Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Gordon Looks for Big Year at Hot Corner

This is the second installment of a position-by-position look at the 2008 Kansas City Royals.

If there is a player who seems to be virtually unchallenged at his position heading into the 2008 season, it's second-year third baseman Alex Gordon. Sure, there are other players on the Royals' roster who are pretty much assured, barring injury, to be the starter on Opening Day. But Gordon will certainly be a fixture at the hot corner for Kansas City this season.

In his rookie campaign, Gordon was often used as a first baseman. Those days seem to be over, as the Royals have a plethora of candidates for playing time at first base. I'm guessing that new manager Trey Hillman's intent will be to allow Gordon to settle into regular duty at third base in order to create a better comfort level for the 24-year old.

Translation: No more Buddy Bell experiments with Alex Gordon.

The hope is that Gordon can get off to a better start than he did as a rookie, when he batted .173/.285/.281 through June 6. Gordon has the mental maturity to be able to withstand the everyday pressures associated with being one of the Royals' brightest stars, but it was tested in his initial campaign wearing the Blue.

The proverbial light illuminated for Gordon on June 7, when he broke out by going 4-for-4 in a loss at Cleveland. He proceeded to bat .327/.383/.500 in June to kick start a second half that raised his final numbers to .247/.314/.411. He led the team with 36 doubles, 14 stolen bases, and 55 extra-base hits, while ranking second with 15 home runs and 60 runs batted in.

Behind Gordon on the depth chart are newly-acquired infielder Alberto Callaspo, who came over in a trade with Arizona in exchange for pitcher Billy Buckner, and veteran utility man Esteban German.
Callaspo is a 24-year old switch-hitter, who was named the Diamondbacks' 2006 Minor League Player of the Year. He's projected by most to be Mark Grudzielanek's eventual replacement at second base, but is versatile enough to play several positions. His numbers at the MLB level with Arizona didn't meet expectations, but in six Minor League seasons, he batted an impressive .317/.370/.437.

The 30-year old German's numbers dropped significantly in 2007, as some felt he was exposed too often in a career-high 348 at bats. German batted .264/.351/.376 last year, following a very solid 2006 campaign in which he went .326/.422/.459 in 279 at bats. He did manage to finish fourth on the team with six triples and 11 stolen bases -- impressive feats considering his lack of playing time.

But there is no question that third base is Alex Gordon's for the taking in 2008. It's as big a no-brainer as you can have, and if he continues to make strides offensively and increase his power numbers, his name will be etched in that spot on Royals' lineup cards for years to come.

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