The story of a promise finally realized is one of the greatest underdog stories in baseball. The turnaround of Josh Hamilton's career, for example, stands as one story, albeit an extreme one, of why top prospects continue to earn one opportunity after another with various teams before having to hang up the cleats. The reality is that you never know when an obviously talented prospect is finally going to put it all together.
For the Royals, the timing of Alex Gordon's breakout could not have come at a better time. With a torrent of talented minor leaguers slowly establishing their hold on major league spots, Gordon's window was small to claim his rightful place among the Royals long term plans. Consider it cemented with the season he's enjoying just over a month in.
USA Today's Jorge L. Ortiz recently put together a list of top breakout performances thus far in the 2011 season, and Gordon's name is near the top of the list. As he explains:
He's not quite coming out of nowhere, considering Gordon was the second pick in the 2005. But he had not come close to living up to the expectations of being a franchise savior, and the last couple of seasons were marked by injuries and meager production (a total of 42 RBI). The former third baseman was even sent to the minors to learn to play the outfield last season. A 19-game hitting streak from April 3-26 and a revamped swing buoyed Gordon's confidence, and now he ranks among the league leaders in batting average, hits, runs and total bases.
The talent was obvious early after such an early draft selection. His first full season in the minors came at the AA level, where he hit 29 home runs to match 22 stolen bases and 101 RBI. Some believe that Gordon was rushed at that point, because the Nebraska product could never make it work at the major league level after that. In 408 games over the last four seasons, Gordon has hit .244 with limited power and high strikeout totals (362 in that span). The Royals continued to move Gordon up and down, perhaps throwing off any chance he had of finding a rhythm and working through a slump.
This year, however, is a different story. Gordon is hitting .339 and has already matched the 20 RBI total from last season. He's leading the league with 13 doubles and is displaying the acumen at the plate that had scouts raving in the first place. The speed is also there with a couple of steals and two triples for the year thus far.
It's no coincidence that the Royals are finding some surprising success at the same time that Gordon has come alive. The Royals were in great need of another big bat and most fans believed that would have to wait until the major league arrival of Mike Moustakas or Eric Hosmer. Apparently those guys will simply join Billy Butler and Gordon in the heart of the Royals order.