Tracking Moose
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Usually, a former top prospect doesn't get more than two and a half years to impress fantasy owners.

There's the initial period after the call-up, the first full season and the second full season. Fail to produce in all three and you probably aren't going to be on many fantasy rosters prior to the third full season (you might not even be on a major league roster).

Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike "Moose" Moustakas is in that situation, carrying an average draft position (ADP) of 278 (aggregated from Yahoo, ESPN, CBS, nfbc.stats.com and mockdraftcentral.com drafts), 25th at his position.

Evidently, fantasy owners weren't happy with the .244 average, .681 OPS and 37 home runs he posted in his first 374 major league games.

But this could be the year he breaks through.

Moustakas is raking this spring, hitting .486 (17-for-35) with four doubles and four home runs.

I know what you're saying right now: "Spring training statistics are meaningless." Yes, they often are.

Case in point: Moustakas just one year ago. In spring 2013, he hit .394 with eight doubles and five homers before he went on to bat .233 with 12 home runs.

But there's one stat in particular I'm looking at: Moustakas has just four strikeouts and six walks. He fanned 16 times and took five walks in 71 at-bats last spring.

This comes after he decreased his strikeout rate from 20.2 percent in 2012 to 16.1 percent in 2013 while keeping his walk rate steady at 6.2 percent. Moustakas also increased his contact rate from 77.9 percent in 2012 to 82.1 percent in 2013.

After batting .196 with a .546 OPS against lefties last season, he has gone 6- for-9 with two home runs against them this spring. Of course, he went 8-for-19 (.421) with one homer against lefties last spring, so it's anyone's guess if we should read into that stat this exhibition season.

Still, 6-for-9 is better than 0-for-9, especially after the team acquired southpaw-killing third baseman Danny Valencia (career .329 hitter against left- handers) from the Baltimore Orioles to possibly steal at-bats.

One thing I've noticed is that Moustakas has overhauled his batting stance. He's starting out with his right foot wide open and his hands at helmet level. He's altered his stance in the past, but always had some variation of a semi- closed one with his hands at chin level or lower. He's also added something he never had before in the majors: a huge leg kick.

With the new stance, it appears he is getting his hands out much quicker and keeping his bat in the hitting zone longer.

Moustakas's problem throughout his big league career is that he has been an extreme fly-ball hitter who often gets under the ball too much.

In his three seasons, the third baseman has posted a 45.7 percent fly-ball rate, the eighth-highest in baseball from 2011-13, while popping up to the infield on 18.1 percent of his flies, fifth-highest during that same timeframe.

Due to all the pop-ups, he has recorded a below-average 7.2 percent home-run- per-fly-ball ratio. The easy outs have resulted in a .274 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) in his career.

His average distance on fly balls last season was just 270.57, which ranked 231st in the majors, according to baseballheatmaps.com. Moustakas' peers in that category were players such as Daniel Nava, Matt Carpenter and Nick Markakis, who combined for 33 home runs last season.

This wasn't the hitter Moustakas was supposed to be. Prior to 2011, Baseball America rated him the ninth overall prospect in baseball after he belted 41 doubles and 36 homers while hitting .322 with a .999 OPS over 118 games in 2010 (66 at Double-A, 52 at Triple-A).

The 25-year-old still has that type of power in his bat somewhere, and his new stance may help him rediscover it.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Thomas J. Harrigan at tharrigan@sportsnetwork.com.