The axe has finally fallen on Mike Moustakas. After struggling his way to a .152/.223/.320 line with four homers and 26 strikeouts in 139 plate appearances this year, Moustakas has been sent down to Triple-A. Moustakas' demotion, which has been rumored since earlier this month, is another step backward for a Royals team that has struggled to get major league production from its high-round draft picks and top prospects.
Despite the 25-year-old Moustakas' pedigree — he was the second overall pick in the 2007 draft — his performance gave Kansas City almost no choice but to get him off the roster. His .543 OPS would rank sixth-worst in baseball if he had enough plate appearances to qualify, and he had hit just .158 in the month of May. Since briefly delaying what seemed like the inevitable by going 2-for-3 with two doubles and three RBI in the Royals' 3-2 win over the Rockies on May 14, Moustakas had gone 1-for-13 with four strikeouts in his next five games, including an 0-for-3 on May 19 in what proved to be his last start of 2014 so far.
The Royals have given Moustakas plenty of opportunities, making him essentially an everyday starter from the day he first put on a Kansas City uniform. But since his major league debut on June 10, 2011, Moustakas has amassed a mere .236/.290/.379 slash line with 41 home runs across 1,632 major league plate appearances. That includes a pitiful .217/.274/.323 line against left-handed pitchers and a .205/.282/.320 line with runners in scoring position, despite spending most of his major league career batting toward the middle of the order. There was hope that Moustakas was finally turning a corner after he hit .444 with four homers in spring training, but he was unable to turn that March hot streak into production when it counted, opening the season with one hit in his first 22 at-bats and a first-month OPS of .552.
While Moustakas ultimately lost his job, he's not the only home-grown product who's had no success this season in Kansas City. Eric Hosmer, the No. 3 overall pick in 2008, has had his OPS fall from a career-best .801 last year to .723 this year to go with just one homer. Alex Gordon, who was taken second overall in 2005, has seen his OPS slide for four straight seasons and has just three homers through 173 at-bats in 2014. Billy Butler, meanwhile, has picked up his offense after a sluggish start to the year, but the 2004 first-rounder still has a meager .321 slugging percentage and .631 OPS so far.
At the very least, Royals general manager Dayton Moore can perhaps take solace in the fact that the top of the 2007 draft in which he took Moustakas hasn't bred much success. Of the first 10 picks, only David Price (No. 1), Matt Wieters (No. 5) and Madison Bumgarner (No. 10) have enjoyed sustained success. The third overall pick, Josh Vitters, made a brief MLB appearance for the Cubs in 2012 but has since returned to the minors and is currently struggling in Triple-A; the fourth pick, Daniel Moskos, appeared in all of 31 games out of the bullpen in his Pittsburgh career and is now a reliever in the Dodgers' organization. To take Moustakas' place on the roster, Kansas City recalled utilityman Jimmy Paredes. Former utilityman Danny Valencia, who has hit .308/.362/.423 in 58 plate appearances, will serve as the regular starter at third base. Moustakas, meanwhile, will head to Triple-A with a rare distinction: He was the team's co-leader in home runs with four when he got the demotion. And given the Royals' well-noted power issues this year, if Moustakas gets the call back up, he may even return to find he's still at the top of the Kansas City homer leaderboard.