Born to hit: Moose dominating at Double-A

RC was in NW Arkansas this weekend, where we had an opportunity to sit down with the red-hot Mike Moustakas and his hitting coach, Terry Bradshaw. Inside, read all about the adjustments Moustakas has made at the plate this season, and what he's doing to improve his defense at third base.

Saying that Mike Moustakas is locked in right now would be an understatement. Since joining the NW Arkansas Naturals during the club's second week, the 21-year-old third baseman has been the best hitter in the minor leagues. Indeed, "Moose" leads the Texas League in virtually every offensive category, including batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs, and RBIs.

"I'm feeling amazing right now," said Moustakas in an interview with RC on Saturday. "I'm seeing the ball really well."

Through 29 games, Moustakas is hitting a ridiculous .400/.481/.809 with 11 home runs, 12 doubles, and 38 RBIs in 110 at bats. His amazing start has garnered national attention, as baseball writers flock to Springdale to see the young slugger tear up the Texas League. He was recently profiled in the Kansas City Star, and he was interviewed by a reporter from MiLB.com just prior to speaking with RC. Despite all the attention, Moustakas is remaining even-keeled and focused on winning.

"I don't really think much about what's being written down or what people are saying," said Moustakas "I just try to come out here every day and play the game. The only thing I really think about every day is just coming out here and trying to win. We've got a great team out here, and it's a lot of fun being able to come out here and play with these guys."

Moustakas last season had a mildly disappointing campaign for High-A Wilmington. While he led the Blue Rocks in home runs and RBIs, he hit just .250/.297/.421 in 492 at bats. He attributes much of his turnaround to his hitting coach.

"Terry [Bradshaw] has been helping me a lot," said Moustakas. "He helped me a lot during spring training, just trying to simplify things during my swing and being able to recognize pitches. And I think that's helped me to lay off the bad pitches that I was chasing at early on, just getting too anxious. I've kind of relaxed at the plate, and I've been able to get my pitch and hit it."

Bradshaw, for his part, was quick to pass the credit back to Moustakas.

"I don't think it's anything that I did," said Bradshaw. "The one thing that you learn about these guys is that if they're not having a lot of success right away, they try to tinker. I'm not saying Mike did that. He gets in trouble sometimes with his leg kick. He sometimes tries to get a high leg kick, and we talked about minimizing his front foot. When he gets his front foot down, he puts some good at bats together, and his timing is good. From there it's all just his ability, what he was blessed with."

Moustakas explained the problem he was having getting his front foot down during his stride, and how the small adjustment has allowed him to succeed thus far this season.

"I got a little too high with my leg kick, a little off balance, and I started jumping at the pitcher," said Moustakas. "We kind of settled that down, and I've been able to recognize pitches a little more, a little earlier. It's helped me stay back on the breaking balls."

Not that he's seeing any more breaking balls this season than usual – he's just hitting them more often. Moustakas told RC that he hasn't noticed any common themes in how he's being pitched this season.

"All types of different guys are going to pitch to you different ways," said Moustakas. "So you can't really base anything off that."

Despite embarrassing Texas League pitchers on a nightly basis, the 21-year-old maintains a healthy amount of respect for his competitors.

"The Double-A pitching's amazing," he said. "These guys, they deserve to be here. It's fun coming out and trying to compete against these guys every night, especially with the talent level they have out here."

While Moustakas' offense has been outstanding, his defensive abilities at third base continue to spark debate among scouts. He is gifted with a tremendous arm, but he has a thick lower half that has prompted some concerns he might not be able to play the position at a higher level. Moustakas was drafted as a shortstop, and he made the switch to the hot corner early in the 2008 season. He has started 27 games at third base for the Naturals this year and has committed five errors.

"I feel like it's started to become a little more natural [at third base]," said Moustakas. "It's my second full year over at third. It's been a work in progress thus far, but I feel like it's starting to finally come around."

Moustakas has been working hard to improve his footwork and lateral movement to increase his range. He is also working on charging balls more aggressively, to avoid getting eaten up by bad hops, which he cited as his biggest problem thus far. Asked if he expected to make his Major League debut as a third baseman, Moustakas doesn't seem to care where he plays, as long as he plays.

"Wherever they tell me to go play that day, I'll be there," said Moustakas. "Whenever that day comes, and my name's in that lineup, whatever number's next to my name, that's where I'll be."

For their part, the Royals seem to have given Moustakas a small vote of confidence recently when the club moved Alex Gordon to left field. Regardless, one thing's for certain: if Moustakas continues to rake, the Royals will find a spot for him somewhere.

"That kid was born to hit," said Bradshaw. "It's fun to watch."




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