Royals first baseman ready for 2014 following strong offseason program
PHOENIX -- Eric Hosmer winters on the eastern edge of the Everglades, maybe five minutes from the famed roadway called Alligator Alley. He has a house there, but no gators have been spotted prowling around the backyard.
Hosmer's Florida home does have that most important accessory, though, for a Major League hitter -- an indoor batting cage. And that's where he spends a lot of his time between seasons.
Yes, Hosmer really believes he needs that to keep on top of his game, despite all of his successes in 2013. He had a .302 average, 17 home runs and career highs in hits (188), doubles (34) and RBIs (79).
Hosmer's fourth season with the Royals is coming up and he feels more prepared than ever.
"Mentally, I'm a lot more confident and I know myself as a baseball player now, and also with more experience, I know what I have to do to get myself more prepared for a game," he said.
Or for a season.
Hosmer, 24, does most of his offseason work with brother Mike, who's four years older and knows what makes Eric tick.
"He's been watching me hit for so long that if something doesn't look right, it'll jump out at him and he'll know," Hosmer said. "And that's big because you can create a lot of bad habits, especially in the offseason if you work on stuff and you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing so it's real helpful having him along."
There's a gang of six or seven -- guys who Hosmer grew up with, Minor Leaguers from the area and Major Leaguer Mike Napoli -- who come around most days to work in the batting cage.
Brother Mike generally takes over.
"He lives with me down there -- and he gets up early and does all his stuff on the computer that he has to do for work. So by the time I'm done with my workout, he's around and can help me -- give me flips or do batting practice or any of that stuff," Hosmer said.
Mike Hosmer also has absorbed most of the approach used by Royals hitting coach Pedro Grifol.
"Hopefully one of these offseasons Pedro comes down to the house and it'd be real fun to have those two talk hitting together," Eric Hosmer said.
The Grifol approach has worked well with Hosmer. When Grifol and George Brett took over as hitting coaches last May 30, not only was the last-place team in the American League Central in a 4-19 swoon, but Hosmer was stumbling himself.
Hosmer was batting .261 with 16 RBIs in 50 games and one -- count 'em -- one home run.
Yet, as Grifol recalled: "Even last year when George and I got here, he was smiling and happy and going about his business."
With Brett working on his mind and Grifol working on his mechanics, Hosmer went about his business so well in the last four months that in that period, he hit .318 with 16 more homers and another 63 RBIs.
No coincidence that the Royals' record in that time was 64-46 and they revived so well that they were in pursuit of a postseason berth almost to the end. Hosmer was named the Royals Player of the Year by Kansas City's chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America and also won his first Rawlings Gold Glove Award at first base.
What Hosmer wants to do, quite naturally, is keep the thing going.
So brother Mike is his wintertime watchdog.
"Yeah, he definitely is. It's hard when you're a baseball player and you're swinging," Eric Hosmer said. "It's something you may feel, but when somebody's looking at you from an angle, they can see something that you can't feel. That's basically what he and Pedro are good at with me -- if something stands out that doesn't look normal for me, they'll tell me and then I'll make sure I focus on just that one aspect.
"Sometimes you can't feel it. Sometimes they'll say I'm pulling off, but I can't feel myself pulling off so I'll exaggerate and stay in the middle, and basically that's what he is -- that voice on the outside that on the stuff I can't feel or see, he sees it for me."
And Grifol takes over during Spring Training.
"The only thing we're doing is trying to simplify it a little more, make it a little more relaxed, a little quicker," Grifol said. "It's just minor, minimal adjustments, but you have to continually make adjustments to improve because everybody else is going to make adjustments to you.
"No matter how good a year you had last year, they're going to figure something out that's going to help them get you out so we've got to figure out something too. He's made a few minor adjustments that I think are going to help."
Hosmer is batting .267 (8-for-30) with a homer, three doubles and five RBIs.
"He's a hard worker, never panics in his approach and his game shows confidence which is a big key. Never ever does he show any sign of defeat or urgency or anything like that," Grifol said. "He's well-grounded in his ability and he knows he's going to have success."