Daily Archives: April 16, 2011

ALEX GORDON REINVENTED: KANSAS CITY ROYALS

MLB reports:  In 2005, B.J. (Bossman Jr.) Upton went first overall in the MLB draft to the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays (now shortened to “The Rays”).  The Kansas City Royals, with the second pick nabbed University of Nebraska sensation Alex Gordon.  After being named college player of the year and minor league player of the year, Gordon made his long anticipated major league debut on April 2, 2007.  The then 23 year old Gordon was the then star prospect for the Royals.  Comparisons to George Brett were prevalent and after unlimited success through collegiate ball and the minors, a quick adjustment was expected for Gordon.  A player with his skills and natural ability simply could not fail.  Or so many of the experts in baseball thought.  The next four years began a stream of injuries, hardships, trips to the minors and position changes for Alex Gordon.  A difficult road indeed. 

I was fortunate to watch many of Alex Gordon’s games in 2007.  The rookie third baseman ended up playing almost a full season that year and finished with six hundred plate appearances.  Fifteen home runs and sixty RBIs were seen as decent, but a .247 average and 41/137 BB/K ratio indicated that Gordon was still very much inexperienced and required seasoning.  In my estimation, Gordon simply needed some seasoning and getting further experience in baseball would help me grow into stardom.  I saw some very bad habits back in that rookie year, including impatience at the plate and instances of a lack of confidence in himself as he suffered through various slumps that year.  But in no means could any expert envision what would transpire over the next three years.

As the Royals continued to lose and fall in the standings, so did Alex Gordon’s stock.  After playing in 134 games in 2008, Gordon only played partial seasons in 2009 and 2010.  Injuries continued to mount and when Gordon was not in the minors or the DL, he was struggling in the majors.  Gordon actually fell to a .215 average in 2010 with a .671 OPS.  Stories continued to mount that as he was approaching the age of twenty-seven, his time in Kansas City was done and a change of scenery was needed.  To further cause insult to injury, Gordon’s defense at third base was considered so below average that the Royals moved him to the outfield in 2010.  Now an outfielder learning a new position and hoping to get his career on track, few people knew what to expect from Gordon in 2011.  But there were signs of a rebound coming.

The top factors behind an Alex Gordon breakthrough that I predicted for the 2011 season:

1) 27 years old:  This is the age when most players seem “to get it” and there was no reason why Gordon would be different.  After a great deal of exposure to the majors, I saw confidence more than anything else as the issue.  As long as Gordon was healthy, as long as he believed in himself, there was no reason for him not to produce.

2)  Talent:  Talent does not disappear and as a former College and Minor League Player of the Year, Gordon obviously has an abundance of skills.  When I read that Gordon was rated as the purest collegiate hitter in his class and George Brett is drooling over signing him, you know that the player is something special.  Many players have heart.  Many players have drive.  But few, if any players, have the talent that Alex Gordon has.  You can’t teach talent like his and as long as he was still young and playing, I was prepared to give Gordon the benefit of the doubt.

3)  Pressure is Off:  Gordon might have been one of the players that had too much expectations placed on him too soon and the goals set for him were almost too high that no player could reach them.  Being expected to turn around the entire Royals ball club and become the next George Brett is a lot of pressure.  I believe that the pressure got to Gordon and he cracked.  Now, going into 2011, switching to the outfield and not being expected to be the foundation of the Royals, Gordon was going to be able to simply go out and play his game.  His way.

4)  The next wave:  Going in line with the third point, the Royals have many prospects on the way.  Fans of the Royals and prospects know the names Moustakas, Hosmer and Myers, the big three expected to land in Kansas City over the next two years.  The media and fans have been clamouring for these prospects, which has created hope in Kansas City.  From a team that was playing the last few years with little optimism, 2011 was promising to be the start of something very special for the Royals.  Never discount the effect of winning or the hope of winning.  It certainly has a way of uplifting players.

5)  The vets:  With the addition of Jeff Francis, Jeff Francouer and Melky Cabrera, the Royals added role players who would be strong in the clubhouse and held mold a young, up-and-coming ball club.  One of the players most likely to benefit was Alex Gordon, who requires mentorship and assistance to build his career.  Rather than getting lost in the shuffle, Gordon could be re-invented and re-born into a major league star.

