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KC Royal’s Eric Hosmer is crediting his improved playing to his recent SBK/Lasik eye surgery. Durrie Vision and the KC Royals make a great team!

Royals foresee future in Hosmer
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com

KANSAS CITY — Maybe it was the eyes or maybe it was just getting used to professional ball or maybe it was better pitching.
Whatever made Eric Hosmer’s first full season so uneven and rough certainly has been left behind by the Royals’ budding first baseman. In 2010, for two of their farm clubs, he batted .338 and pounded 20 homers and knocked in 86 runs.

“It was good to turn around and have a good year,” he said. “It took a lot of stress off my back.”

Hosmer made such a vivid impression last year with Class A Wilmington and Double-A Northwest Arkansas that the Royals are convinced that he’s soon to land in Kansas City. When that happens, it’ll make for an interesting situation because Billy Butler just signed a four-year contract and he loves to play first base.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Hosmer, 21, is invited to the Major League Spring Training camp but he surely has some more Minor League days ahead of him.

The big left-handed kid from southern Florida was the third overall pick of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft by the Royals but he didn’t sign until Aug. 15, getting a $6 million bonus. He played just three games in Rookie ball that year and in 2009 with Class A Burlington, he didn’t exactly set the Midwest League on fire.

He hit just .254 for the Iowa team, was moved to Advanced-A Wilmington, Del., and really struggled. Earlier, during a Spring Training eye examination, it had been determined that Hosmer was a candidate for Lasik surgery. No urgency but, as the season went along, he was outfitted with glasses. Fate intervened late in the season when Hosmer was sitting out with a finger injury and, what the heck, why not go ahead with the Lasik procedure?

So Hosmer had the surgery done by the noted specialist Daniel Durrie in Kansas City and returned to play a few games with Wilmington before the season was over. His vision was better but his final average in the Carolina League was .206.

In a total of 106 games in 2009, Hosmer had just six homers, 59 RBIs and a .241 average.

“That left me hungry that offseason, kind of just looking yourself in the mirror and saying, ‘I can’t let that happen again,’” Hosmer said. “I’ve played this game all my life and this is pretty much the first time that I’ve failed. But, if anything, it’s good to have that early in my career and kind of wake me up a little bit. It humbled me.”

J.J. Picollo, the Royals’ assistant general manager in charge of player development, isn’t entirely sure that Hosmer’s eyesight was the only cause of his lackluster season.

“I think it contributed some because it always helps to see the ball better, but the Midwest League is a hard league and there’s not a lot of hitters that jump in there right out of high school and perform that well,” Picollo said.

Hosmer had difficultly adjusting to wearing the glasses, too. The Lasik surgery not only enabled him to chuck the specs, but the timing of the procedure enabled him to play all five weeks in the Arizona instructional league that fall. Determinedly he worked hard, setting up his big 2010 season that has earned him MLB.com’s No. 1 rating among first-base prospects.

“Last year, I think we saw the hitter we anticipated — driving the ball into left-center field, turning on balls, just a real good knowledge of the strike zone,” Picollo said. “He seems to get his pitch and he doesn’t miss it. And he’s not afraid to hit the ball the other way and if a pitcher comes in on him, he’ll turn on it, too.”

Hosmer hit .354 for Wilmington and was promoted to Northwest Arkansas for the stretch drive in the Texas League. With his .313 average, he popped 13 homers and had 35 RBIs in 50 games. Then he hit six more homers to lead the Naturals to the playoff championship.

After that, he joined Royals third-base prospect Mike Moustakas in the starting lineup of Team USA in the Pan American qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico. The team went 9-1 and tied for third with Hosmer leading the way with a .389 average and seven RBIs.

“It was awesome, unbelievable,” he said. “You don’t really cherish it until you’re playing another country and you see them line up and they do their national anthem. You look up and down the line and it’s kind of like these are your brothers and you’re kind of fighting for your country right now. It’s very special playing with ‘USA’ across your chest.”

Picollo sees Hosmer as more of a gap hitter, one who would prosper in Kauffman Stadium, than a home-run slugger.

“I think he’ll hit his home runs. He’s got enough power to hit ‘em but he’s not a guy that goes to the plate trying to hit ‘em,” Picollo said. “Some guys get a little homer-happy or want to lift the ball. His approach always seems to be up the middle or the other way. You see more line drives than those big popups or fly balls that some hitters have.”

Around first base, Hosmer plays so well that he was named the top defensive player last year in the Royals’ farm system.

“He’s a big target, 6-foot-5, and he’s left-handed and moves well. He picks balls pretty easily and I think infielders like throwing to a target like that,” Picollo said.

Hosmer will get to display those talents in the Royals’ big league camp next month and he’s looking forward to being in the same clubhouse as Butler.

“I’m very excited about that,” Hosmer said. “Fortunately, the guy who plays first is one of the leading hitters in the league and I’m going to try to pick his brain as much as possible.”

Hosmer is extremely confident about his ability to hit because now, in his case, the eyes have it.