Royal talent: Moustakas' star on rise in KC
'Moose' delivering with bat, glove after tough debut in 2011
KANSAS CITY -- They say hard work pays off, and it certainly seems to be holding true for Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas.
The player referred to as "Moose" by teammates, coaches and fans has become one of Kansas City's biggest young stars thanks to a hot bat and a flashy glove. When Moustakas is not hitting doubles off the wall, he's making diving stops to take away hits at the hot corner. Through 30 games, Moustakas is batting .311 with four home runs and 15 RBIs.
Moustakas' big numbers are refreshing for those who saw him hit just .182 over his first 53 games in the Major Leagues last season. He had a very hot finish to the 2011 season, though, hitting .379 from Aug. 17 to the end of the year. Moustakas' average over that stretch ranked second in baseball, trailing only Detroit's Miguel Cabrera.
This season also started off somewhat slowly for Moustakas, as he had just four hits over the first seven games. But since April 14, Moustakas has batted .350 with a .416 on-base percentage, three homers and 12 RBIs.
Moustakas leads the team in batting average (.311), on-base percentage (.366) and slugging percentage (.534), and his 11 doubles lead the Royals and rank third in the American League. He's one home run shy of his 2011 total, and is halfway to the RBI total he had last season.
And on top of all the offensive accomplishments, there's his solid defense.
"He's showing us everything in all phases of his game, offensively and defensively," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "It's something that he's worked very hard at, and he takes a lot of pride in his defense. He's played spectacularly over there for us, from the beginning of the year on."
And, as Yost says, there's no secret formula to Moustakas' success. It's the hard work that he puts in every day that has led to his on-field performance. Moustakas, according to his coaches, has come a long way. Despite being selected as the second overall pick of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, Moustakas showed up in Kansas City last season not quite polished as a defender at third base.
Since getting called up, though, Moustakas has worked with Royals infield coach Eddie Rodriguez on a near-daily basis to improve on defense. And according to Rodriguez, the hard work has paid off.
"Can he be an All-Star third baseman? Does he have the potential? I always thought he did," Rodriguez said. "I never relayed that information or conveyed it to him because I wanted to see the improvement, the progress he was making with our work. At this stage where he's at right now, and looking beyond into future and envisioning what he could become, for sure he's a solid All-Star third baseman."
Moustakas signed with the Royals as a shortstop. Rodriguez said that the biggest piece of advice he gave Moustakas was to play third base as if he was a shortstop.
Perhaps that's why Moustakas keeps delivering highlight-reel plays. He's robbed Kelly Shoppach of a base hit with a throw from one knee, and stole a hit from Alex Rodriguez with a strong charge and throw. It seems like every time a ground ball is hit to third, the fans erupt in their common cheer of "Mooooooose!" before the play is even completed.
The customized Moose call isn't the only sign Moustakas is quickly becoming a fan favorite. Each game, there's another sighting of foam Moose antlers -- $10 at Kauffman Stadium -- which Moustakas said he thinks are pretty cool.
Moustakas got an early start on baseball. When he was a kid, he frequently visited Major League ballparks and hung out with big leaguers. Moustakas' uncle, Tom Robson, was a hitting coach for the Reds, Rangers and Mets, and when Robson's Mets came to Los Angeles, Moustakas worked as a batboy.
Moustakas said that through the Minor Leagues, he's been receiving instruction on how to become a better defender.
"Coming up through the Minor Leagues, I had a lot of good coaching about third base," Moustakas said. "We had [former Royal] Joe Randa that'd come in a lot, help me out. Obviously George [Brett] would help me out a ton. Eddie's there every day helping me out, so he's been tremendous."
According to Rodriguez, part of what's made Moustakas great is that he is a good student.
"His awareness is off the charts -- [he's] always hungry to learn, ask questions. He receives information really well and applies it," Rodriguez said. "There are players ... that need to have immediate success with something to then start applying it. He never had that. He listened, we worked on it, he went into the game and applied it without knowing if he was going to have success because it was something different than what he had already done."
Rodriguez said that Moustakas compares to Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre, which is high praise considering Beltre has three Gold Gloves.
For the Royals -- a team building from within using young players -- seeing improvement is key. Moustakas is a prime example of a player improving from day to day and season to season. On offense, Moustakas isn't being plagued by the slow start that followed him through more than 50 of his first Major League games, instead being one of the team's offensive leaders. On defense, Moustakas has evolved into a polished third baseman, wowing fans on a nightly basis.
Moustakas walks to the plate for each home at-bat accompanied by a Jimi Hendrix song: "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)." So far this season for the Royals, the return on their investment in Moustakas has been significantly more than slight.
Vinnie Duber is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.