KC Royals: Johnny Giavotella Thriving For Angels
By John Viril
Former KC Royals prospect Johnny Giavotella has won the second base job for the Los Angeles Angels replacing longtime starter Howie Kendrick. And, what do you know, given a real chance in the major-leagues, Gio is getting the job done.
In 106 plate appearances, Johnny Giavotella is hitting a solid .280/.340/.366 with 1 home run and 12 RBIs for an OPS+ (adjusted on base plus slugging which accounts for competition level and park factors) of 102 (2% above league average).
He’s also done a good job in the field. When he was in the KC Royals system, the 27-year-old Giavotella was considered a “bat first” kind of player with a marginal glove. Through 28 games with the Angels, Johnny Giavotella has an above-average UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) of 1.6, which prorates to an excellent 11.0 runs saved compared to a league-average second baseman over 150 games (UZR/150).
Johnny Giavotella earned something in Los Angeles that he never did in Kansas City: a real chance at a regular job. Giavotella got multiple “trials” for the Kansas City Royals, beginning in 2011 at age 23. But he never got more than 189 plate appearances in any one season.
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The fact is, when Johnny Giavotella failed to immediately hit in the major leagues, KC Royals general manager Dayton Moore pulled the plug and sent him back down to AAA Omaha. In 2012, with the team going nowhere, the Kansas City Royals refused to see what Giavotella could do with regular playing time and instead gave his at bats to the hopeless Chris Getz.
Frankly, the whole thing was stupid. It’s not as if the KC Royals had anything to lose. The team finished 72-90.
The Kansas City Royals brain trust apparently never liked Johnny’s glove. It seemed as if they didn’t WANT him to succeed. Had the KC Royals treated Mike Moustakas with the kind of impatience they did Gio, Moose would be long gone instead of starring at third base for Kansas City during the 2014 playoffs, and the beginning of this season.
What it comes down to is that I believe the KC Royals scouts simply did not have much faith in Johnny G, so had little to no tolerance for working through his growing pains. They treated him like a quadruple A player: a guy that can excel at AAA but can’t cut it in MLB.
Call to the Pen
And, yes, Johnny Giavotella could hit in the minors. He had 3308 plate appearances for various KC Royals farm clubs since Dayton Moore drafted him from University of New Orleans in the 2nd round of 2008. He accumulated a career slash line of .305/.378/.438 for an OPS of .816 over seven minor league seasons—which is quite good for a middle infielder.
Yet, he never could hit in Kansas City. He was called up every season from 2011 to 2014, and hit an anemic .238/.277/.334 for an OPS+ of 67 (33% below a league-average hitter).
The KC Royals cut him loose by trading him to Los Angeles last winter, for minor league pitcher Brian Broderick.
After winning a spring training battle with Josh Rutledge to replace the traded Howie Kendrick, Giavotella has looked like he belongs as a major-league regular. It really hasn’t come as a surprise to Gio. This spring he told Orange Country Register writer Jeff Fletcher:
"“I think I’m capable of being a great major league ballplayer, whether anyone else sees it or not is up to them,” Giavotella said. “I think I can be a great major league second baseman.”"
Angels general manager Jerry DiPoto said:
"“He hit at every level and went to the big leagues and (struggled) and never got another chance,” Dipoto said. “I don’t know why that is.”"
Johnny Giavotella has rewarded the Angels faith in him. Recently, Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia told the LA Times:
"“Johnny brings a lot of energy, he’s worked really hard on his defense, and on the offensive side, he’s just a tough out,” Scioscia said. “He has been at every level in the minor leagues. Now he’s getting the opportunity in big leagues and is showing that he’s a tough at-bat. He’s been one of those bright spots since the season began.”"
Superstar teammate, and 2014 A.L. MVP, Mike Trout said:
"“He’s fun to watch,” center fielder Mike Trout said of Giavotella. “He stays within himself. He doesn’t try to hit home runs. He tries to square up the baseball, hit line drives, keep the same approach. And he brings a lot of energy to the dugout.”"
Johnny Giavotella never fit Dayton Moore’s vision of a strong defensive team. Given the KC Royals recent success, and the spectacular defense they play on the field because every position is manned by an above-average defender, I suppose you can’t argue with the results.
However, by never giving Johnny Giavotella a chance to show he was a viable major-league regular, the KC Royals ended up selling low on a valuable asset. Had the Kansas City Royals allowed Giavotella to establish himself, they would have gotten significantly more in return than AAA reliever Brian Broderick.
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