By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A bloop and a blast made Eric Hosmer a Yankee killer in his first trip to the Bronx and underlined the promise of the 21-year-old first baseman and prospects of a rosy future for a beleaguered franchise.
Hosmer is in the vanguard of a bountiful crop of young players energising the long-suffering Kansas City Royals, who have bolted from the 2011 starting gate with a 19-17 record.
"In spring training he was ridiculous," Royals hitting coach Kevin Seitzer told Reuters about Hosmer during warm-ups before Wednesday's Royals-Yankees game. "He was as good as any hitter we had in camp.
"I don't think he's going to have too hard a time. I think the adjustments will come quickly."
Too quickly, as far as the Yankees were concerned.
Still in his first week in the majors, Hosmer hammered his first career home run to put the Royals on the scoreboard, then mustered a pop-up to center for a sacrifice fly that provided the winning margin in an 11-inning, 4-3 win for the upstarts.
"They're both big," Hosmer told reporters about his two run-producing at-bats. "But winning the game is what we come here for."
The Royals, whose sub-$40 million payroll is lowest in the major leagues and about one-fifth the money spent by the Yankees, have had only one winning record (83-79 in 2003) in the last 17 years.
The long reign of futility may soon be over.
Manager Ned Yost gushed about Hosmer's potential.
"He's up there with the likes of Prince Fielder when he came up, Ryan Braun when he came up, Chipper Jones when he came up," Yost, who managed Fielder and Braun with the Milwaukee Brewers, said from the dugout.
"He's just that special type of offensive player. He's going to be a very, very big offensive producer for us."
The Royals have already populated half their bullpen with hard-throwing youngsters including Tim Collins, Nathan Adcock, Jeremy Jeffress and Aaron Crow, who hit 100 miles an hour (160 km per hour) on the radar gun as he picked up the win Wednesday.
A trio of highly touted starting pitchers, Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy and Everett Teaford, are honing their skills down at Triple A Omaha.
Slugging third baseman Mike Moustakas is also expected to reach the Royals some time in 2011.
"There's so much depth in that farm system, it's unbelievable," Hosmer said. "Moose, Duffy, Monty - special players. When the Royals call on them, they'll be ready."
Yost admitted Kansas City was following a tricky course in which they strive to win on the major league diamonds this year while at the same time develop their young players.
"They'll let you know when they're ready," the manager said. "There wasn't a man in our organization that didn't feel Eric Hosmer was ready."
Seitzer said Hosmer was mature beyond his years.
"He's very composed," said Seitzer. "He sees the ball early out of a pitcher's hand. He has good recognition. He hits the ball to all fields and he's got a short stroke."
Yost said Hosmer showed his mettle in the Yankee series opener the night before his bloop and blast settled the game.
"I thought (Tuesday) was a real tell-tale sign in his second at-bat," Yost said.
"(Yankees starting pitcher Freddy) Garcia struck him out with splits and change-ups, and Hosmer walked back in the dugout and said, 'he's not doing that to me again.'
"And his next at-bat was a phenomenal at-bat. He laid off all those pitches that he struck out on and ended up walking. You don't see that out of 21-year-old kids."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)