I wrote several pieces and conversed with many fans during the offseason touting the return of Alex Gordon.  The above factors being key in my mind, I saw Alex Gordon as the ultimate low risk, high reward player.  For all the talk that the Royals might trade Gordon, I could not foresee that any MLB could offer a sufficient return to the Royals to cut loose a player of his potential.  I was relieved to see that Gordon played full-time in spring training and would be in the Royals lineup every day starting opening day.  The results:  Gordon, 12 games into the season going into today’s action, is hitting .345 and has a .907 OPS.  Leading the league in hits with 19 and 7 doubles, clearly Alex Gordon is finally starting to arrive.  His Royals, with a 7-0 win over the Mariners today now stand at an imposing 10-4 record.  Gordon, now the #3 hitter in the lineup, had a 3-4 day with 3 runs and 2 RBIs.  To say that Gordon is starting to meet his potential is an understatement.  Royals fans and Gordon supporters are excited, as everything seems to finally be going right.

Further, with a bullpen of Soria, Crow, Collins and Jeffress, the Royals pitching in the late innings has been lock-down and the team overall has received the pitching and hitting necessary to excel.  But while the Royals and Gordon may be on a current high, warning signs are there for both.  From a hitting standpoint, pulling Gordon and Butler aside, the Royals seem to be scoring runs with smoke and mirrors.  I see little hitting for this team until the big-three hitting prospects arrive in the next two years.  From Gordon’s standpoint, despite his newly rediscovered hitting stroke, has an alarming 3/11 BB/K rate.  But striking out at a high clip with few walks, I am worried that Gordon is still continuing his free swinging ways and has not learned patience at the plate.  So when pitchers will find his weaknesses and exploit them, the base hits he gets right now will become outs.  I am by no means predicting doom and gloom for Gordon and the Royals, just showcasing potential red flags.  But given his strong start, as long as Gordon continues his adjustments and has confidence in himself, he should be strong by the time Moustakas/Hosmer/Myers arrive.

For those that were ready to put Alex Gordon in the Hall of Fame back in 2007, that prediction may never come to fruition.  Although it seems like he has been around forever, Gordon is still only 27.  With a strong work ethic, confidence and health, Gordon could very well play for another decade in the majors.  It is time to put the George Brett comparisons to bed.  Alex Gordon is his own person and player.  From the results so far from 2011, he is a pretty darn good one.  The hope and promise continue to be there for Gordon.  Here’s hoping 2011 will  be the year that he finally arrives.

 

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A TRIBUTE TO GREGG ZAUN

MLB reports:  On March 7, 2011, after sixteen seasons in baseball, Gregg Zaun decided to hang up his spikes for a final time.  In spring training with the San Diego Padres, his tenth major league team, Zaun decided that he was not ready to continue in the game.  Zaun seemed like a great fit for the Padres, a young team on the rise that could use his mentorship to guide its up and coming pitching staff.  But being a man of integrity, Zaun apparently knew that his time had come.  After a final farewell to the baseball field, Gregg Zaun joined Sportsnet in Ontario to become a full-time member of the Toronto Blue Jays broadcasting team.  After broadcasting with Sportsnet for the last couple of years as a commentator for the playoffs, reports indicated that Zaun would one day become a broadcaster once his career was done.  While being highly capable to continue in the game as a scout, coach or future manager, broadcasting has become the fit for Zaun as he starts the new phase of his career.

A nephew of Rick Dempsey, catching apparently ran in the family as Zaunn started his career with Dempsey’s Baltimore Orioles and rejoined the team for a brief stint in 2009.  A 17th round pick in 1989, Zaun, a catcher by trade,  made his major league debut in 1995 and lasted briefly on the Orioles until moving on to Florida.  As a member of the Marlins, Zaun won his only World Series ring in 1997.  After two and a half season in Florida, Zaun bounced to the Rangers, Royals, Astros and Rockies over the next several years.  While the Gregg Zaun we have come to know and love is cool, collected, knowledgeable and intelligent, the younger Zaun of yesteryear was perhaps not as “together”.  Reports I have read indicate that Zaun in his early his career perhaps took his role for granted, apparently having a sense of entitlement based on his famous uncle before him.  Being 5’10″ and weighing 170 pounds, Gregg Zaun is not the picturesque baseball player that we would necessarily come to expect.  In the age of behemoth 6’3″+ catchers and ball players, a player of Zaun’s stature needs to show hustle and heart in order to have longevity in the game.  After several cups of coffee around baseball, the maturation and stability of Zaun finally occurred in 2004.

