Hosmer, Royals believe the future is now
The Royals have cranked up an ambitious promotion campaign for 2012 — a year in which they’ll host the All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium.
Beyond the buzz over that midsummer event, however, the Royals’ theme is aimed directly at what happens on the field.
The two-word catchphrase for the coming season: “Our Time.”
Unless you’ve been watching the Royals from up close, that seems like an ambitious boast — especially for a team that finished 24 games from the top of the AL Central in 2011 and has scraped out just one winning season in 17 years.
There are no guarantees in sport, of course, but the Royals suddenly appear to have re-invented themselves.
They’ve created one of the best farm systems in baseball, and the talent developed through that work and financial investment has begun to produce victories — and some goose bumps — around the American League.
An army of gifted young players appeared last year, and a few of the club’s earlier high draft picks — guys like Alex Gordon and Luke Hochevar — also began to blossom.
“Our final record (71-91) was deceiving,” insisted Eric Hosmer, the often-magical first baseman who finished third in Rookie of the Year balloting despite missing the first month of the season.
Hosmer hit .293 with 19 homers and 78 RBIs after arriving in the big leagues on May 6, and he was so spectacular defensively that it seems certain there will be Gold Gloves in the future.
“Talk to the teams we played against, especially in the second half of the year when a lot of the guys in our system got to the big leagues,” Hosmer said. “Believe me, they were taking us seriously.”
After Hosmer was joined in midseason by fellow prospects Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Johnny Giavotella, Danny Duffy and Everett Teaford — complementing rookie relievers Louis Coleman, Aaron Crow, Greg Holland, Tim Collins and Nate Adcock, all of whom started the season in Kansas City — the long-awaited wave of talent finally reached Kauffman Stadium.
Perez was awesome behind the plate and hit a stunning .331 in 148 at-bats. Third baseman Moustakas got off to a slow start, then found his stride and was the second-leading hitter in MLB from Aug. 15 through the end of the season.
The Royals went 15-10 in September, and most hated to see the season end.
“We proved we can play with anybody,” Hosmer said. “Now we want to show it over some full seasons. We want to win championships.”
Yes, that sounds a bit ambitious — at least for 2012.
General manager Dayton Moore conceded there is a lot of ground that must be made up.
“We were 24 games behind Detroit,” he said. “Obviously, we feel we’ve brought a lot of talent to the big leagues, and we have more prospects who are a year or two — or maybe less — away from making their own impact.
“But we still have to go from 71 wins to a whole lot more. To make that jump in just one year is a big challenge.”
Having issued a few words of caution, however, Moore is happy to point out that the Arizona Diamondbacks rebounded from a 97-loss season to win the National League West a year ago.
Moore’s personnel moves indicate he’s pretty optimistic about the “Our Time” slogan, as well.
The GM traded center fielder Melky Cabrera to the Giants for starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez — who will be a free agent after 2012.
Former Dodger All-Star Jonathan Broxton was signed as a free agent to bolster the bullpen, and he’s another potential contributor who could leave after one season.
Moore found lefty relief specialist Jose Mijares and some solid back-up infielders — Yuniesky Betancourt and Kevin Kouzmanoff — to help win close games.
“It’s exciting,” Hosmer said. “The club is making moves to win right now, and that’s what we’re all about.
“Look at all the young guys on our roster, and I’m including Gordo (Alex Gordon) and Billy (Butler). Then you have the guys who’ve come up about the same time I did, like Moose (Moustakas) and Perez and a few of our pitchers.
“The Royals have been drafting talent, but we’ve also been making sure to draft winners. And that’s what the minor-league history has been with this group.
“There have been league championships at (Class) AA and then at AAA. Everyone here now expects to win.”
Several scouts around the major leagues have suggested that the Royals ultimately will be a playoff team, but that they might have to wait another year or two as young players reach their prime.
Hosmer isn’t buying that theory.
Asked if he’d accept a giant step forward — say, something like 90 wins and second place in the division — Hosmer dismissed the notion as though it were a disease.
“Second place is the same as last place to us,” he said. “Ask somebody like Moose if he’d like to finish second. He’s a winner, and he wouldn’t want anything to do with it.
“Our goal is really simple. We’re here to win a World Series for Kansas City — and then win another one.”
Despite the bravado, Hosmer claims to be realistic.
“Sure, we understand some other teams are really good,” he said. “This is the highest level of baseball in the world.
“Nobody’s going to give us anything. But we have the talent in the organization now to achieve anything if we work hard enough.”
Hosmer laughed when reminded that Royals fans have been asked to be patient while all of the club’s young prospects take time to develop.
“I’m not asking our fans to be patient,” he said. “They’ve waited long enough. They want to win now, and so do we.
“You won’t find much patience in our clubhouse.
“Last season may have been about development, or planning for the future.
“But this year is the future. This year is about winning.”