2011 Key Player: Alex Gordon

More bizarre predictions have been made, but not many have been the butt of more chat room razzing than Alex Gordon’s proclamation last September that he’s “going to dominate next year.”

Now sure, kids use the word dominate very loosely these days. But for a guy who’s barely proven he belongs on a major league roster, domination would seem like a stretch regardless of your definition.

But now, “next year” is upon us. Time for Alex Gordon to put up or shut up. And after a few days of his flailing about like we’re accustomed to, he’s spent a few days doing just what he said he’d do.

He’s dominating.

It looked like more of the same from Gordon just 10 days ago. He started the spring with a .067 average. He had Royals brass talking about how hard he’d worked in the off-season and blaming his timing for the rotten start. But to the purveyors of the box scores, it appeared our beliefs were just being confirmed.

Alex Gordon is never going to get it. He’s never going to be even a good major league player, much less live up to his prodigious potential.

But something seems to have clicked. In the last seven games (as of Tuesday) he’s gone 10-17 with three homers and raised his average to .367.

Now that’s domination.

I know, I know, it’s just spring training. But for a guy who has as much talent as Gordon has, and who works as hard as he reportedly does, don’t you think there might still be hope?

Several factors might, just might, be working in his favor.

First, the expectations on him have been lowered considerably. There’s no longer the pressure on him to be the next George Brett. Right now we’d settle for the next Jorge Orta.

Second, there are new kids in town who are getting all the attention these days. All eyes are on Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer now, leaving Gordon to go about his business of just trying to do the job.

Third, perhaps a position change really did do him some good. While it didn’t make a lot of sense in the short term because it left the team trying to make do with the likes of Wilson Betemit and Josh Fields, it may make sense in the long run. It gave Gordon a chance to play without Moustakas breathing down his neck, and to use his athletic ability away from the hot corner. He’s said he can relax more in the outfield, so maybe it will make a difference.

Fourth, he seems to have really taken to Kevin Seitzer. The two are working hard to break down Gordon’s swing, much like Tiger Woods’ did his en route to “domination.” At least that’s the comparison manager Ned Yost made recently in the Kansas City Star.

“It takes time,” Yost said. “It’s like several years ago when Tiger Woods completely remade his (golf) swing. He was already the best player in the world, but he knew he had to change his swing to reach the next level. And that took time (before it worked).”

Gordon is a very hard worker by all accounts. A hard worker coupled with a good coach just might begin to coax out the type of results Gordon would appear capable of.

Fifth, he’s got a manager who believes he can succeed and is giving him every opportunity to do so. When Gordon was scuffling early on, Yost made sure Gordon got more than his fair share of at-bats, believing he could work through the issues. Yost never makes anything but positive comments regarding Gordon. Yost really seems committed to standing by him.

Sixth, Gordon isn’t exactly surrounded by entrenched outfielders. Jeff Francouer and Melky Cabrera are, in many respects, on the same short leash as Gordon. They are all trying to recover the sparkle they had as prospects. Mitch Meier is nothing more than a role player. So if the team decides to deal an outfielder at mid-season, or to give up on any one of them, Gordon wouldn’t be on any more shaky ground than the others.

Add to that that, there really aren’t any corner outfield prospects chomping at his heels. I doubt Paulo Orlando or David Lough are causing Gordon to lose much sleep. Wil Myers is still a year or more away. Why should the Royals give up on Gordon now, with nothing much on the horizon?

And last, Gordon has one thing in his corner that is easily overlooked – on base percentage. Every year of his career, Gordon’s OBP has been about 80-100 points higher than his average. While we’d all like for him to compete for batting titles, his walks could make him more valuable than meets the eye. When you consider his combination of power and speed on the basepaths, a .260 batting average is something you could live with.

I’ve contended for the last couple of years that Gordon’s success or failure will have a giant impact on the morale of the Royals franchise. I don’t say that anymore.

With our every hope and dream now pinned on the farm system, the franchise could survive the failure of one player, even if that player was the second pick in the 2005 draft. The franchise will move on, with or without Alex Gordon. But that might just be for the best.

If three years from now Gordon is batting sixth in the Kansas City lineup, hitting .260 and getting on base at a .340 clip, knocking out 25 homers and playing solid left field, I’ll bet the Royals will be playoff contenders.

In which case Gordon may not be the next George Brett, but he’ll be dominating nonetheless.

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