after being called up by the Royals as a 22-year-old in 2011, but his batting average has fallen steadily ever since. After hitting .242 with 20 homers and 73 RBI in 2012, Moustakas batted .233, 12, 42 in 2013 and did recover to hit .212, 15, 54 this season.

When you’re “recovering” to hit .212, you know you’re in trouble.

Moustakas isn’t an up-and-comer any more. He turned 26 last month and it’s hard to say how much more patience the Royals have.

His home run Thursday, one of the Royals’ biggest in their history, probably bought him a lot more time.

Moustakas was emotional as he rounded the bases. It’s been such a long, arduous and frustrating career for him so far and you could sense his relief at having done something so monumental to help the team that has stuck by him through thin and more thin.

Moustakas had drawn a two-out walk against the Angels’ Jared Weaver in the third inning, after which he scored on Alcides Escobar’s double. He grounded out in the fifth and flied out in the eighth before leading off the 11th with the biggest hit of his life.

Getting to the big leagues, no matter how high a player is drafted, is never a sure thing. You can tell that by looking at this list of all-time No. 2 draft choices in major league history. It goes from Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson to five players who never reached the majors.

No. 2 draft picks in MLB history (MLB statistics)

1965 – Les Rohr, P, New York Mets (2-3, 3.70 ERA)

1966 – Reggie Jackson, OF, Oakland Athletics (.262, 563 HR, 1,702 RBI)

1967 – Terry Hughes, SS, Chicago Cubs (.209, 1 HR, 7 RBI)

1968 – Pete Broberg, P, Oakland Athletics (41-71, 4.56 ERA)

1969 – J.R. Richard, P, Houston Astros (107-71, 3.15 ERA)

1970 – Steve Dunning, P, Cleveland Indians (23-41, 4.56 ERA)

1971 – Jay Franklin, P, San Diego Padres (DNP)

1972 – Rick Manning, OF, Cleveland Indians (..256, 56 HR, 458 RBI)

1973 – John Stearns, C, Philadelphia Phillies (.260, 46 HR, 312 RBI)

1974 – Tommy Boggs, P, Texas Rangers (.20-44, 4.22 ERA)

1975 – Mike Lentz, P, San Diego Padres (DNP)

1976 – Pat Underwood, P, Detroit Tigers (13-18, 4.43 ERA)

1977 – Bill Gullickson, P, Montreal Expos (162-136, 3.93 ERA)

1978 – Lloyd Moseby, OF, Toronto Blue Jays (.257, 169 HR, 737 RBI, 280 SB)

1979 – Tim Leary, P, New York Mets (78-105, 4.36 ERA)

1980 – Garry Harris, SS, Toronto Blue Jays (DNP)

1981 – Joe Carter, OF, Chicago Cubs (.259, 396 HR, 1,445 RBI)

1982 – Augie Schmidt, SS, Toronto Blue Jays (DNP)

1983 – Kurt Stillwell, SS, Cincinnati Reds (.249, 34 HR, 310 RBI)

1984 – Bill Swift, P, Seattle Mariners (94-78, 3.95 ERA)

1985 – Will Clark, 1B, San Francisco Giants (.303, 284 HR, 1,205 RBI)

1986 – Greg Swindell, P, Cleveland Indians (123-122, 3.86 ERA)

1987 – Mark Merchant, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates (DNP)

1988 – Mark Lewis, SS, Cleveland Indians (.263, 48 HR, 306 RBI)

1989 – Tyler Houston, C, Atlanta Braves (.265, 63 HR, 653 RBI)

1990 – Tony Clark, OF, Detroit Tigers (.262, 251 HR, 824 RBI)

1991 – Mike Kelly, OF, Atlanta Braves (.241, 22 HR, 86 RBI, 30 SB)

1992 – Paul Shuey, P, Cleveland Indians (45-28, 3.87 ERA)

1993 – Darren Dreifort, P, Los Angeles Dodgers (48-60, 4.36 ERA)

1994 – Ben Grieve, OF, Oakland Athletics (.269, 118 HR, 492 RBI)

1995 – Ben Davis, C, San Diego Padres (.237, 38 HR, 204 RBI)

1996 – Travis Lee, 1B, Minnesota Twins (.256, 115 HR, 488 RBI)

1997 – J.D. Drew, OF, Philadelphia Phillies (.278, 242 HR, 795 RBI)

1998 – Mark Mulder, P, Oakland Athletics (103-60, 4.18 ERA)

1999 – Josh Beckett, P, Florida Marlins (138-106, 3.88 ERA)

2000 – Adam Johnson, P, Minnesota Twins (1-3, 10.25 ERA)

2001 – Mark Prior, P, Chicago Cubs (42-29, 3.51 ERA)

2002 – B.J. Upton, OF, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (.243, 139 HR, 508 RBI)

2003 – Rickie Weeks, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers (.249, 148 HR, 430 RBI)

2004 – Justin Verlander, P, Detroit Tigers (152-89, 3.53 ERA)

2005 – Alex Gordon, 3B, Kansas City Royals (.268, 121 HR, 475 RBI)

2006 – Greg Reynolds, P, Colorado Rockies (6-11, 7.01 ERA)

2007 – Mike Moustakas, SS, Kansas City Royals (.236, 52 HR, 199 RBI)

2008 – Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates (.235, 104 HR, 324 RBI)

2009 – Dustin Ackley, 2B-OF, Seattle Mariners (.245, 36 HR, 182 RBI)

2010 – Jameson Taillon, P, Pittsburgh Pirates (hasn’t reached majors)

2011 – Danny Hultzen, P, Seattle Mariners (hasn’t reached majors)

2012 – Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins (hasn’t reached majors)

2013 – Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs (hasn’t reached majors)

2014 – Tyler Kolek, P, Miami Marlins (hasn’t reached majors)