Somewhere along the line, it just clicks. That is, if it's ever going to click at all. The Kansas City Royals know this first-hand with a number of other players, so it's shocking that they're not using the same approach across the board.
Picture this: a baseball player is hyped out of high school or college and they are drafted high. Expectations follow the player from level to level with the player exhibiting enough skills to warrant promotions all the way to the Major League level. And then the struggles set in. The pitcher cannot seem to get anyone out. The hitter can't seem to find his way at the plate.
At the highest of levels, every player is exposed. Sometimes sheer strength can get a player through the lower levels. Sometimes a player's speed can make the difference from one stage of the minors to the next. But on the ultimate level, the techniques have to be developed, the memory has to be short, adjustments have to be made. And some players just can't make that leap.
It's at this stage that a front office must make a choice:
How do we handle the expectations we had for this player compared to his current performance?
Thus far, the Royals have exhibited a tremendous amount of patience with several players. That has also proved to be the correct approach. Ned Yost was brought in as a veteran manager in 2010 who handled a young, promising Milwaukee Brewers team well and helped develop them into a contender. His steady approach is a nice leader for volatile young players who might be given over to their emotions, both positive and negative, as they experience life at the highest level of baseball.
The Royals have given every struggling player every chance to succeed with the major league team, even if the results on field are ugly. They've asked their fans to come along for the ride as well, growing pains and all. They knew this would be the price of their long-term approach, but anyone watching the Rays right now realizes it's essential if you want to develop almost entirely through the farm system.
The bottom line: stick with the choices you've made through the hardest of times.
Consider the case of Alex Gordon. The Royals invested a first round choice (and second overall pick) on Gordon back in 2005 and stuck with him, injuries and all, through four full seasons of subpar hitting. By the time his 2010 campaign was ending, most people believed that he was a bust who would never make good on his expectations. Again, the Royals were confronted with the question: How do we handle the expectations we had for this player compared to his current performance? The answer was obviously seen in the organization's commitment to playing him. Then something clicked.
Mike Moustakas is another example. His rookie season was not what you'd expect from a power-hitting third baseman, but adjustments in the first time around the bigs is more likely than not. Thus no one seemed to panic too much when his .675 OPS was the final number after more than a half season with Kansas City. Then this year started and through two weeks, it looked as if his issues might continue with a .669 OPS through mid-April. Then the streak began. Something clicked. Just like it always does.
This season, Eric Hosmer has been the big story of the Royals line-up as he's struggled to improve upon his rookie season. Last year, he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting and expectations were greater for Hosmer than arguably any other player on the roster. The response so far from management has been the same -- to keep playing their star first baseman realizing that despite the current .191 batting avarege, he will likely bounce back. Why? Because something should click.
Then comes the case of Johnny Giavotella. The Royals invested a second round pick in him in 2008, and he's clearly exhibited why Dayton Moore thought so highly of him along the way. The Royals middle infield has been a mix of middling players for the longest time, so the advancement of Giavotella through the ranks was a welcome sight for most Royals fans. After hitting .338 in his first season in AAA Omaha, it was only a matter of time until he was given the same treatment as everyone else.
Instead it hasn't turned out that way. Giavotella has struggled to hit at the Major League level, especially in bits and pieces in the 2012 season. Last year, the 24-year-old hit .247 with a .649 OPS that clearly needs to improve. However, it was a sample size of only 46 games and he should have been penciled in as the everyday starter in Kansas City. After all, that's what the team has done with every prospect who is expected to eventually win the starting nod.
But instead, Giavotella continues to sit so that other players like Chris Getz and Irving Falu can get the lion's share of playing time. To date, he's played in nine games this entire season. Nine. On the contrary, Giavotella has played 31 more games in AAA Omaha. The results? A line of .331/.408/.504 that show he's clearly ready for the Major League level on a regular basis.
Even when Getz is injured, Giavotella continues to sit for Falu. While Falu is taking advantage of the hot bat, it goes against everything the organization has done up until now. Falu is not the future of the position, regardless of what he's doing game to game at this point. Giavotella is, but for some reason, he is not getting the same chance as everyone else.
Going with the hot bat over a prospect who needs major league reps is something that reactive teams do. The Royals have chosen a proactive, measured approach since the beginning and have decided to live or die by it. Suddenly, they are willing to move Giavotella up and down at a position where the Royals have scarcely known any level of productivity. The approach simply does not make sense.