Moose's crazy spring numbers aren't real, but there's a good chance this time HE is
Unlike a year ago, when Mike Moustakas' spring numbers were an illusion, there is reason to believe he'll follow up another strong spring with solid stats when the games count.
Mike Moustakas has been on fire in Arizona -- again -- and this time he could be for real.
Chris Carlson / AP
By Jeffrey Flanagan
Here we go again.
Yep, that's Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas tearing up the Cactus League again, the same way he punished pitchers in Arizona last March.
Through 12 games this spring, Moustakas is hitting .500 with a ridiculous 1.595 OPS. He leads the team with four homers and 14 RBI.
Of course, Royals fans are familiar with those gaudy numbers.
Last year, Moustakas hit .394 in spring with a .429 on-base percentage and a 1.147 OPS. He hit five homers and had eight doubles, and publications everywhere were proclaiming Moose as the player to watch in baseball in 2013.
Even Sports Illustrated got duped, suggesting that Moustakas' hot spring "could portend a major power surge in the coming season."
Moustakas had a dreadful year, as every Royals fan knows, hitting just .233 (.287 on-base) with only 12 homers and 42 RBI.
So, should we fall for the myth of his spring training numbers again?
Well, there's evidence to suggest that this spring's numbers -- while still inflated because of the thin desert air and rock-hard infields in Arizona -- are marginally more valid.
Unlike last season, Moustakas isn't obsessed with trying to pull every pitch, an approach that has held him back from any meaningful offensive breakthrough.
Moustakas' offseason work with hitting coach Pedro Grifol in winter ball in Venezuela apparently is paying off. Grifol and George Brett opted not to overhaul Moustakas' approach when they took over as hitting coaches late last May, though they knew his pull-happy philosophy was doomed.
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"You can't reconstruct someone's swing in midseason," Grifol told me back then. "It just doesn't work that way."
Grifol waited until the offseason to break down Moustakas' mental approach and then alter his mechanics slightly as well.
In Venezuela, Moustakas slowly began trying to drive pitches on the outer half of the plate to left-center field.
"I wasn't just serving up flares that way, either," Moustakas said. "I was driving the ball."
Moustakas' new approach is carrying over this spring.
"What's different this year about him is that he's not automatically pulling his right hip out on every swing," one American League scout recently told me. "That's what dead pull hitters do. He seems to be keeping those hips quiet until he decides where to drive the ball, and then he cuts loose with his hips."
He's got a very definitive plan every time he walks up to that plate.
Royals manager Ned Yost
Brett also has noticed a huge change from the Moustakas he saw and coached last season to the player he sees now.
"Pedro had him for a month (in winter ball) and started talking to him about a good two-strike approach, and all of a sudden he started hitting the ball to left field and he said, 'I'm going to stay with this,'" Brett told mlb.com. "And so now he's driving the ball good to the opposite field, which you have to do.
"You can't pull the ball every time; you've got to go with the pitch. These pitchers in the big leagues can put it where they want to, and if they keep putting it down and away and you keep trying to pull it, you're going to hit ground balls to second base."
The key now is for Moustakas to stick with the plan, which manager Ned Yost believes he will.
"What I see is that he's got a very definitive plan every time he walks up to that plate and adjusts his plan according to the count," Yost told reporters recently. "He didn't do that a whole lot last year.
"You've got to be smart. You just can't go up there hackin'. You have to have a plan, and he's got one now."
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter @jflanagankc or email firstname.lastname@example.org.