Alex Gordon: Future MVP or next Carlos Pena?

September 19, 2006

In his first full year of professional baseball, Alex Gordon took the Double-A Texas League by storm. Recently named the Texas League Player of the Year and Baseball America’s Minor League Baseball Player of the Year, Gordon has easily exceeded the high expectations placed on him entering the 2006 season after he was selected second overall by the Kansas City Royals in 2005.

To go along with his 2006 minor league hardware, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound third baseman earned back-to-back Big 12 Player of the Year awards, the Golden Spikes Award, the Dick Howser Award, the Brooks Wallace Award, and the American Baseball Coaches Association Rawlings Player of the Year during his exceptional career at University of Nebraska.

Gordon built on his amazing college career by posting a .325/.427/.588 line in 486 at bats at Double-A Wichita. Belting 29 home runs and stealing 22 bases, he was one of only five minor league players to hit at least 20 home runs and steal 20 bags – another notable on that list was Reds first base prospect Joey Votto. The Lincoln Nebraska native’s abilities and potential seem limitless, making his career path somewhat hard to predict, especially after only one full professional season.

Gordon’s torrid post All-Star break numbers (.346 with 20 home runs, 20 doubles, 70 RBI and 65 runs scored in 67 games) make it seem as though he will not only succeed at the major league level, but perhaps be an immediate star.

Projecting out his second half to 500 at bats, his cumulative line would be: .346/.448/.658, 39 HR, 126 R, 138 RBI, 15 SB, and 39 doubles

Gordon's vitals are better across the board than those of 2004 Double-A Ryan Howard. The Phillies slugger (24 at the time) posted a .297/.386/.647 line in 347 Eastern League at-bats. While we’re not going to compare Alex Gordon to Ryan Howard, we did compare his abilities and 2006 season to three players who were once similar but have taken very different career paths: Mark Teixeira, Aubrey Huff, and Carlos Pena.

Gordon, Teixeira, Huff, and Pena, all posted somewhat similar stats at the same ages prior to beginning their major league careers.

College/A Ball








A. Gordon (21)








M. Teixeira (21)








A. Huff (21)








C. Pena (21)+








One problem with comparing their stats at the age of 21 is the fact that Gordon and Teixeira were competing in collegiate baseball while Huff and Pena were both battling minor league pitching. Their numbers at age 21 don't compare as well to Gordon and Teixeira's as they do at the age of 22.

AA Ball








A. Gordon (22)








M. Teixeira (22)








A. Huff (22)








C. Pena (22)








The strong comparisons come when all four were 22. Each of them competed at Double-A and had similar numbers across the board - this was also the year before their numbers really started to diverge.

Comparison to Mark Teixeira

Mark Teixeira was listed as Baseball America’s No. 10 overall prospect in 2002 and went on to play for the Texas Rangers in 2003 (he was 23). The Rangers first baseman posted respectable .259/.331/.480 vitals as a rookie.
Since the day he was drafted, publications like Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus began making comparisons between Gordon and Teixeira.

The two match up not only in stature (6-foot-2, 220-pounds to 6-foot-3, 225-pounds). They also started their professional careers as third basemen, have very high ceilings, and were drafted by organizations that weren’t contenders when they were selected.

Ascending through college and the Minor Leagues, Teixeira was a third baseman. The Rangers moved him to first base in part because they had Hank Blalock. The same situation may be played out with Gordon as soon as 2007.

The Kansas City Royals may look to move Gordon to first base in order to keep both he and Mark Teahen, who is coming off a breakout year, in the same infield, though there's still a lot of uncertainty about what position Gordon will settle into.

Another similarity between Teixeira and Gordon is the success of both of their clubs at the major league level around the time of their debuts.

When Teixeira was promoted to the Rangers, pressure was rather low and the team ended up last in their division with a record of 71-91, 25 full games out of first place. Texas was led by Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, and a solid group of young players (including Michael Young, Blalock, and Teixeira).

Like Teixeira, Gordon will be introduced to the big leagues with a great amount of enthusiasm and little pressure to win right away. The Royals have been one of the worst teams in baseball over the last five years and don't look to be much better in 2007, leaving them with an ideal (low-pressure) environment to nurse their young talent.

Take the 2006 Florida Marlins for example: little pressure and low (team) expectations allowed their young talent to flourish while staying largely under the radar. Similarly, Gordon should be able to join the Royals without having to deal with an exorbitant amount of media attention or playoff expectations.

While Teixeira’s first Major League season wasn’t earth shattering like some had predicted, it was still very good. He was able to maintain an OPS over .800 and hit 26 home runs, rare feats among rookies. He has gone on to adjust to Major Leagues and has shown the ability to dominate pitchers at times.

If Gordon is able to live up to his potential, his career may almost mirror that of Teixeira. He may not only match Teixeira’s career thus far, but exceed his numbers if maintains or improves upon his plate discipline (which is already the best in the Royals system).

Gordon’s speed is one thing that differs between the two and should help his ratio statistics (Avg., OBP%, and SLG%) early in his career. But as soon as he joins the Royals, look for Gordon’s stolen bases to decrease significantly for a variety of reasons:

1) The Royals simply do not run, they are currently 20th in team stolen bases and finished 26th in 2005.

2) Even if the Royals valued stolen bases, why risk getting your top prospect and future star hurt stealing bases in non-crucial situations?

