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If there were ever a player for the Royals to double down on, it would be one with the talent and marketability of Hosmer. Despite his slow start, there was no talk of demoting him to the minors, no panic over a phenom who is believed to be as much of a sure thing as there can be in baseball. "He's been pressing a bit," says a scout. "But this is a kid who's hit everywhere he's been because he knows how to make adjustments. I'd be surprised if he doesn't start raking soon."
Hosmer has always seemed destined for greatness. On the day of the amateur draft in 2008, current Royals hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, who was then a private hitting instructor, was on the phone with his son Cameron, a first baseman taken by the Rays in the 11th round in '11. Cameron asked his father if he saw who the Royals picked with the third selection. "I said, 'Yeah, some high school kid from Florida.'" Seitzer says. "And then he told me: 'We faced this kid in travel tournaments, and he was carving us up as a pitcher, throwing curves, changeups, fastballs and locating. He was every bit as good a pitcher as he was a hitter."
Seitzer remembers the young Hosmer for another reason: "He was big, real big. Let's just say he was a much wider load than most." Hosmer's childhood size became somewhat legendary after one of his Little League photos surfaced on an MLB Network show (the host thereafter likened Hosmer, who was in studio, to Cartman), but by the time he was slicing up pitchers at American Heritage High, where he was a two-time Florida player of the year, he was the specimen he is now. "Tall, lean, the prototypical hitter," says Billy Butler. "You look at him and you just think, Man, he just looks like the perfect baseball player."
Hosmer, who's listed now at 6'4' 'and 230 pounds, was one of the first to arrive from the highly touted minor league system that Moore built after taking over as G.M. in June 2006. "He walked twice in his first game—who does that? I don't think I took a pitch," says Butler. "He just has a calmness—he knows it's going to work out."
Says Brett, "When I got called up, I was scared to death. I don't see any fear in this guy—none whatsoever."
Hosmer's stroke is fast and vicious—"He has very quick hands, like Robinson Cano's," says Seitzer—but what people most rave about is the way he hits for power to the opposite field. "Usually people develop opposite-field power later," says Brett. "I didn't develop opposite-field power until I was 28, and I didn't really have it until I was 33. If he keeps understanding that he's strong enough to hit it out to left field in any ballpark, that he doesn't have to pull every ball, then he's going to be a complete player."
Brett and Hosmer first met in August 2008, the day after Hosmer signed his record bonus deal. Hosmer was sitting in a window seat on a plane headed from Kansas City to Utah—he was on his way to meet up with the Royals' rookie league team in Spokane—when the woman next to him got a tap on the shoulder. A well-tanned man in his 50s wanted to know if the woman would be up for swapping seats. "I looked up, did a double take, and was like, That's George Brett!" Hosmer recalls. The Royals legend squeezed into the middle seat next to the future face of the franchise and introduced himself. The two immediately hit it off. "He's wearing this Royals hat, he was so excited, grinning from ear to ear," says Brett, laughing. "He looked like a dork. A total nerd."
For the last 20 years Brett has been holding court in Kansas City, telling the same stories about the bleeping pine tar game, about hit number 3,000, about Quiz, Bye Bye, Skates and the rest of the 1985 championship team. Mullet is ready to pass the torch. "These kids in our farm system, most of them weren't born when I was playing," says Brett. "Out in the back fields during spring training a lot of them don't know who the hell I am. But if they make a big splash, then suddenly they're getting compared to me. Hos is getting the comparisons now, but let me tell you, he's the real deal. And hopefully he'll be in Kansas City for the next 20 years."
Of course everything leads back to the Question. Will the homegrown hero stay in Kansas City? That may depend in part on the game's changing economics, but in the end the decision will be Hosmer's to make. "If we start winning, it's going to be easier—for a player, it's all about playing in October," says Brett. "If we keep on losing the way we have been for the last 10 years?" Brett pauses. "Well, let's not think about that. Let's enjoy what we've got right now."