Kettle of Fish: Infield Position Battles

Bowl season is nearing its end. The NFL is about to start its postseason. Football is starting to get out of the way, so it’s getting much easier to look toward the day pitchers and catchers report and toward Spring Training in general.

So, to help you look forward to what to expect this spring, I thought I could take a look at some of the battles being waged for a big league roster spot. There’s a lot to look at around the field. Austin already ran down the starting pitching situation and Mike looked at the small quarrel between Mitch Maier and Gregor Blanco, so I want to take a gander at the infield situation.

By position number, the catchers are up first:

Catchers:
Candidates: Brayan Pena, Luke May, Manny Pina, Jason Kendall (injured)

Admittedly, this likely isn’t much of a competition. Kendall should be out for the whole of Spring Training and likely part of the beginning of the season. They might rush him a bit to get him some plate appearances before the season starts, but I would hope not. I went over that situation a while back, though, so I want to just briefly talk about the other three guys.

Pena (with an e) is almost assuredly going to be the starting catcher at the beginning of the season. Pina (with an i) will likely be a Storm Chaser. May will probably be backing up Pena unless the higher-ups decide they like what Pina does in Spring Training and want his stronger defensive attributes in Kansas City. I find that unlikely, so this (non-)battle will probably end in a Pena/May backstop corps to start the Royals’ season. When Kendall arrives, May is probably demoted. It’s fairly straightforward.

First Basemen:
Candidates: Billy Butler, Kila Ka’aihue, Clint Robinson, Wilson Betemit

I’m just throwing out names here because, as we all know, it’s really down to Billy and Kila. Billy will probably be the starting DH, as much as he dislikes that idea, and Kila will be the first baseman. Of course, Billy will get many of the starts at first anyway, but I would guess that at least 60% of his plate appearances will come as a DH. Clint has an outside chance of being the first baseman or on the roster if Kila and another infielder don’t perform in Spring Training. Betemit has been considered a strong candidate as a third baseman, but as rough as his defense is, the Royals may opt to keep him at first base if they really want his bat. In the end, this would return Kila to Omaha, which would be unfortunate.

If you get the drift, Kila’s fate as a major leaguer on Opening Day 2011 will hinge on his performance in Spring Training. So, give ‘em hell, Kila.

Second Basemen:
Candidates: Chris Getz, Mike Aviles

That’s it. Getz and Aviles will duel for the starting spot at second base. I suppose you could consider Betemit for second base, too, but he really belongs at a corner position if he plays on the field. With the concussion Getz suffered in 2010, he lost a bit of playing time to show what he could really do. Still, in 248 plate appearances, he hit .237/.302/.277 with a 0.68 BB/K ratio. He hit no home runs, but is considered to be a solid defender and will be 27 to start the season.

Aviles will be 30 by Opening Day 2011. He hit .304/.335/.413 with a 0.41 BB/K ratio and eight home runs over 448 plate appearances in 2010. However, his fielding isn’t quite as solid as Getz’. Aviles is a righty to Getz’ lefty, which has a small amount of bearing given the lineup trotted out on any given day. Nonetheless, Aviles has shown he has a right to be on the roster given the rest of the offense available.

A platoon at second could be possible, but I would posture that Dayton wants to commit to Getz for some time until Christian Colon, Johnny Giavotella, or maybe Jeff Bianchi reach Kansas City. Aviles will, of course, get some playing time at second, but is a stronger candidate at third. Given that both Joaquin Arias and Lance Zawadzki aren’t on the 40-man roster anymore, one of them won’t be taking a spot away from Aviles.

So, look for Getz to get the edge barring a complete Spring Training failure, but Aviles should still be a Royal come Opening Day.

Third Basemen:
Candidates: Mike Aviles, Wilson Betemit, Mike Moustakas, Chris Getz

This the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Okay, maybe not, but will be the premier competition come Spring Training. Moustakas will get his first shot at Spring Training with the Royals. In reality, he probably shouldn’t and won’t be in Kansas City to start the season. It would be nice to see him in Omaha for a bit longer and the Royals really don’t gain much by promoting him early. His service time clock is another thing to consider, and that will almost assuredly help to push his promotion date back to June.

Anyway, Moustakas will get some time at third base this spring and will have competition from both Aviles and Betemit. It’s possible that Getz gets in on this party if Aviles outduels him at second base, but his time at third will probably be minimal.

We all know the story with Betemit. He was a minor league signing that somehow was a great bat off the bench. He basically won himself over 300 plate appearances, which is pretty incredible even on a team like the 2010 Royals. He’ll be 29 this year and is unlikely to repeat his .297/.378/.511, 13 HR performance in 2010. Nonetheless, I give him and Aviles each about a 50/50 chance of getting the starting spot. If I had to pick one, I’d go with Betemit purely because Aviles is one of those guys the Royals never seem to give any time of day. They should both be on the Opening Day roster, though.

Shortstops:
Alcides Escobar

Is there really any competition? After Ned accidentally writes in Yuni as the starting shortstop for the first week, Escobar will get the starts unless he plays himself out of a starting spot. I don’t think that will happen, but if it does we’ll probably see Aviles get the shot at shortstop. Escobar really has about a 98% chance of being the Opening Day starting shortstop, with 1% being if he gets injured in Spring Training.

So, where does that leave us? Well, the Royals ran with 12-13 pitchers last season, leaving 12-13 fielders. Given that four or five will be outfielders, there should be a staff of eight or nine infielders. Here’s how I think they should sort out, barring some wildly bad perfomances in Spring Training:

C: Brayan Pena, Luke May
1B: Kila Ka’aihue, Billy Butler (DH)
2B: Chris Getz
SS: Alcides Escobar
3B: Mike Aviles
Bench: Wilson Betemit

I’m tempted to throw in another utility guy, but there really aren’t too many great possibilities. Unless they add Joaquin Arias or Lance Zawadzki to the roster, the list above is probably what we see come Opening Day. Of course, that’s what I would want to see. The Royals themselves will probably trot out something like this:

C: Brayan Pena, Luke May/Jason Kendall
1B: Billy Butler, Kila Ka’aihue (DH)
2B: Chris Getz
SS: Alcides Escobar
3B: Wilson Betemit
Bench/DH: Mike Aviles

I have to think they give Billy a slight edge as a starting first baseman, but maybe they surprise me this season. That projection is a bit pessimistic, but I do think Betemit will ultimately get the starting spot over Aviles, even though I don’t like it. I’d rather have Aviles prove he shouldn’t be a starter than have to make him prove he should be. Again, that’s just my opinion.

The infield is fairly straightforward, as you see, though there will be a few interesting things to keep track of. I’ll get on to the position battles of outfielders and relievers later on, and those should present a better discussion.

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Topics: AL Central, Alcides Escobar, Baseball, Billy Butler, Brayan Pena, Chris Getz, Jason Kendall, Kansas City Royals, KC, Kila Kaaihue, Lucas May, Mike Aviles, Mike Moustakas, MLB, Royals, Wilson Betemit

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