Mike Moustakas will break the single season home run record for the Kansas City Royals. Sitting on 35 currently, it’s a foregone conclusion that he will soon hit his 37th home run of the season, breaking the previous record held by Steve Balboni which stood for 32 years. For fans, it may feel a little bitter sweet. They watched him struggle and mature as a hitter. They watched him develop as a leader. They watched him help the Royals win a Championship. They have watched him become the player that they always believed he could be: a legitimate, well rounded power hitter. Now they may have to watch him leave.
Mike Moustakas’ Record Home Run Season May Be His Last as a Royal
Like an impatient old miser tapping his fingers on his desk, free agency awaits several Royals at the end of this season. Moustakas is one of the players the miser has his eye on, along with Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Jason Vargas. Optimistically, the Royals may find the revenue to re-sign two of those five. With Moustakas on pace to hit 40+ homers on the year while playing half his games in the largest ballpark in MLB, he may be the hardest Royal gold coin to hold onto.
Moustakas was drafted By the Kansas City Royals out of high school in the 2007 Amateur Draft as the second overall pick. No other high school player in the state of California had ever hit more home runs than he had. Expectations were high. The Royals were rebuilding…again. Dayton Moore had been hired a year earlier as the General Manager of the Kansas City Royals but per the conditions set by the Atlanta Braves, his previous employer, he could not start until after the 2006 draft had been completed. Moustakas was Moore’s very first draft pick.
Moustakas’ professional baseball career has been a roller coaster both statistically and emotionally. He belted 22 homers in his first full minor league season in low A Midwest League in 2008. The following season in High-A Carolina League, he struggled with consistency. In 2010 he split time between Double-A Texas League, Northwest Arkansas, and Triple-A Pacific Coast League, Omaha. During that season he led all minor league players in home runs with 36. The following season, on June 9, 2011, 55 games into his fourth full season as a professional, he was called up by the Royals. He played in 89 games that year. He posted a .263 BA with 5 homers and 30 RBI. It was a promising start for a guy carrying some heavy expectations.
The year 2012 would be his first full season in the majors. He hit 20 homers and drove in 73 runs but his average dipped to .242. This was acceptable for a guy who was drafted to hit home runs and play great defense. Then 2013 brought a drop in all of his offensive numbers. His average dipped to .233, home runs to 12 and RBI to 42. The Royals, who posted their first winning record since 2003, were improving as a team but Moustakas was moving in the wrong direction. The Royals needed production from him if they wanted to win a championship.
He started the 2014 season hitting .152 and had become almost a pure pull hitter. Defenses were shifting on him and he was getting a steady diet of inside pitches. He was hitting the ball hard but he had become easy to defend. On May 22, less than two months into the season, he was sent back down to Omaha to work some bugs out of his swing. He spent less than two weeks there before being called back up. There was marginal improvement. He finished the 2014 season with a .212 batting average, 15 homers and 54 RBI.
The Royals qualified for the Wild-Card game that season and made a memorable post-season run that ended in Game 7 of the World Series. Moustakas led all players in home runs in the post season with five. He also contributed with three bunts, two of which advanced runners and one for a single. After the worst regular season of his pro career, he was able to make significant contributions that helped propel the Royals to their first World Series in 29 seasons.
Changing His Approach
In the off-season, Moustakas was committed to becoming a better hitter. His swing would always produce hard hit balls to the right side of the field but if he couldn’t get the defense out of the shift, a lot of those hard hit balls were not going to be hits. He had to reinvent himself as a hitter. He had to become multidimensional. He spent the entire off-season working on hitting the ball to the opposite field.
On Opening Day in 2015, in his third-plate appearance, Moustakas crushed a fastball on the outside part of the plate and put it in the bleachers in left-center field. It was the first opposite field home run of his major league career. Through the first couple of months of the season, defenses continued to shift while he was at the plate. He continued to hit the ball the other way. As the season progressed, defenses shifted on him only situationally. Now, as a complete hitter, he was able to put balls in places where defenders weren’t. He helped the Royals to the best record in the American League and posted the best numbers of his career: .284 BA, 22 homers and 82 RBI. He had successfully changed his approach and became a key offensive contributor on a championship team.
His success continued through the beginning of 2016 but his season was cut short due to an injury. On May 22, he collided with Alex Gordon while chasing a foul ball. The collision broke a bone in Gordon’s wrist and tore the ACL in Moustakas’ right knee, ending his season. In a month and a half, he posted a .240 BA with seven homers and 13 RBI in just 104 at bats.
