It seems weird to think about how far Alex Gordon has come over the past couple seasons. It seems such a long time ago that Gordon was written off by some as a bust and a failure as a former #1 Draft Pick. Who would have guessed that a move from third base to the outfield would unlock the potential that most felt A1 had all along? But it really isn’t as simple as that. It took more than a position change to get Gordon from where he is at today-as possibly the most underrated player in baseball.
The first move seemed like a simple, last grasp move by the Royals. After years of being a third baseman, the team sent Gordon to AAA Omaha to work on learning the outfield. The thinking was he would have to think less playing out in left field. But there was more to it than that. From day one, Gordon had been compared to Hall of Famer George Brett. Now, Gordon wasn’t the first Royals prospect to be compared to Brett, and in all honesty probably won’t be the last. Since they played the same position, it was that much easier for everyone to make that comparison. Gordon was supposed to pick this team up and be an All-Star from day one. Instead, he floundered at the plate and in the field. No one will ever know how much pressure Gordon felt, but playing the same position as the organization’s greatest player makes it that much harder for him to reach those lofty expectations. So Gordon was sent to Omaha in 2010 to learn the outfield and hopefully be the change he needed to tap into the potential of the newest Kansas City savior.
Changing positions was just step one in unlocking the Gordon everyone wanted to see. Step two was working on his hitting. Gordon had always had a good eye, even when he played at the University of Nebraska. You could even tell that during his rookie season. The bad part was a green rookie from Nebraska wasn’t going to get the calls that a veteran gets. So we saw a lot of Gordon taking strike three calls, pitches that he thought were off the plate. He also started to get a little pull happy, so what once was a hitting machine had turned into a .250 hitter in the major leagues. Add in an attitude of knowing what he was doing, and you have a recipe for disaster. Rumors had floated around for years that one spring Brett tried working with Alex on his hitting, just giving him a few tips. Instead, the word was that Gordon blew him off. I have no idea if this is true or not, but if it was it shows why Gordon struggled at the major league level for such a long time. But by the time 2010 ended, A1 knew something had to change. Insert Kevin Seitzer here.
In the spring of 2011, former Royals player and then hitting coach Kevin Seitzer began working on Alex Gordon’s swing. The first move was to get him to quit pulling everything. Seitzer was a singles and doubles hitter during his career, and he seemed to preach the same sort of philosophy to his players. Seitzer began teaching Gordon to go up to the plate with a game plan, and also to just think base hits. Gordon himself admitted that for the longest time he was focused on going up and hitting a double or a home run instead of just playing it nice and easy. Most have felt since the day he was drafted that Gordon was a hitter with power and should show that. The problem was that was all he thought about, instead of just keeping it simple. Seitzer re-trained him to be a hitter instead of trying to be a slugger. Once Gordon started seeing results in 2011, everything else fell into place and Gordon swore by Seitzer’s teachings. Even in 2013, with Seitzer out of the picture, you can still see his teachings when watching A1 at the plate. Gordon has evolved into one of the better hitters in all of baseball, as 2011 would eventually show us.
2011 was Gordon’s coming out party. In 151 games, Gordon hit .303 with 23 homers and 87 RBI’s. Those are just main surface numbers though. Manager Ned Yost also moved A1 to the lead off spot early on in 2011 and was able to boost his numbers even more. Add in 17 steals, 45 doubles, and a WAR of 7.3, and even though Gordon wasn’t your typical lead off batter, he showed a level of comfort with his spot that had never been seen before. The Alex Gordon that we had all hoped to see when he was a rookie was finally here in his 5th year in the league. To top off those numbers, Gordon also proved a quick learner at his new position, with 20 assists in the outfield and a .991 fielding percentage. Thanks to those numbers, Gordon would rack up his first Gold Glove award for his play in left field.
2012 was more of the same from A1, as he would finish with a .294 average, with 14 home runs and 72 RBI’s. Gordon would also tally 51 doubles to lead the league, but these numbers don’t really stress just how his year evolved. Gordon started out the year slumping, and was bounced around the order most of the year by Yost. Gordon was most comfortable at lead off again, but by August he was regularly batting 3rd in the order and protecting Billy Butler in the lineup. Butler would get most of the press in 2012 for his offensive numbers, but the argument could easily be made that Gordon had just as good a year for Kansas City. Adding to all this was Gordon’s second consecutive Gold Glove Award and finally baseball was paying attention to his defense, if not the total package.
This year looks to be another stellar year so far, as a month in we are looking at about the same numbers that he has amassed the last few years. So why is Gordon not talked about when mentioning the best players in the game? Obviously, playing in the Kansas City market alone means you won’t get the coverage of a player in Boston, New York or Chicago. But market alone does not dictate why he has been overlooked. Gordon’s power number’s have never been what many in baseball felt he could do, and whether we like it or not, those numbers are still thought of as a prime number to look at to value a player’s worth. Never mind that 51 doubles are just as good as 20 some home runs, especially considering a good number of those help drive in runs. If anyone noticed last year, Billy Butler’s power numbers went up, while his doubles went down a bit. In the grand scheme of things, that is no big deal. But people heard a lot more about Butler in 2012 than they did Gordon. If Gordon had sacrificed a few hits to try to hit the ball out of the park, he might have gotten noticed more. But if he did that, he might not be the player he is today.
So will 2013 be the year that Alex Gordon is fully recognized for just how good of a ballplayer he has become? With the way he has played so far, there is a good chance he could be making an appearance in the All-Star game come July. His numbers even indicate we could see his home run numbers spike back up near his 2011 total, especially considering he might be the strongest hitter on the team. He has also been the most clutch hitter the Royals have this season. There are very few flaws in his game right now, so it seems he could be poised for his best year yet. I feel bad for some baseball fans that don’t get to watch a player of Gordon’s caliber on a regular basis. When you don’t, you don’t make comments like I made last week to a co-worker. The Royals had tied the Tigers and the two teams were preparing to go to extra innings. I was leaving work when it was mentioned to me. Apparently(I say apparently because I only faintly remember this conversation), I said “Good. Just gives Gordon one more chance to hit another home run and win the game for Kansas City” or something to that affect. Gordon then hit a grand slam, his first career one, that could have possibly been hit out of Yosemite National Park. When it’s your team’s best player, you know anything is possible. It’s just time now for the rest of baseball to figure this out.