Giavotella was never a standout prospect. In their annual rankings, Baseball America runs down a list of players who have the best “tools.” Gio never made this list. Last year, he was the Royals number 18 prospect, sandwiched between Sal Perez and Louis Coleman.
“An offensive second baseman, Giovatella has proven he can turn on just about any fastball. He has a very good awareness of the strike zone, and his ability to draw walks is enhanced by his pronounced crouch in his stance.”
Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus was a bit more bullish, ranking him at number nine.
“More and more scouts are sold on Giavotella’s pure hitting ability, with one saying, “He just squares everything up… velo, breaking balls… he hits everything.” He has a patient approach and a very short, quick swing with surprising strength that projects for 10-15 home runs annually.”
It’s interesting that both reports mentioned his plate discipline as a strength. Because we didn’t see that once he joined the Royals. After walking about nine percent of the time throughout his minor league career, Gio posted a 3.2% walk rate. Disturbing. Also after striking out about 10% of the time in the minors, he whiffed at a rate just above 17%. Not good.
(Of course all the proceeding major league numbers come with a ginormous caveat: SMALL SAMPLE SIZE. We’re dealing with less than 200 major league plate appearances. And his first 200 plate appearances at that. As we all know – cough – Mike Moustakas – cough – some players go through a stage where they need a little time to adjust to the better pitching. Take all of this with a grain of salt.)
So having said that, Gio whiffed a total of 32 times. From the Bill James Baseball IQ, here is a heat map illustrating where that third strike was in the zone.
Six of his 32 strikeouts were on sliders, and all of them are represented in the pitch low and away. The red in the lower third of the zone down the heart of the plate represents curves, which were the money pitch in just three of his strikeouts. Seems a little reactionary to make a judgement based on six (or three) strikeouts. I’m just pointing out potential weak spots. Something to keep in mind as we move forward. Because if we have this information, you know opposing pitchers have it as well.
There’s specualtion that Giavotella would be a candidate to hit second behind Alex Gordon next summer. That’s a tall order to fill (done surprisingly well last year by Melky Cabrera) but Giavotella has the potential to make enough contact to justify his placement as the number two. Batting in the sixth and seventh positions last year, he wasn’t asked to play small ball – Yost never had him attempt a sacrifice. And I’m certain he will hone his plate discipline, cut down on the whiffs and draw more walks.
Despite Giavotella being what we would consider a piece of The Process, the Royals have been jockying all winter to line up backups at second. How else do you explain the three million combined to bring Yuniesky Betancourt back for an encore and to retain Chris Getz? Betancourt is awful… Poor defense and he doesn’t get on base. He’s never played second, but with Alcides Escobar and his amazing technicolor glove at short, that seems his most likely position. Barring something unforseen happening to the SS Jesus. And then there’s Getz. Not as horrible as Betancourt, but given an equal number of plate appearances it could be a photo finish. (I know, I know… Getz does the little things. Hell, he led the team in GRIT last summer. Let’s stay on target… I’ll rip Getz to shreds in a post in a couple of weeks. I know you can’t wait.) Getz is a natural second baseman with decent – but limited – defense, and a bat that makes Mario Mendoza look like Babe Ruth.
The question we have to ask is why? Why bring in two guys to potentially backup second base? The answer seems fairly obvious. The Royals don’t trust Giavotella.
I have to assume this is because of his defense and questionable judgement of the strike zone once he arrived in KC. I’m loathe to use defensive metrics in this situation because of the sample size, but they weren’t kind to Giavotella last year. He didn’t pass the eye test, either. (Take that however you like. I’m near sighted.) He looked slow to react and didn’t flash what I would call ideal range – especially flagging down balls hit up the middle. He could turn the double play, though. The defensive questions have followed Gio throughout his time in the organization. The Royals challenged him to improve with the glove last winter and he did make strides. The bottom line is Gio is a short, squat dude who will never look graceful in the field. He range isn’t going to blossom overnight. He’s going to be an average to below average defender. The Royals have to decide if they can live with the defense, but will take the bat. Or if they want neither.
I sure hope the Royals aren’t losing faith based on less than two months of major league playing time. Sad thing is, I don’t trust them enough to dismiss that as a possibility.
My bold prediction is Giavotella will get off to a slow start at the plate, play average to below average defense and the Royals will ship him to Triple-A before the end of May. That’s right… I’m betting on Betancourt and/or Getz to be the Royals regular second baseman about a quarter of the way into the season. It’s just a gut feeling. I hope I’m wrong.
Gio is one of those guys with little of the upside that excites the prospect watchers, but he is someone who could develop into a solid regular. Given the options that Dayton Moore has stockpiled behind Giavotella, we certainly need to hope he reaches his full potential. And quickly.