SURPRISE, Ariz. – On Nov. 14 of last year, Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer learned he had finished third in the voting for the American League Rookie of the Year Award, behind Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Jeremy Hellickson and Los Angeles Angels first baseman Mark Trumbo.
Despite the bronze medal finish, the 22-year-old Hosmer may have a leg-up on both Hellickson and Trumbo, and that’s because of his age. Hosmer was a first round draft selection (third overall) by the Royals in the 2008 MLB amateur draft right out of American Heritage High School in Cooper City, Fla., and played only two full seasons in the minor leagues.
Hellickson, 24, spent all or part of six seasons in the minor leagues after being selected by the Rays in the fourth round of 2004 draft. Trumbo, 26, also spent all or parts of six seasons in the minors after the Angels picked him in the 18th round of 2004 draft.
In fact, just four years and one month before Hosmer learned of his third-place finish in the 2011 AL ROY voting last November, he was playing in the 2007 Perfect Game WWBA World Championship with the Braves Scout Team down in Jupiter, Fla.
In terms of meteoric ascents and rapid climbs up a professional ladder, this was a monster shot. From PG to MLB in four short seasons doesn’t happen very often.
Hosmer, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound hitting machine who made his Major League debut on May 6 of last season and then never left the Royals’ starting lineup, was at Surprise Stadium Wednesday morning, working out with his equally young Kansas City teammates as the team prepared to play a spring training Cactus League game with the visiting Oakland A’s.
Sunshine poured down from a cloudless sky and Hosmer’s demeanor was relaxed and even playful. An alumnus of 15 Perfect Game events between 2005 and 2007, he is arguably one of the best known names on a Royals’ ballclub devoid of stars and high expectations.
“I’m just coming in and just trying to get the body ready and conditioned for the season, get my timing down and all that,” Hosmer said after taking BP about two hours before the first-pitch. “It’s good to get out here and get on your feet and just get back into game-shape.”
After being called up from Triple-A Omaha in early May last year, Hosmer settled in and soon proved he was going to be able to handle Major League pitching. He wound up hitting .293 with 19 home runs, 78 RBI and 66 runs scored in 128 games.
He is batting in the No. 3 slot in the Royals’ spring training batting order and was hitting .359 with two home runs, three doubles and 16 RBI in 15 games and 39 at-bats before Wednesday’s game. Based on what he was able to accomplish throughout his rookie season, Hosmer’s confidence level is sky-high.
“It’s just experiencing the league and the speed of the game and all that, it gives you an idea of what you need to go back and train your body for during the offseason, and how to prepare your body out here in spring training,” he said. “For me (last season) was a big confidence boost and it gave me an idea of how to prepare my body to come out here this spring.”
Although most “experts” pick the Royals to finish near the bottom of the AL Central Division again this season, Hosmer isn’t deterred. The oldest players in Kansas City’s projected starting lineup this season are 28-year-old outfielders Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur, and the oldest projected starting pitchers are right-handers Luke Hochevar and Filepe Paulino, also both 28.
“It’s a great group,” Hosmer said. “These guys all have one goal in mind and that’s to win, and there are no egos on this team. That just makes it fun to come to the field and play with these guys every day.”
Hosmer wrapped-up his PG career at that 2007 PG WWBA World Championship, and it capped off a terrific summer in which he also excelled at the 2007 Perfect Game National Showcase in Cincinnati and the ’07 Aflac All-American Classic, played that year at the University of San Diego.
After the National Showcase, a PG scout wrote that “Hosmer realizes he doesn’t have to show his light-tower power every swing but it’s there if he sees his pitch. There haven’t been many better in the last generation of high school hitting prospects, in our opinion. Lost in the talk about Hosmer’s hitting ability as a prospect are his other tools. He’s an outstanding defensive first baseman with light feet and soft hands, and polished balance around the bag.”
Hosmer was joined at the 2007 National by Tyler Chatwood, Brad Hand and Tyler Pasternicky, all of whom made their big-league debuts in 2011 with the Angels, Marlins and Blue Jays, respectively.
“That was kind of the first time when you’re playing competition that’s most similar to the minor leagues and I feel like if I wouldn’t have done any of those events I wouldn’t have had any experience against the top pitchers and top guys around the league,” Hosmer said. “I learned the speed of baseball and how much different it is than high school, and I think the only place you can get that from is Perfect Game.
“Not only are the scouts and college recruiters at all those events but it’s basically the same guys you’re going to be playing with in the minor leagues,” he continued. “For me it was a big help, and it’s always comforting coming to a new place where you don’t know anybody, and you see someone you’ve played with at a showcase or something like that.”
After the National Showcase, Hosmer made his way to San Diego and the prestigious Aflac All-American Classic (now known as the Perfect Game All-American Classic).
“It was an unbelievable experience for me,” he said. “It was my first time playing on TV and it was the first time for me getting that much exposure and getting on national television and playing against guys that today, some are in the major leagues and some are in the minor leagues. It was the first time I got to play against real good competition and it opened my eyes to what baseball really is.”
Hosmer played in the Classic with nine prospects other than himself who went on to become first round draft picks, although he is the only one that has made it to the big leagues so far.
One of his teammates on the East Team was Georgia high school shortstop Tim Beckham, who the Tampa Bay Devil Rays made the No. 1 overall selection in the 2008 draft. New York prospect Pedro Alvarez, now with the Pittsburgh Pirates, was the No. 2 selection in that draft, right in front of Hosmer.
Hosmer had been projected all along as a top-five draft prospect, but when the Royals called his name with the No. 3 pick, he admitted to being a bit surprised.
“I couldn’t say I saw it coming, but at the end of the day it was awesome for me, and I feel a lot of that was because of me doing well at these Perfect Game showcases and a lot of the scouts got to see me against the top competition in my draft class,” Hosmer said. “Performing well at those showcases and other events was a huge help for me.”