Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. is finally headed to the big leagues and will make his Major League debut Friday. The Blue Jays third baseman has been considered the top prospect in baseball and his debut is one of the most anticipated events already in this young season.
There have been some other much-anticipated debuts in baseball history, most recently the debuts of Bryce Harper, Ichiro Suzuki, and Ken Griffey, Jr. were big events in the game. But what about for Royals fans? What were the most anticipated debuts in Royals history?
Eric Hosmer - May 6, 2011 vs. Oakland
The promotion of Eric Hosmer was seen by many as “flipping the switch” into a new era of Royals baseball that would eventually lead to a championship. Hosmer was the third-overall pick with a $6 million bonus and had gotten Royals fans excited by winning a batting title in the Carolina League in 2010. The Royals began the 2011 season with Kila Kaaihue at first base, but while he was under the Mendoza Line after a month, Hosmer was destroying the Pacific Coast League, hitting .439/.525/.582. Even though promoting Hosmer in early March would cost the Royals a year of arbitration, they made the switch.
“We’ve had pretty much all of our scouts in Omaha or seeing them on the road in pretty much every game they’ve played this year,” general manager Dayton Moore said. “And to a man, everybody pretty much comes back and says ‘This guy’s ready, and we need him on our major-league team to help us continue to win.’”
Hosmer hit sixth against Gio Gonzalez and the Athletics and walked in his very first plate appearance, one of two he would draw, while he would strike out in his other two at-bats. He would collect his first Major League hit the next night, a single off Brandon McCarthy.
Alex Gordon - April 2, 2007 vs. Boston
At the time, Gordon was the highest draft pick in Royals history, going second-overall in the 2005 draft. He was a local kid to boot, coming out of the University of Nebraska from a family that had cheered for the Royals. He dominated at AA Wichita in 2006, hitting .325/.427/.588 with 29 home runs, and was named Minor League Player of the Year.
Rather than have him start in Omaha to begin the year and game his service time, the Royals put Gordon on the Opening Day roster in 2007. It was the first full season under new General Manager Dayton Moore, and fresh off signing free agent Gil Meche, there was a renewed optimism with the ballclub. Gordon faced Hall of Fame-caliber pitcher Curt Schilling on Opening Day, coming up with the bases loaded in the very first inning.
“That wasn’t intimidating,” Gordon will say later. “That was exciting.”
He struck out. Gordo would go 0-for-3 with two strikeouts that day, and would struggle mightily the first half of the schedule with his average under the Mendoza Line deep into June. His career would take a few detours, but Gordon would eventually become one of the best players in franchise history.
Zack Greinke - May 22, 2004 vs. Oakland
Greinke was an enigmatic first-round pick who put up a 1.93 ERA in 23 starts across High A and AA in 2003, earning the #14 ranking all of baseball on the prospect list for Baseball America. After six starts in Omaha, Royals General Manager Allard Baird promoted the 20-year old right-hander to the big leagues.
But is he ready?
”I think I am,’’ Greinke said. “I’m not going to come out and say, ‘Bring me up,’ but I don’t have any questions that I’d do just fine.’’
Greinke would make his debut on the road against an Oakland Athletics team that would go on to win 91 games. He faced just ten hitters over the first three innings, and only really ran into trouble in the fourth when he gave up a two-run home run to Erubiel Durazo. He would leave after five innings with just the two runs allowed, one strikeout, and one walk, and in a bit of foreshadowing, would get a no-decision in a game the Royals would eventually lose.
Bo Jackson - September 2, 1986 vs. Chicago
Bo was well-known to the American public by the time the Royals promoted him to the big leagues as a September call-up late in the 1986 season. The former Auburn running back had won the Heisman Trophy just ten months prior, but spurned the NFL in spite due to the conduct of Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse. The Royals took a gamble by drafting Bo in that June’s draft, and after a few months in AA Memphis, Bo was a big leaguer.
‘’You go up to the plate, and it’s like you’re taking on nine guys. It’s a great challenge. It takes more concentration than football, and it’s a different high, but it’s what I want to do.’’
In his first at-bat, Bo faced Hall of Famer Steve Carlton, and blasted a pitch an estimated 425 feet - foul. He would then smack a fairly routine chopper to second and easily beat it out for an infield hit, the first of his career. The show was just a preview of the unique blend of speed and power Bo would demonstrate in his too-short career in Kansas City.
What debut did you most anticipate?