On Thurdsay, the Twins and Royals kicked off a four-game series at Target Field. The two teams are nearly even in the standings, although the ways they've reached their present records have been drastically different. Kansas City owns the American League's lowest team ERA by a sizable margin, thanks in large part to the additions of James Shields and Ervin Santana, who have both been fantastic. Meanwhile, Minnesota's staff has been among the league's worst.
So, with all their success on the mound, what is preventing the Royals from more fervently challenging the Tigers in the Central? The culprit, to a large extent, is an offense that has proven shockingly incapable of hitting for power. With the season's halfway point approaching, KC has tallied only 43 home runs, pacing them to become the first AL team to fall short of triple-digits in a season since the strike-shortened 1994 campaign.
This dearth of dingers can be traced to two young players in the line-up from whom the Royals expected heavy contributions. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas simply aren't getting the job done, and the duo represents a cautionary tale that Twins fans ought not ignore.
Prior to the 2011 season, Hosmer and Moustakas were ranked by Baseball America as the No. 8 and 9 prospects in baseball. Having combined for 56 home runs in the minors in 2010, the pair profiled as two of baseball's best up-and-coming power bats. Yet, while there have certainly been glimpses of greatness -- Hosmer launched 19 homers and finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2011, while Moustakas went deep 20 times at age 23 last year -- the overall results have been mixed at best, and this year both have been key figures in the struggles of the Royals offense.
Although each player has been healthy enough to appear in the majority of Kansas City's games, both have hit only four homers. Moustakas sits with a brutal hitting line of .210/.269/.308; Hosmer's .267/.321/.375 line looks far better in contrast, but is obviously well short of expectations.
Neither player is yet 25 years old so it's far too soon to brandish the "bust" label, but their tribulations serve as a reminder that no prospect -- no matter how highly regarded -- is fail-safe, and sometimes the transition to a successful big-league career can take time, if it happens at all.
Which brings us to the dynamic duo currently tearing up Minnesota's farm system. Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton were ranked by BA before this season as the ninth and 10th best prospects in the nation. Each has fed the hype by performing well enough to earn a midseason promotion, so Twins fans are understandably licking their chops imagining the impact these young hitters can have at Target Field in the not-so-distant future.
Sano could appear in the big leagues before this season is over, and Buxton's not terribly far behind. But reaching the majors and succeeding there are two vastly different things. Even for the most talented of prospects, acclimating to the highest level can be a daunting challenge requiring plenty of patience.
At this point, both the Twins' top two prospects appear capable of hitting the ground running and quickly adapting once they take that ultimate step, but to hold that expectation is simply unfair. As a reminder, fans at Target Field this weekend need only look across to the other dugout.