Chris Getz is going to be the starting second baseman. Again.
Giavotella’s demotion is the standout move, as he was projected to be the everyday player at that position in 2012. After a strong 2011 in Omaha, he hit .247/.273/.376 in 187 plate appearances for the Royals. In 44 spring at bats, he was hitting .250/.276/.318. Coming off of hip surgery in the offseason may be causing problems, or it could just be a slow start. Whatever the case, Chris Getz and Yuniesky Betancourt will handle second base at the start of the season.
The reason cited by Ned Yost was Giavotella’s defense. In doing so, he suggested the Chris Getz and Yuniesky Betancourt are better defensive options. I can’t suggest that Giavotella is going to contend for a Gold Glove Award at any point, but Getz has been below average defensively over the span of his career, and has had negative defensive runs saved figures every season as a big leaguer according to the Fielding Bible*. Betancourt, at least at shortstop, is even worse both statistically and by reputation. Perhaps in a less demanding area like second base, he can handle it defensively (or at least better than at shortstop), but neither could be a significant upgrade defensively, especially considering that Getz won’t hit (if more than 1000 major league plate appearances is any indication). Giavotella rated as losing one run defensively by John Dewan’s calculations in 46 games.
*Getz looks better by Baseball-Reference’s defensive measurements, coming in at +6 runs above average for his career, but the Fielding Bible metrics take into account the context of the game when the play is made and how fielding performance is relative to the average fielder. It doesn’t seem to take into account plays that should have been made but weren’t, instead factoring in only the plays made. In other words, if Getz can’t make a play on a ball that a typical second baseman can get to, does it really help save a run?
Yost acknowledged that the 44 at bat sample by Giavotella isn’t reliable, but believes he can hit. It’s not clear how much more someone can improve their defense in the minor leagues, and an extra month or two isn’t going to be enough time to make such a change in fundamental skills that Will Carry over.
If only spring stats were taken into account, yes, I can see how Getz and Betancourt would be favored. Getz has hit better in Surprise producing a line of .276/.313/.310 in 29 at bats. Betancourt put up a .233/.283/.395 line in 43 at bats but with a guaranteed contract and supposed position flexibility, it means Giavotella, with options, ends up out of the running.
I fully expect Getz to return to his typical levels of production, which means weak contact, not making it on base, and no power. He’s changed his stance, sure, but how often do 28-year-old players (with no track record of exceptional production) make one adjustment and change who they are as a hitter? Not often, I’m afraid. Is his defensive strength so much greater that it justifies him hitting .254/.315/.307 while Giavotella ends up learning nothing about hitting big league pitching in Omaha? I think not. Giavotella’s the best player for the position and he fits within the long-term framework of the organization. It’s of no benefit to him or the Royals to have Giavotella in Omaha.