Gregg Zaun became a member of the Toronto Blue Jays in ’04 and proceeded to spend the best five-year period of his career in Toronto.  Zaun transformed himself into a leader on the ball club and became a fan favorite in the city.  In 2005, Zaun played in a career high 133 games and had 434 at bats.  Career highs of 162 total bases, 61 runs and 61 RBIs were set, but most telling were his 73 walks taken.  Zaun, in addition to an outstanding defensive catcher was becoming an offensive catalyst as well.  In 2006, despite playing in only 99 games, hit a career high of 12 home runs.  Despite reports of Zaun being unhappy about sharing playing time near the twilight of his Jays playing days, Zaun showed up every day without a hiccup and was a team player right until the end of the 2008 season.  Obviously Zaun’s time in Toronto was special for both him and his fans, given that Zaun continued to broadcast for the Jays in the off seasons following his departure from the team.  A definite sign of things to come.

Over the last two seasons of his career, Zaun played out the string with the Orioles, Rays and Brewers.  As the Rays were contending in 2009, Zaun became a stretch-run acquisition.  Playing fairly well, Zaun earned a contract with the Brewers going into 2010.  Unfortunately injuries cut Zaun’s last MLB season short, to a miniscule 28 games.  The thinking around baseball was that despite being 40 years old on opening day 2011, Zaun still had enough gas left in the tank that he would continue playing with his new team, the San Diego Padres.  However, as Zaun realized that he would not be able to achieve his personal goals, rather than take up a roster spot for a youngster he decided to call it a career.  While the sport lost one of its last true gamers on the field, it gained it substantially back on its television screen. 

When J.P. Ricciardi was let go as the general manager of the Blue Jays, not coincidentally Buck Martinez (the former Jays broadcaster that was fired by Ricciardi as Jays manager) returned to the team as its new play-by-play man.  Who did Buck replace?  Jamie Campbell, who was reassigned to the  position of in-game analyst during commercials for the regular season and playoffs.  Campbell, who worked with Zaun for five seasons and gave him his first start in broadcasting, is now Zaun’s full-time broadcasting partner .  It was a breath of fresh air to have Zaun return to the Jays as a broadcaster.  With a new studio set up directly inside the Rogers Centre during the 2011 to boot, fans get to witness the brilliance of Zaun’s work up close and personal during every Jays home game. 

The reality of sports is that a player’s time always has to come to an end.  Baseball is no different.  Whether a young hot-shot prospect like Brien Taylor is a first overall pick that never makes it to the majors, or a Jamie Moyer/Julio Franco type that almost plays into their fifties.  Gregg Zaun could have easily gone either way in the game.  A World Series ring in his third season in the majors.  Having a famous uncle who was a major league catcher for a whopping 24 seasons.  Zaun from all accounts came into the game with a sense of entitlement and if his first few seasons had followed suit, Zaun could have burnt out quickly.  Without the proportions of a typical star major league player, arrogant/unmotivated type players tend to not last long in the show.  But something did click with Zaun and lasted within him to allow him to have a long and productive major league career.  Unfortunately for the Gregg Zaun fans out there, that same maturity allowed Zaun to walk away from the game, even though he could have hung on for another season or two.  Apparently his time was done and now Gregg Zaun is ready to continue the rest of his career.

I have really enjoyed reading and listening to Gregg Zaun’s analysis and thoughts on the game.  In addition to being an analyst on Blue Jays broadcasts, Gregg can be found on twitter under the handle, appropriately enough @greggzaun.  In my opinion the game of baseball needs more Gregg Zauns in its ranks.  A winner with pure hustle and determination, the Gregg Zaun that I know embodies everything that is pure and great about baseball.  The future is unlimited for Gregg Zaun.  MLB reports wishes Gregg all the best as he starts the second phase of his career and get ready, you will be watching Gregg on ESPN or the MLB Network before you know it.  Remember, you heard it here first.

 

Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

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