On the surface, Eric Hosmer is a young, flourishing first baseman coming off an impressive rookie season in 2011. At 22 years old, he already has the makings of an All-Star-caliber player, not to mention the future cornerstone of the Kansas City Royals.
But every time I watch him, I become more convinced that such a ceiling may be too low.
Drafted out high school as the third overall pick in the 2008 MLB amateur draft, Hosmer has emerged as arguably the best young hitter in all of baseball headed in to the 2012 season, with only 563 plate appearances to his name.
The Royals were so impressed with his bat—and even more impressed with his plate discipline and approach—that they assigned him to Class-A Burlington for his first minor league season. As a 19-year-old, the left-handed hitter struggled at times, as he was forced to apply his advanced approach to a whole new level of competition.
But despite his travails, the Royals remained aggressive in their development of Hosmer, as they promoted him to High-A for the last 27 games of the 2009 season. The 6'4", 230-pounder batted .241/.334/.361 with 29 extra-base hits and a 90/53 K/BB rate.
Although the results weren’t spectacular, they indicated potential room for improvement in his K/BB rate, while still expecting his power develop naturally.
So it came as no surprise the following season when Hosmer put himself back on the fast track to the major leagues, as he assaulted minor league pitching and ultimately finished the season in Double-A. His slash line of .338/.406/.571 with 72(!) extra-base hits and a 66/59 K/BB rate placed him in elite company as a unanimous top-10 prospect.
Now, the golden rule as it relates to position prospects is that they need 1,000 minor league at-bats before they should even be eligible for big-league-ready consideration.
Hosmer entered the 2011 season only 92 at-bats shy of that benchmark, and quickly proved that the 26 games he played at Triple-A were probably unnecessary. In 98 at-bats, the first baseman batted a robust .439/.525/.582 with eight extra-base hits and a 16/19 K/BB ratio.
And after only 1,006 at-bats in the minor leagues, Hosmer was ready.
He made his Royals’ debut on May 6 against Oakland, and ultimately batted .293/.334/.465 with 49 extra-base hits and .172 ISO rate on the season. Despite posting a 113 wRC+ and 1.6 fWAR, Hosmer was the runner-up to the Rays’ Jeremy Hellickson in the American League Rookie of the Year voting.
While his 2011 stats are both undeniably impressive and promising, I feel as though we are underestimating just how spectacular of a season—and career—Hosmer will have.
Last season, he posted a BAbip of .314, which, when considering his naturally ability to discern balls from strikes as well as barrel up the baseball to all fields, is rather low. In his best minor league season in 2010, Hosmer produced a .382 BAbip over 375 plate-appearances at Double-A. He’s likely have a higher BAbip from here onward, probably in the .330-.340 range, which in turn will significantly improve his overall slash line.
Similarly, in his best minor league season, Hosmer walked at least 10 percent of the time. In 2011, his walk rate was only six percent. Now, he may not post a double-digit walk rate in 2012, but as he becomes more comfortably with big-league pitching, it shouldn’t be long before he inevitably does.
From a non-statistical viewpoint, Hosmer’s swing is a thing of beauty—it’s the kind of swing you almost can’t teach. He keeps the barrel in the zone for a long time despite a slightly upper-cut bat path, and generates considerable torque that originates in his lower half.
In fact, Hosmer gets so much of his raw strength into his swing that his back foot will occasionally go airborne after hard contact. From a hitter’s perspective, it indicates that all of his weight and energy has been transferred through the baseball. (Think Frank Thomas.)
But it’s not only that. Hosmer has tremendous bat speed and therefore lets the ball get deep without sacrificing power to all fields. Just as with his swing, his approach is an innate characteristic that distinguishes him an elite hitter.
What I'm basically trying to say is that I believe that Eric Hosmer is a future superstar; a first-division All-Star who possesses MVP potential. Headed into his age-22 season, there’s reason to believe that he could be around a 4 to 4.5 WAR player in 2012, so it’s scary to think about the caliber of player he will be in his prime.
Therefore, it wouldn’t surprise me if we begin to hear grumblings of a contract extension this season. As I stated, Hosmer is the future of the Kansas City Royals. So it would only make sense for them to try to sign him to a team-friendly extension, and essentially absorb his two years of arbitration prior to becoming a free agent in 2018. If he produces at the rate I expect him to, such a contract could one day be regarded as one of the best in baseball history.