Eric Hosmer finished third in this year’s American League Rookie-of-the-Year balloting, but you might not want to bet against his going on to have a better career than the players who finished one-two. The left-handed-hitting Royals first baseman hit .293/.334/.465, with 19 home runs, and he did it as a 21-year-old. By comparison, Jeremy Hellickson is 24, and Mark Trumbo 25.
Hosmer, who came into the season rated as Kansas City’s top prospect, made his Royals debut on May 6. A few months later he sat down to talk about his hitting approach and his early impressions of the big leagues.
David Laurila: What is your approach at the plate?
Eric Hosmer: You can’t really think too much. It’s more about just having a plan against the guy you’re facing. You’re basically knowing his strengths, knowing your own strengths, and sticking with your plan. I try to see ball and hit ball, and keep it as simple as possible.
DL: What do you know about hitting now that you didn’t when you signed your first professional contract, three years ago?
EH: A lot more. It’s a different game up here. The pitchers are different. They have better stuff and they can command it better. The big thing here is discipline. You have to be good at recognizing pitches and you have to know the counts.
Maybe a pitcher likes to do certain stuff, so you want to know what his tendencies are and what is his out pitch is. In big situations, he’s going to go to his best pitch, so you have to know what it is and where he likes to locate it.
DL: Have you noticed any patterns as to how pitchers are attacking you?
EH: Yeah, I think certain teams have certain game plans for how they go after certain hitters. But, for the most part, it’s been pretty much the same. Team by team, they have a certain plan for me.
DL: Are you getting pitched to any differently now than you were in the first month of season?
EH: Yeah, there was a span, early on, where with two strikes I was swinging at a lot of high fastballs. Teams have scouting reports and video, so they were going there on two-strike counts until I proved to them that I could lay off that pitch. This game is all about adjustments, and you have to adjust on the fly.
DL: Are you satisfied with your level of plate discipline?
EH: No. You can never be satisfied. There’s always room for improvement, so you’re always looking to get better. I think it has gotten better since I first got up here, but I need to continue to work on it.
Plate discipline is huge. It’s all about seeing the ball out of the pitcher’s hand, and I think the more reps you get off of certain guys — and pitchers in general — the better you get at it. Regardless, it’s definitely a key to hitting.
DL: What do you see when the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand?
EH: What you’re trying to see is what he’s throwing, and with some guys maybe you can pick up their curveball, because you kind of see their hand turning. It’s obviously tougher with guys who have more deception in their motion.
But, basically, you’re just locked in and trying to lock in on a certain zone. There’s not a lot of time to react. You just kind of see it and react. You’re kind of going with your gut.
DL: You had LASIK surgery two years ago, which was followed by a breakout season. Was that success primarily due to the surgery, or did it come from being a year older?
EH: Surgery played a big part of it, because seeing the ball is obviously a big part of hitting. At the same time, in my first year, I wasn’t really sure what I was getting myself into. You’re trying to impress everybody in your first year, so I was probably trying to do a little too much. In my second year, I was back in high-A, so I already knew the league, which was kind of a comfort thing. Having another year of experience definitely helped, so I’d say it’s both.
DL: What is your approach on the first pitch of an at bat?
EH: It’s different. On every at bat you have a different game plan. If it’s your first at bat, and no one is on, you might want to see a couple of pitches to see what the guy has. You can look at video, but you’re not going to get a true judgment until you get that first at bat and see how the ball is coming out of his hand that day.
If you come up in a situation with guys on base, you might be trying to drive the first strike you see, to get the runners in. When you’re hitting in the middle of the order, your job is to drive in runs. When you get those opportunities, you can’t let them go by.
DL: Is there a Kansas City Royals hitting philosophy?
EH: Not really. Every hitter is different, and that’s something Seitz [hitting coach Kevin Seitzer] is good at. He knows that every hitter is different and has a different game plan going up there. Basically, every hitter has his own philosophy, and plan, and when we’re going well is when everyone is sticking to that.
DL: What does the term “staying inside the baseball” mean to you?
EH: Staying inside the baseball is staying nice and loose and getting your hands through, trying to work through the middle. It makes you stay on pitches more. If you get out and around it, and it’s a curveball, you… if you’re [too far out in front], you don’t have any leverage to hit it. If you stay inside, you still have the barrel coming through the zone. You still have a chance to hit that pitch.
I like to let the ball get deep. It helps me stay on pitches more. If I see a pitch late, the barrel is lagging behind a little bit and I can stay on the ball and drive it to left field.
DL: Are you looking for pitches in specific zones?
EH: I think you have to focus on staying through the middle. If you get too pull-happy, you’re probably anticipating a pitch inside, so if they throw outside, there’s a pretty good chance you won’t hit it very hard.
I look for pitches in the middle of the plate. If you’re looking in, and the pitch is away, you pretty much already have your front shoulder out there, and you have nothing behind your swing. If you’re looking middle, you can work with it whether the pitch is in or out. You have time to drive the ball that certain way.
DL: Has the game slowed down for you?
EH: It has. I’ve definitely gotten more comfortable. The more games you play in, the more comfortable you get. The more you play at this level, the more you adapt to the speed of the game. Everything improves with time.
DL: You’re 21 years old. Are you surprised that you’re in the big leagues?
EH: I have a lot of confidence in myself. I basically told myself last off-season that I’d work as hard as I could, trust my talent, and see what happens. It’s been my dream, so I’m glad I’m here, but I have to admit that I didn’t think I’d get here as quickly as I did.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.