It isn’t often that Royals fans have a whole lot to look forward to at the break of camp in Surprise. The position battles of years past have been mostly in name only as a below average incumbent battled a below average free agent acquisition, that battled a below average position switcher. To describe these affairs as anticlimactic would be a disservice to the word, anticlimactic.
Things have started to turn a little though as for the first time we can start to see the talent of the system make its way up to the top, and names can start to be plugged in to certain positions for three, four, or five years down the road. What’s also interesting is that at this time the Royals and fans alike are starting to talk just as much about the second wave of players as they are the first. Which begs the question: what second wave player might be replacing a first?
Spotlight, Johnny Giavotella.
When the Royals took Christian Colon in last June’s Draft, the immediate reaction of most baseball people was that while he may have an outside shot at remaining a shortstop, the most likely scenario would call for him moving to second. Second base currently, if we want to talk First Wave and all, is already upheld by 2008 second round pick Giavotella. Oh what a difference five years can make.
Giavotella was drafted not as the high upside, over-slot pick that has littered the Kansas City draft landscape over the past five years, but as a safe pick out of four-year school that could rise quickly in the system. Taken as the eventual solution to the shortstopcatcherrightfieldleftfield second base hole that his plagued the organization, Giovatella’s medium-paced start was met with an abrudt “uh-oh” in 2009, leaving some to question what exactly his future would be.
Thank goodness for 2010.
We should probably at some point give the 2010 minor league season for the Royals its own name. So many players either rebounded from disappointing seasons to firmly supplant themselves as future stars (Moustakas, Hosmer), or solidified themselves as future stars by repeating good season with great seasons (Lamb, Myers), that the light at the end of the tunnel finally started to shine. There was no bigger 2010 campaign for an individual player than Johnny Gia’s though, because of what it meant for him, and what it means for the organization.
First, Giavotella was put back on the map as a “can’t wait to see him” guy. Lost in the swoon-inducing stats and abilities of the Big 5 (6? 7? 8?) is what a second baseman with an okay glove and something north of a .360 OBP can mean to a team.* With all the hit skills of the players coming, having a bottom-of-the-order hitter that reaches base above 30-percent of the time could mean a heckuva lot for the overall production of the lineup.
*Giavotella’s triple-slash at Double A Northwest Arkansas last year was .322/.395/.460. That’s pretty darn good for a middle infielder. I can remember last season making sure I checked the box scores to see how he played that night, inevitably getting giddy that he had another walk or two. Now I’m not saying he’s going to produce exactly those numbers in a Royals uniform, but something along the lines of .270/.345/.440 doesn’t seem entirely out of the question. And if he put up those numbers hitting 8th or 9th when we’re accustomed to the likes of Jason Kendall hitting freaking second, well that ain’t bad.
Second, his reemergence could finally give the Royals actual depth at a middle infield spot for the first time in…in a really long time.
Colon should probably be a fast-riser through the minor leagues, so it’s imperative for Giavotella to have a great month in Surprise to put himself on the radar for an early call-up this season. Couple that with a strong finish to 2011, and being the anchor piece to the end of a young but talented lineup in 2012, and Giavotella’s value to the Royals only increases as he becomes either irreplaceable in Kansas City, or trade bait for a missing piece in 2013.
Let’s all hope so because we’re nearing the stage when position battles are actually battles, and the one for second base in 2013 could be a real good one.