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Monday, May 13, 2013
James Loney versus Eric Hosmer

By David Schoenfield

James Loney is hitting .376, second in the majors to Miguel Cabrera. Eric Karabell wrote about the Tampa Bay Rays first baseman:
Loney enters the week one of five players being aided by a BABIP of better than .400. All five players (Joe Mauer, Carlos Gomez, Starling Marte, Cabrera and Loney) are hitting considerably better than .300, but I think only Mauer and Cabrera stay there. Loney is taking walks, making more contact and not striking out as much, and considering he has been on the bench against lefty pitchers, I wouldn't be shocked if he batted .300. But I'll say he hits more like .250 the rest of the way, and I'll take the under on 12 home runs and 70 RBIs. The fact we're even discussing him at all after years of underachievement with the Los Angeles Dodgers is a feat in itself.

I'm basically in agreement with Eric. He's unlikely to have suddenly improved at age 29. The Rays are smartly platooning him; for some reason the Dodgers never realized he couldn't hit left-handers, or kept hoping he'd eventually figure it out. (He hit .231 with little power against lefties from 2009 through 2012.)

Anyway, you know who Loney reminds me of? Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer. In fact ... the similarities are pretty eerie. Both were pitchers/first basemen in high school who some teams like on the mound as much as the plate. Both are tall/thinner guys who put up big numbers their first seasons in the majors, leading to big expectations.

You remember what Hosmer did as a rookie in 2011 at age 21, hitting .293 with 19 home runs in 128 games. But Loney had even bigger numbers his first season in the majors in 2007. After hitting well at the end of 2006 (.901 OPS in 111 plate appearances), Loney hit .331/.381/.538 with 15 home runs in 96 games his rookie season. He was older than Hosmer -- he turned 23 that season -- but still young enough that he looked like a future All-Star.

It never happened, of course. Those 15 home runs remain a career high. Last year, he slumped all the way to .249/.293/.336, putting his career in jeopardy if he didn't rebound this year.

Like Loney, Hosmer has so far been unable to tap into his power potential. He struggled last year and while he's hitting .270 right now, it's a soft .270 with one home run. And he's not hitting doubles either -- he's on pace for 19 doubles and five home runs. He just doesn't hit the ball hard enough or far enough often enough.

He's still very young, of course, and it's easy to lose sight of that. But Loney's career is a warning that just because you flash power early in your career you're not necessarily going to grow from there.