By The Baseball Beginnings Guy
July 20, 2009
There is no doubt that there are pitchers at four-year colleges, vagabond junior college hurlers and beer league legends who each have war stories to tell about the California state record 24 home runs Mike Moustakas hit as a senior at Chatsworth High, en route to becoming the second overall pick in the 2007 draft.
Had he played college baseball, Moustakas would currently be between his sophomore and junior years, either playing on Team USA or playing in the Cape Cod League. Instead, at age 20, he’s in his third professional season, where the lessons are harder because they’re supposed to be.
His power numbers in the Carolina League are down from what he did last year in the Midwest League, but Moustakas has a way of catching up to pitching. He entered the California-Carolina League All-Star game in late June hitting .265, but doesn’t feel he’s off track. Moustakas’s hands were always his best asset, lightning quick from the left side. The question isn’t if he’ll hit, but how much will he hit. Not even he knows, though he’s got ideas.
Baseball Beginnings caught up with Moustakas in Lake Elsinore for an update on his third pro year and a walk down memory lane, back in the days of travel ball terror with Matt Dominguez, Andrew Lambo, Robert Stock, Jason Stoffel and Jack Marder.
Baseball Beginnings: Where do you think you are right now? What are you happy with and what are you not happy with? Let’s start with the bat, because that’s always been you.
Moustakas: I feel good. I feel like I’ve come along real well. The Royals have taken it easy with me. It’s a process. I’m fine with high-A if I spend the level year. I’m happy with the way I’m swinging it. Last year, I started real bad and came alive in the second half. This year I had a little better first half.
Baseball Beginnings: Obviously you’re a fast track guy, but you sound like you don’t feel like you’re being rushed.
Moustakas: Yeah. I’m really OK with the level (year). If they wanted to move me up, it’s completely up to them. If they wanted me to stay here and hit, I’ll do that, too.
Baseball Beginnings: Is Wilmington a tough park to hit in? Do you feel like you’ve hit better than the .265 average at the break indicates?
Moustakas: Yeah, because I feel like I’ve hit a lot of balls hard. Not to make any excuses, but it is a hard park to hit at. The grass is pretty thick. If you ask a bunch of guys in the Carolina League, they’ll tell you that the ball doesn’t really fly there. But, I mean, still, you have to play baseball and there will be other parks that are tough to hit in, too.
Baseball Beginnings: I don’t want to bury you, but are you happy with .265 at the moment?
Moustakas: I mean, you’re never really happy with .265, but it’s a good start, and it’s a better start than I had last year. I’d still like to play better in the second half.
Baseball Beginnings: Looking at the numbers, I see you still don’t strike out. That’s the Moustakas people know and remember.
Moustakas: Yeah. Put the ball in play and good things will happen.
Baseball Beginnings: What aspects of the game do you still feel you need to get better at?
Moustakas: All aspects, without question. The oldest saying in the book is, ‘If you didn’t have anything to improve on, you wouldn’t be in the minor leagues.’ And it’s true. I’m trying to be a five-tool guy as best I can be a five-tool guy. Offensively, right now we’re working on driving the ball to the other side of the field. I’d like to be able to consistently hit the ball hard between the left and center fielder.
Baseball Beginnings: Where are you right now as a hitter?
Moustakas: Hitting has always been my strength, but they’ve spent a lot of time with me just teaching professional hitting.
Baseball Beginnings: You were always best going up the middle as an amateur. Did you get away from that a little bit when you first signed?
Moustakas: Yeah. Guys know when you hit in the three hole, you have to have some pop. So guys start running balls away from you. I started seeing a lot more two-seam fastballs down and away, things of that nature. That’s where the professional hitting comes in, using the whole field. I feel I can drive the ball hard to the other side of the field. It’s just a matter of consistency and doing it at each level.
Baseball Beginnings: What has been the biggest adjustment to being a professional?
Moustakas: Learning to play every day. I had days where I went 0-for-5 with two or three strikeouts. You had to come back the next day and play a whole new ballgame.
Baseball Beginnings: You didn’t have a lot of failure as an amateur. How did you deal with that for the first time?
Moustakas: At first, I was mad. Like you said, I hadn’t really experienced failure throughout my career. My coaches talked to me and told me, ‘It’s baseball, it happens, everyone goes 0-for-5. Everybody strikes out.’ Learning to deal with it was something new. You have to be able to deal with it.
Baseball Beginnings: You ever talk to Matt Dominguez?
Moustakas: We still talk all the time. I talked to him just the other day. He struggled a little bit out of the gate but he’s starting to come together.
Baseball Beginnings: Do you remember a kid named Jack Marder?
Moustakas: I do. I do remember Jack. I think Jack can hit. He’s a little guy, but Jack can swing. Jack can play. He can hit, that was always the truth with him.
Baseball Beginnings: He tells the story about a club team with you, Dominguez, Andrew Lambo, Robert Stock and Marder.
Moustakas: I remember that team. We had a team, man. I think we were the Eagles, then the Heat. Jason Stoffel was on one of those teams.
Baseball Beginnings: Did those teams pretty much roll everyone?
Moustakas: Yeah, we just ran through people. Those were fun times.