Baseball people will always tell you to never make too much out of spring training performances. And, for the most part, they’re right. Spring training games are quite different from regular-season games in the way they’re played and in the way they’re managed; it’s not until late in camp when most regulars start playing the full nine innings. Plus, it’s never a good idea to judge a player on a month’s worth of games anyway, even during the regular season. Yet, spring training can still tell you a lot, if you watch closely and look for specific things.
I came to Arizona planning on watching Alex Gordon closely at the plate. Every Royals fan is familiar with Gordon’s story: super-duper prospect who grew up following the Royals and was tagged as a power-hitting third baseman in the middle of Kansas City’s lineup for years to come. However, the can’t-miss prospect has missed thus far in his career. The last couple of years, Gordon’s struggled to stay healthy, but he’s had difficulty being consistent at the plate even when health hasn’t been an issue.
At the plate, Gordon’s biggest problem has been staying balanced, which led to him pulling everything. It’s been a common site to see Gordon pull off outside pitches, leading to weak grounders to the right side. What makes this trait even more vexing is the fact Gordon has outstanding power to all fields and, unlike many power hitters, has little reason to try and pull everything. The first couple of games I watched this spring, Gordon looked like he did last year: pulling off everything. Although Gordon showed a good eye and was getting on base (Gordon’s always been a walk machine, even on his worst day), he wasn’t hitting anything hard.
The last few days, Gordon’s looked much better at the plate, largely because he stopped pulling off everything and got the balance back in his swing and plate approach. Gordon had another banner day at the plate today, hitting an opposite-field, two-run single and a hard-hit RBI double to left-center. Seeing Gordon take the ball the other way, especially with authority, is an extremely encouraging sign.
Some players are what I call “change of scenery guys”: they have loads of talent but, for whatever reason, success has eluded them. However, they’re still young enough to benefit from a change of scenery, which usually means a new team. For the last year and a half, I’ve felt that Gordon might be in need of such a change. It’s always tough to struggle when great things have been predicted for you, especially when you’re playing for what is essentially your hometown team. However, if Gordon continues to make the adjustments he needs to make to hit the ball to all fields, a change of scenery may not be necessary.