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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