I think I’ve been a fan of Johnny Giavotella since he started ripping the ball at Northwest Arkansas last season. Well, I think most Royals fans have been. Despite reports of slow footwork and defensive lapses, he seemed like a fun player to root for, especially with the lack of any strong second base candidate in Kansas City in several years. I always had an inexplicable fondness for Mark Grudzielanek, but have been waiting for someone to give the Royals a solid contributor at the spot.
It seems the time has come. And yes, yes, yes, small sample sizes are evil, horrible, and misleading. They tell us things they shouldn’t and hide the things we should know. Still, I’ve enjoyed these four games with Giavotella in the lineup, and there are a few reasons why.
What has Giavotella done since his promotion? Well, everything, really. He’s hit far better than Chris Getz or Mike Aviles have all season. He has been at least competent defensively, if not better, not showing any glaring holes yet. Gio has a walk and five hits in 16 plate appearances, finding room for two doubles and a home run during those hits.* All of this makes you wonder why the Royals waited so long to bring him up, but such is the nature of small samples. I would discount it more, but Gio’s early success has been against some very respectable or great pitchers in Jeremy Hellickson, Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, and Max Scherzer. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse those pitchers may not be, but Verlander’s in line for a shot at the American League Cy Young Award and Hellickson is an incredible good young pitcher. Even with the small sample in consideration, success against those four is impressive.
*As a sidenote, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Giavotella all had at least four hits and a homerun in their first five games. Hosmer actually had the fewest hits and most strikeouts (so far on Gio).
I think what’s been so enjoyable to me, however, is seeing the infield of the future. And that’s what the title is all about. This infield is sending us forward in time to a point where the Royals will likely be competitive. They will have an infield of (still) young players that love to play together. It’s even been fun to see Manny Pina out there behind the dish, as it makes me think back to seeing Omaha play in Nashville earlier this summer. Pina behind the play, Danny Duffy on the mound, Moustakas, Giavotella, and Hosmer on the field. This is the youth movement of the team I was waiting for. While there are other pieces I want to see (Lorenzo Cain, David Lough, etc.), this is where it starts. And this is a lot of fun.
The thing about Back to the Future, though, is that they go…back in time. And that’s the other piece of this puzzle. I’m not old enough to remember the Royals of the 1980′s, but I wish I were able to. Looking back to the 1980 Royals, there was a lot of youth on that team. Willie Wilson was 24, Frank White was 29, George Brett was 27, Willie Aikens was 25, Dan Quisenberry was 27, and a young gun by the name of Clint Hurdle was 22. At their youngest? Perhaps not. But the team was in their prime. It took a few years, but they all were learning to play and play well together. That team won 97 games and finished 14 games above second-place Oakland in the AL West. They went to the World Series.
Five years later, we all know what happened. And that team had some age, as the guys mentioned above started to move into and past their primes. But new stars emerged. The pitching rotation of that 1985 team included five pitchers that were 28, 28, 23, 22, and 21. And 21-year-old Bret Saberhagen was likely the most important piece of that pitching puzzle.
What do we learn from this? Well, teams can reach the postseason in any number of ways. Guys don’t have to grow up playing with one another. But, in one of my favorite Royals infographics I’ve seen, Craig Robinson of Flip Flop Fly Ball shows us that franchise players are the core to build around. 20 of the 35 players that were with the Royals in 1985 were with the team for at least five years. Ten of those were with the organization for at least ten years. Building that core is a important part of a team’s continued success. In the 1990′s and 2000′s, that vanished from the Royals’ game plan. Now, they’re trying to build it back.
Seeing an infield that could potentially be in Kansas City for a decade or longer is fascinating to watch. Sure, they’re all young. They’re inexperienced at the major league level. They’re fresh and energetic, however, and have shown that energy at various points this year. They’ll all likely spend the next five seasons or so with Kansas City, barring any major changes in the plan. And, most importantly, they’re invested in the team. As they have played with one another along the way, they work together. They want to win. And that’s something worth looking forward to. And that’s not even discussing the fleet of capable young pitchers the organization has developed.
So, it’s easy to see when some guys come up from Omaha and succeed or fail at the first start. Gio’s off to a flying start. Moustakas has struggled. Even with all of that, the main thing to take is that this is the start of a potentially special Royals future. If it reflects anything like the past, it could be a good one.