Alex Gordon’s make-or-break 2010 season has been derailed .
In the same week that Justin Upton re-upped and signed a six year/$51 million contract—validating his presence in the league—Gordon broke his thumb on a head first slide into second base. The team has placed a three to four week timetable on his injury.
That should be especially concerning for the Royals, as this was supposed to be the year the one-time franchise centerpiece finally took a step forward and into the same class as fellow 2005 draft picks Upton, Ryan Braun, and Troy Tulowitzki.
This is the second early season injury in as many years for the former prospect, as the gloss on his image appears to be tarnishing.
Even if Gordon is able to return in less than a month, Opening Day is at the beginning of April leaving him with no Spring Training to prepare for the season.
The Royals have stated that they anticipate this recent injury will sideline Gordon three to four weeks. In actuality, it will set him back far further than that.
Gordon, an offensive powerhouse his entire life until he arrived in Kansas City, has been called out for poor plate discipline while possessing a consistent hole in his swing. He was able to cover these issues up while playing against inferior talent, but once he began facing the worlds best on a regular basis he was exposed.
Gordon worked out hard this off season in order to overcome this bump in the road and last season’s hip injury. A week ago, hitting coach Kevin Seitzer told the Kansas City Star that Gordon was as strong as he had seen him:
“I felt that he was 75 percent ready last year going into the season,” Seitzer said. “The last 25 percent polishing was going to be in the season—applying it; the rubber meeting the road once he went up against live pitching.'
“Right now, I feel like he is 90 percent.”
Then Saturday happened.
Alex Gordon broke the most important digit on his most important hand. Given his left handed swing, his right hand is the driving hand on the bat while his left hand guides the stroke. When the ball impacts the barrel of the bat, inertia slightly recoils the bat and drives it into the hand between the thumb and pointer finger.
It is possible to hit a baseball with a weakened thumb on the driving hand, but providing power is another story. Inside pitches become jam jobs more easily and hitting a pitch on the outside corner becomes a daunting task as bat control is compromised.
These are major problems for a power hitter with a history of high strikeout totals.
So, what are the Royals options at this point?
Trey Hillman has insisted he intends on finding 500 at-bats for Alberto Callaspo despite his apparent preference for playing Chris Getz at second base.
Hillman likely just found a bunch of those at bats.
Alex Gordon may have set himself back months with this injury. Jose Guillen's presence—in spite of the recent cut Jose Guillen grassroots campaign among some Royal loyalists—helps create a healthy spring competition brewing between Callaspo, Guillen, Josh Fields, and David DeJesus regarding the starting right field, third base, and designated hitter* positions.
*Kila Ka'aihue SHOULD be in the conversation for DH at bats, but likely isn't.
Losing can lead to complacency, and competition is key when attempting to motivate complacent millionaires. When Alex Gordon returns, five upside players will be fighting between three positions—and if DeJesus loses out in right field and DH, he will most likely press Scott Podsednik for playing time in left.
Options. Options. Options. This is what the Royals have lagged in past seasons.
The franchise may not be where it needs to be, but it has thankfully progressed beyond the point of replacing an injured Emil Brown with a Shane Costa.
As a Royals apologist, this is where I insist this is proof that general manager Dayton Moore's "process" is working.
As a Royals critic, this is where I state that the rebuilding process is taking far too long.