2017 may be the most productive season of his entire career. He is on pace to hit 45+ HR and drive in 100+ runs. That also puts him on pace to sign a multiyear contract that should be worth more than $50 million. That is probably more than the Royals can match so this final stretch of the season may be his last in a Royals uniform.
It’s almost impossible to talk about Moustakas without also talking about his mother, Connie. According to Moustakas, she got him and his three sisters (who were equally as active) to every practice, meet, game or event of any kind on time, which to her meant 5 minutes early. He claims that he doesn’t recall her ever missing a single game or event.
During the 2015 season, Connie Moustakas was battling cancer. Twice during that season, Moustakas went home to be with her for what he thought would be her final days. Twice she fought for her life and told him to go back and play baseball. Moustakas became an All-star for the first time that year. Immediately following the All-star game, he rushed to the airport so he could take his mother his All-star jersey. Doctors said that she wore it proudly for most of her remaining days. A month later he made a third trip home to see her. On August 9, his mother lost her battle.
For the remainder of the 2015 season and post-season, before his first at bat, he drew his mother initials in the dirt with his bat outside of the batter’s box. He also drew her initials in the air, pointing to the skies as he crossed home plate after each home run. To this day he still draws her initials at the edge of the infield dirt as he takes the field in the first inning of each game. Moustakas honored his mother at the 2017 All-star game, writing her name on his Stand Up To Cancer card.
We all stand for someone.
A sports career is made up of memorable moments. Most of them happen on the field but often they include things that happen outside of the lines. Following are some of the moments that have defined Moustakas as a player and a person to this point.
● June 10, 2011 – A player’s first big league game is always special. Moustakas had the thrill of playing his first in his hometown of Los Angeles (Anaheim) against the Angels, where he grew up and attended games as a child. With friends and family in attendance, he went 1 for 3 with a walk against Irvin Santana and scored a run. The following night, in his 6th big-league plate appearance, he hit his first big-league home run.
● 2014 ALDS Game 1 vs Angels – With the game tied in the top of the 11th inning, Moustakas homered to right-centerfield for what would be the winning run. He homered again in game-3 as the Royals swept the Angels.
● 2014 ALCS Game 1 vs Oriels – With a one-run lead and Salvador Perez on first in the top of the 10th, Moustakas homered to give the Royals a 3-run lead. It would be the difference in the game as the Oriels picked up a run in the bottom of the 10th.
● 2014 ALCS Game 3 vs Orioles – After diving to rob Steve Pearce of a hit on a hard line drive earlier in the game, he robbed Adam Jones of an AB by snagging a foul ball while falling into the dugout suite. The Royals would win the game 2-1 and sweep the series, and this moment would be forever frozen in time with a bobble head doll.
● Sept. 12, 2015 – A day after his birthday and a month after the passing of his mother, Moustakas hit two home runs, including a grand-slam and drove in nine runs in a win over the Oriels at Camden Yards. In the interviews after the game, he spoke openly about his mother for the first time.
● Jan. 22, 2017 – Teammate, Yordano Ventura was tragically killed in an automobile accident. This event impacted every Royal, especially those who won a World Series with him. Moustakas writes, “Ace30” with his finger next to his mother’s initials in the infield as he takes the field for each game. He also taps the black “Ace30” patch on his sleeve as he crosses home after each home run.
● June 6, 2017 – Moustakas hit his second career walk-off homer to end an Astros 11 game winning streak. It also sparked the Royals to a string of series wins that would get them back in playoff contention.
● August 2017 – Moustakas becomes the single season home run leader for the Royals surpassing Steve Balboni who held that distinction for 32 years.
At this point, it is hard for Royals fans to imagine him in another jersey. There is still a lot of baseball to play in 2017. There are still negotiations to take place before Moustakas goes anywhere. Fans have to hope that playing for the Royals, and with guys that he came up through the minors with, has some value to him. They have to hope that he wants to continue hearing the Moose calls at Kauffman Stadium for a few more years; that his connection to the organization and the city that has embraced him have more value to him than the additional dollars he will undoubtedly be offered to play elsewhere.
Dayton Moore has done a great job of assembling team-friendly contracts to keep Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez and Danny Duffy. Keeping Moustakas in a Royals uniform may be his greatest challenge yet. Fans are optimistic that he’ll be #ForeverRoyal.