SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Kansas City infielders Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are routinely mentioned as a tandem, but their careers went in opposite directions last season. Hosmer, coming off a disappointing 2012 season, regained the confidence in his swing and once again began hitting the ball with authority. He raised his OPS from .663 to .801 and looked like the uber-prospect who finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year balloting in 2011.
Moustakas? Not so much.
Kansas City's third baseman hit .183 (28-for-153) with sporadic power in April and May, and no amount of tinkering or extra batting practice could salvage his season. Although Moustakas played exceptional defense, his .655 OPS was the lowest among the 15 third basemen who qualified for the batting title.
To his credit, Moustakas committed himself to getting better over the winter. If the buzz in Kansas City's camp and the endorsement of a certain Hall of Famer mean anything, the Royals might have a fantasy sleeper in their lineup.
"I think 'Moose' is going to have a year like 'Hoz' did last year -- a breakout season," said George Brett, the Royals' vice president of baseball operations.
It was an eventful winter for Moustakas. He got married, lost some weight (or at the very least, redistributed the weight he had) and played winter ball for the Cardenales de Lara in Venezuela under the guidance of Royals hitting coach Pedro Grifol. He returned home with a whole new mindset: After being way too pull-happy in 2013, he's intent on going with the pitch more this season.
The numbers reflect Moustakas' single-minded approach in 2013. He pulled 49 percent of his hits to right field, compared with 44.6 percent the previous season. And left-handed pitchers were quick to take advantage of his inability to adjust. He hit .196 with a .290 slugging percentage vs. lefties.
"Last year, he was reluctant to hit the ball the opposite way, so we said, 'Don't. We want you to be happy. If you feel you're going to be a better hitter pulling everything, go ahead,'" said Brett, who spent almost two months as the team's interim hitting coach. "I watched him in batting practice yesterday and he hit about five home runs to left field. He was hitting line drives to left-center that looked like they were coming off a right-handed hitter's bat."
The early spring optimism notwithstanding, Brett thinks it's imperative for Moustakas to build momentum in the Cactus League and carry it into the regular season.
"He has to get off to a fast start," Brett said. "If he gets off to a slow start, doubt is gonna creep back into his mind. That's what happened last year. In order to play catch-up when you’re hitting .172 a month and a half into the season, you have to have patience. He had no patience. But I think he's learned a lot about patience and change. He's a completely different guy."