Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening — whichever is applicable to you. If you attend enough live drafts over time you’ll one day find yourself drafting double. One of my most memorable instances of this happened about five-years ago. A fellow league mate was unable to attend the draft due to prior commitments. After a brief philosophical overview, I was handed hand-written player rankings and given a pat on the back; “All you’ll have to do is say the names” he stated, just before walking out the door.
As I prepared for my pre-draft cram session I opened up his custom rankings. For a 14-Team league with 30-Man rosters I was handed 150 names (about half were legible), and among those Mike Moustakas was featured 10 times. Was an herbal induced draft prep session to blame, or was his love for Mike Moustakas that deep? Within the annals of my home league Moose Taco’s became a legend that day.
Today we find ourselves still waiting for the best of Mike Moustakas. As the 2nd overall selection of the 2007 Amateur Draft, Moustakas has been a point of interest for fantasy owners for nearly a decade now. His Minor League production warranted all the prospect talk that accompanied him. In 2010, between AA and AAA, Moustakas totaled 36 HR, hit above .320, and showed an excellent contact rate for a hitter with his power. The success followed him in 2011 when he began the season at AAA. There Moustakas hit .287 with 10 HR in 55 games. With nothing left to prove, the Royals promoted Moustakas on June 10th, 2011. He started his career by going 1-3 in a 4-2 Royals win in Anaheim. That following Sunday I submitted a $760 FAAB bid for my first serving of Moose Taco’s – with a winning bid of $782, my first taste would have to wait.
Since his debut Moustakas has seen far more bad times than good. He held his own during his rookie campaign, but a .263 AVG and 5 HR over 89 games won’t cause you to celebrate. In 2012 he tapped into the power for the first time, hitting 20 HR over 149 games, but his 20.2% K rate (career high), lead to a .242 AVG and ugly .296 OBP. He followed up the 2012 campaign by hitting a robust .233 with an OBP of .287. To complicate matters even more, the 20 HR binge of 2012 was followed up by 12 HR in 136 games. In an effort to show everyone that things can be worse, Moustakas outdid himself in 2014 by hitting .212 with a .271 OBP, earning his first demotion.
As for the highlights of his professional career, all one really has to do is filter to 2015. Moustakas earned his first and only All-Star appearance to date, posted career highs in every offensive category, helping the Kansas City Royals win their first World Series since 1985.
For most of us Moustakas supporters, the 2015 glimpse was all we needed to be fully committed once more. Like every season prior to 2015, 2016 left owners disappointed. After just 27 games he was lost for the season after tearing his ACL in a foul-territory collision with Alex Gordon. His season ended with a lackluster .240 average, but with that .240 mark came 7 HR in just 113 plate appearances. Is it possible that the only contact Alex Gordon made all season deprived us all of the Mike Moustakas breakout we’ve been longing to see?
For one to accent to super-stardom, a variety of paths can be taken. The great Mike Trout struggled in his first taste of MLB action before quickly adjusting. Miguel Cabrera has really never known failure in his 14 years and has essentially been a superstar from day one. Josh Donaldson has went from 40-Man casualty to organizational building block in less than 2-years. Some gradually improve year after year, while others seemingly wake up one day as one of the best baseball has to offer. Edwin Encarnacion certainly comes to mind when thinking of this career path.
Baseball-Reference has a player comparison tool which finds comparable players at various points of their career. With the aforementioned track record it comes as no surprise that the list of most comparable players for Moustakas is rather lackluster – Kevin Kouzmanoff and Trevor Plouffe are his most similar comparisons. When you begin to look at age, however, the forecast becomes more promising. One name in particular really stood out, and that was the aforementioned Edwin Encarnacion.
Edwin Encarnacion debuted in 2005, and became an major league regular in 2006 with the Reds. From 2006-2008 Encarnacion’s numbers remained rather consistent. He established himself as a decent batting average source with pop. In 2009 he was traded to the Blue Jays where he continued to show the exact same skill set and production level thru the 2011 season. When Encarnacion entered the 2012 season he was a late round stat cushion in regards to fantasy. At the conclusion of 2012, a new Top-Tier fantasy talent was born at the tender age of 29.
Mike Moustakas will play the majority of this season as a 28-year-old. While he has failed to produce consistent production during his six-year pro career, he has established a plate approach. Moustakas is a high contact bat who emphasizes putting the ball in play. While his BB% isn’t elite, his low K% offsets much of this and ultimately establishes a very desirable BB/K. What is even more impressive is how Moustakas has managed to improve in these areas every year.
So despite what the baseball card numbers tell you, Moustakas has taken huge strides as a hitter. He’s steadily taken more walks, made better overall contact, and has done so at an improved rate. All the while choosing to swing at better pitches and missing on those pitches less often. For a player to improve in just two facets of the game can often be huge. For a player like Moustakas to show continued improvement across the board and not be massively rewarded seems highly improbable.
Sure, the 27 games in 2016 may be too small of a sample to establish a new skill set. Could it not, however, serve as a beacon of hope for future improvements? Last season Moustakas’ 86.2 Contact rate, 5.8 SwStr, and 37.4 Hard Hit rate would have all been among the top-30 in baseball. To give you some context as to what the net results could have been, his .260 ISO would have ranked among the top-15 in baseball. Other players who feature a very similar skill set include: DJ LeMahieu, Daniel Murphy, and some kid named Mookie Betts. More importantly, the list of players who made excellent contact and hit the ball hard that weren’t successful is non-existent.
Edwin Encarnacion’s leap forward was due to a spike in BB%. Encarnacion took more pitches which ultimately lead to better counts and more situations where he could lock into certain pitch types. That one adjustment took him from a .265 hitter with 20 HR pop, to a .295 hitter with 40 HR and a perennial Run and RBI leader. If Moustakas can maintain a Hard Hit rate in the mid 30’s you are looking at a very good fantasy player. That rate of contact paired with even a 35% Hard hit rate would put Moustakas in the conversation for .280 annually. Combine the contact rates with the batted ball profile and you’ve got yourself a 30 HR hitter hitting in the heart of a lineup.
So many superstars have instantly emerged without notice. After the fact we can usually look back and identify the change. Typically it’s one or maybe two areas that have improved with each and every year. Moustakas is showing this improvement over 10 areas, all of which can be very valuable when projecting future earnings.
We are going to go into April with Mike Moustakas as a CI type bat. In May will come the “Is Mike Moustakas legit?” postings. Come July reality will settle in. This time next year you’ll be looking at a top-50 Overall player who’s just starting to fulfill that promise we bestowed on him so long ago. To think it all started with one man, a sheet of paper, and a big time hankering for Moose Taco’s.
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