Moustakas has plenty in tank this spring
Third baseman delivering on power potential with two homers on Sunday
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- A few days ago, after Mike Moustakas got his first two hits of Spring Training, pitcher James Shields was kiddingly taking credit.
Shields reminded everyone that he'd helped coach Moustakas when Moose was a kid on a travel team in California and Shields was starting out in pro ball.
"My high school assistant coach coached the travel team and I was in the Minor Leagues and I'd come back and kind of help him out," Shields said. "Big Moose was a man-child back in the day. He was a beast, man; he seemed like he was the same size he is now. I remember he was throwing 90 miles an hour off the bump and, at 13 years old, hitting tanks."
Wait, 90 mph at age 13?
"Naw, I don't know about that. He's just boosting me up. I might have been 87, though, maybe," Moustakas said, grinning. "I got to 90 when I turned 14."
Anyway, Shields wasn't around on Sunday when Moustakas belted two home runs in a Cactus League win at Cubs Park. The beast was hitting tanks again.
All of which is good news for the Royals, who needed more runs last season and more production out of Moustakas, their third-year third baseman.
Not that Moustakas, who didn't play on Monday, is getting all that worked up about his 5-for-9, six-RBIs getaway in Arizona.
"I'm not too concerned with the results," Moustakas said. "Even if I was 0-for-9, I feel like I'm in a good spot right now with my mechanics and my swing. So it wouldn't change that much."
Moustakas believes he's on the right track after his much-discussed winter sojourn to Venezuela, where he played 17 games and spent many hours working with Pedro Grifol, the Cardenales manager and Royals hitting coach.
It's a trip that Royals manager Ned Yost was dubious about.
"I wasn't really sure I was for it. That was all him," Yost said. "A 162-game schedule is a long year. He was battling some calf injuries, he'd been beat up. For these guys that play every day, the winter is valuable to sit back and get your body back in condition and take some of the wear-and-tear and grind off of it."
Yost, however, ultimately agreed to it and as a result, he sees a big difference in the Moustakas of 2013 and the Moose of '14.
"He's much more confident. ... He's got a very definitive plan every time he walks up to that plate and adjusts his plan according to the count, which he didn't do a whole lot last year," Yost said.
"You've got to be smart, you just can't go up there hackin'. You have to have a plan."
The biggest change for the left-handed-hitting Moustakas is that now he's hitting the ball to all fields, instead of pulling virtually everything to right field. And it's paying off.
"He feels good mentally, because he played winter ball and he had success and we were able to get the work done," Grifol said. "He's had early success here which he feels really good about."
George Brett, who accompanied Grifol to the Royals last season in the switch of hitting coaches, remembered a long talk they had with Moustakas after their arrival.
"I said, 'What kind of hitter do you want to be?' He said, 'I'm a pull hitter, I want to be a pull hitter,' " Brett recalled.
So it was decided to let Moustakas keep pulling the ball. He did lift his average from .183 to a final .233 but, compared to 2012, he dropped from 20 homers to 12 and from 73 RBIs to 42.
"And after going to winter ball this year, Pedro had him for a month and started talking about a good two-strike approach, and all of a sudden he started hitting the ball to left field and he said, 'I'm going to stay with this,'" Brett said. "And so now he's driving the ball good to the opposite field, which you have to do. You can't pull the ball every time, you've got to go with the pitch. These pitchers in the big leagues can put it where they want to and if they keep putting it down-and-away and you keep trying to pull it, you're going to hit ground balls to second base."
Brett let his imagination leap forward a bit.
"Now, if for instance he goes out there on Opening Day and somebody throws a ball down-and-away -- that's how they got him out last year -- and he just hits a rocket to left center, and next time they throw him down-and-away and he hits a rocket to left-center or a line drive to left and they say, 'Now we've got to come in.' They throw a ball in and, boom, he pulls it," Brett said. "Now they're going, 'Now what do we do?'"
Other than going with the pitch more often, Moustakas hasn't made many changes. He's spread his stance a little more and lifted his hands a bit higher.
"But my swing's still the same," Moustakas said. "It's just that my starting position is a little different."
And so far the results are good, not that Spring Training success is necessarily a harbinger of summer happiness. His Cactus League results of last year -- .394, five homers, 16 RBIs -- didn't translate into the regular season.
But this year looks like it could be different -- just check with a guy who's been watching him for many years.
"I helped coach this kid when he was 13 years old," Shields said. "He's got a really big heart and he's got a great passion for this game so he's ready to go."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.