In the most recent mailbag column on the official Royals website, Dick Kaegal answered a question about the number of homeruns Alex Gordon and Billy Butler would hit this season. His response was neither Gordon or Butler consider themselves homerun hitters and their homerun production in 2008 should be in the 15-20 range. This projection will disappoint many Royals fans who are hoping one of these players would develop into a 30+ homerun hitter in the middle of the Royals lineup. But if Gordon, Butler, and outfielder Mark Teahen were to each hit 15-20 homeruns in the middle of the lineup, the Royals would be a solid offensive team.
With slugging percentages above .500, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and Mark Teahen are off to very good starts. If the Royals are going to be a contending team again these three players are going to have to shoulder the bulk of the load. My fear is the Royals coaching staff will buy into the notion that since Teahen, Butler, and Gordon all occupy the so-called power positions in the lineup, they will begin to tinker with their approach at the plate in an effort to make them homerun hitters without regard on how that change will impact the rest of their hitting abilities. This has happened in other organizations and it would be a shame if the Royals derailed the careers of young hitters by trying to make them into something they are not.
Scott Stahoviak and Doug Mientkiewicz, who came up through the Twins organization in the 1990s, both had their careers damaged by Tom Kelly's attempts to transform them into power hitters. In 1994, Scott Stahoviak was a 24 year old first baseman for the Twins AAA team the Salt Lake Buzz. Stahoviak had a solid year for the Buzz; 41 doubles, 6 triples, 13 homeruns, 94 RBI, and a batting line of .318/.413/.529. Stahoviak also walked 70 times. I saw Stahoviak play more than 40 games that summer and there was no doubt he had Major League potential. He could drive the ball with authority to all fields. After being a part-time player for the Twins in 1995, Stahoviak took the full-time first base duties in 1996. He hit 13 homeruns, drove in 61 runs, and produced at a respectable .284/.376/.469 clip. The following year Stahoviak's numbers declined significantly and his Major League career was over.
Doug Mientkiewicz followed a similar path as Stahoviak. Although not as good as Stahoviak's 1994 season, Mientkiewicz's 2000 season of 18 homeruns, 96 RBI, and a batting line of .285/.324/.400 was very good. Mientkiewicz had good bat speed, excellent gap power, and played Gold Glove level defense at first base. The following year, Doug Mientkiewicz was the Twins first baseman and had an excellent season. 15 homeruns, 74 RBI, and a line of .306/.387/.464. Mientkiewicz garnered five points in the 2001 MVP balloting. But like Stahoviak, Mientkiewicz has never again reached his 2001 numbers. Because of his defensive abilities, Mientkiewicz has had a long career, but he has never developed into a front line Major League first baseman. Recently I spoke with a man that was part of the Buzz front office in the 1990s and he shared with me that both Stahoviak and Mientkiewicz suffered because Tom Kelly tried to make both of them into Kent Hrbek.
Watching Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, and Mark Teahen in 2008 should give all Royals fan hope for the future. Each of these guys have the ability to be major run producers for the Royals. They have excellent bat speed, they can drive the ball to all fields, and they display a composure that will allow them to perform in the clutch. But none of these guys are going to make a run at Steve Balboni's single season homerun record. I hope the Royals will continue to allow these guys to play to their abilities and not make the same mistake Tom Kelly and Twins did with Scott Stahoviak and Doug Mientkiewicz.