3) As Gordon continues to mature physically, his speed may slowly decline, while he becomes stronger, diminishing his ability to steal bases.

4) As soon as 2008, the Royals lineup may sport more mature bats like Teahen, Ryan Shealy, Billy Butler, and Chris Lubanksi, reducing the need for a heart of the order presence to steal bases.

Comparison to Aubrey Huff

If Gordon gets shipped back and forth between Triple-A and the major leagues in 2007, he could become a quality Major Leaguer on the fringe of star status, like the Houston Astros’ Aubrey Huff.

Huff had a great start to his professional career, putting up a .900 OPS or better at each of his minor league stops between 1998 and 2000. Toward the end 2000, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays promoted Huff from Triple-A to the big league team. But they went on to send him back down to Triple-A and bring him up again a total of three times before he finally became a regular for the team in 2002.

Huff took awhile to adapt to Major League pitching – as illustrated by his 0.32 BB/K in his 2001 rookie season. His plate discipline went completely by the wayside and further slowed his development.

In 2002, Huff seemed to become comfortable once again, raising his BB/K ratio to a very respectable 0.67, and sporting a .313/.364/.520 line.

The Ohio native has had an up and down career. Since his break out year in 2003, Huff’s OPS has declined every year. He continues to be a good player, but is a far cry from what was expected of him after his 2002 and 2003 seasons.

Alex Gordon is much more highly regarded than Huff was at the same age. Entering 2001, Baseball America listed Huff as its No. 43 prospect, much lower than Gordon’s No. 13 ranking heading into 2006.

Still, Gordon has only had one year of professional experience and could experience problems at the next level.

Huff excelled up until his first extended look with the Devil Rays in 2001, when he appeared to be pressing, as his numbers took a hit. His ability was apparent; he just needed to be given the confidence to play daily. Instead, the Devil Rays continued to second guess one of their top prospects, and thus stunted his development.

With monumental expectations – like winning the American League Rookie of the Year – expected of him, Gordon may start pressing. If he initially has problems adjusting to better pitching, pressing is almost inevitable and he will likely see a notable drop in his K/BB ratio.

Even if Gordon is over-matched upon being promoted to the big leagues, a demotion could set back his development. Royals GM Dayton Moore has already shown that he intends to handle Gordon carefully, virtually eliminating any chance that the young third baseman will be forced to deal with multiple demotions like Huff.

Comparison to Carlos Pena

Our final comparison deals with current Red Sox first baseman Carlos Pena. While many may not understand the Alex Gordon/Carlos Pena comparison, we feel it’s legitimate do to their numerous minor league similarities.

In 2001, Baseball America listed Texas Ranger Carlos Pena as their No. 11 overall prospect. The ranking was not only understandable but expected after his amazing season in the Double-A Texas League.

At 22, Pena was dominating Double-A pitching, capping off the 2000 season with a .299/.414/.533 vital line.

After another solid year in Triple-A (2001), the hype around Carlos Pena was building, but had not quite reached that of Alex Gordon’s today. He was expected to be the Texas Rangers savior, only to end up falling miserably short and have his career begin to spiral downwards.

Pena’s plate discipline began to drop after his breakout 2000 season. His BB/K ratio dropped significantly from an excellent .935 (101/108) to .629 (80/127). This struggle in discipline was the start of what has become a disappointing career for Pena.

After a brief 62 at-bat call up with the Rangers up at the end of 2001, the organization gave up on Pena and sent him to Oakland, where he began the 2002 season in Triple-A Sacramento. There, he continued to hit for power, but his BB/K ratio continued its steady decline, reaching a low of .489.

Gordon’s BB/K ratio of .637 in 2006 is rather respectable, especially for such a young power hitter. But his 113 strikeouts in 486 at bats, was sixth worst in the Texas league – he was 13th in at bats.

Gordon may sport a decent BB/K ratio now, but pitching will only get better as he heads to either Triple-A or Kansas City. If he continues to maintain a .600+ BB/K ratio, the chances of Gordon following in Carlos Pena’s footsteps seem rather remote. Poor plate discipline is one of the major factors that has kept Pena from having a successful career. While extremely unlikely, it’s not out of the question to imagine Gordon suffering the same fate.


While Alex Gordon may end up following any of the three players’ careers paths, we see him becoming a force in the American League sooner rather than later.

He has an amazing swing from the left side that few players possess and seemingly all the right intangibles. While the consensus may be that Gordon’s ceiling is no higher than Mark Teixeira’s, we tend to question how definitively that conclusion can be drawn.

In 2005, Teixeira had an amazing season with 43 home runs and 144 runs batted in while maintaining a .580 BB/K ratio. We believe that after a few years of professional experience, Gordon could have that same 40+ home run potential.

If Kansas City continues to develop hitting prospects like Billy Butler, Mark Teahen, and Chris Lubanski, Gordon may have the protection necessary to hit 40+ home runs.

Thus, if the Royals players and management give Gordon the confidence he needs when he hits any potential first year rough patches and he handles the lofty expectations surrounding his debut, Gordon has the ability to easily take home a 2007 Rookie of the Year award.

We believe that Gordon will go on to reach greater accomplishments than Carlos Pena and Aubrey Huff. Whether or not he can match Teixeira is what will keep us glued to his every at bat.

You can contact Denny Foster by emailing him at