The Royals stand at 17-14 and occupy second place in the American League Central. They’ve done that while having a first baseman getting on-base at a .295 clip. To try and fill that void, the Royals have promoted top prospect Eric Hosmer from Omaha and optioned Kila Ka’aihue. The big athletic first baseman has been annihilating triple-A pitching for the first month of the season as he’s currently hitting .439/.525/.582 in his first 98 at bats.
The timing of the move is certainly surprising. Kila Ka’ihue was struggling at the plate, but he hit well in his last few games. He’s only been to the plate 96 times this season, which is hardly enough to tell you anything about a player. I’ve been asked a lot lately what I think the Royals should do with Kila, and I’ve been a staunch proponent of giving him more time to prove himself. Lots of great Major Leaguers including some Hall-of-Famers have had terrible starts to their career. A month just isn’t enough to make a judgment. But then the same logic applies for Hosmer – he’s clearly not going to hit .439 for the entire year.
The interesting thing about the move is what it says about the organization and their philosophy. Nobody is surprised that Eric Hosmer is viewed as the future first baseman. What’s shocking is how little time they committed to Kila. Either the Royals have a much smaller sample of games that they think is necessary to evaluate a player or they just viewed him as filler until Hosmer was ready. Since they’ve given so much time to guys like Kyle Davies and Alex Gordon, the latter seems the most likely scenario.
I don’t believe the Royals were in any way hoping for Kila to fail, nor did they think he was destined to fail. Had Kila been successful in his short stint this season, I am certain that he would still be in Kansas City, regardless of how well Eric Hosmer was hitting.
The situation was compounded by the fact that the Royals are in striking distance of first place. My prediction was that the Royals would wait until the All-Star break to decide they were contenders, but in reality they acted much quicker. This move signals that the organization believes this year’s team can stay in contention.
While what’s going on at the top of the division is important, what’s happening at the bottom of the standings may be the deciding factor. Any great team or athlete knows that when their opponent is staggering, it’s time to step on their throat. The Royals might see the Twins, White Sox and even Tigers, as wobbly boxers and Eric Hosmer as the haymaker that can put them on the canvas.
Eric Hosmer is just 21 years old and has only played a month above the double-A level. He’s not going to be able to play the role of haymaker all by himself and luckily, the way the team is hitting right now, he won’t have to. He’ll face a lot of scrutiny and big expectations that come with playing at the highest level, but from everything I know about Hosmer, he’s ready for it.
Regarding the timing, the move was made late enough that this year won’t count as a full season towards Hosmer’s free agency. However, if he remains with the club for the remainder of the season he will likely be eligible for a 4th year of arbitration under the “super two” rule. Translation -- the Royals will likely be spending roughly $10m more dollars on Hosmer before he is a free agent. It signals an organization willing to part with money if they think it benefits the team.
Even though it’s a little early to promote Hosmer, I’m extremely excited for the promotion. I’ve said all along that he probably makes the team better as soon as he’s called up. As for Kila his next shot at the Big Leagues will likely come in another uniform.
In the end, I’m conflicted. Snap judgments on players after a month are something smart baseball teams shouldn’t make a habit of doing. However, it’s promising to see the team make a move they believe in, regardless of the financial implication. The Royals rightfully believe the young prospects of the future will help this team win pennants, and the future starts now.