]]>

We are back for part three of our series with the focus today being on the middle infield.

In preparing to write this column, I made an honest effort to see the ‘everything goes right’ upside to Yuniesky Betanacourt. Despite an honest effort, the best I can come up with is that Betancourt at least does not suck the next couple of years. Yuniesky’s highest on-base percentage of his career is just .310 and his best OPS just .725: heck, even Angel Berroa had one good year to hang his hat on. Further, is it truly logical to believe that, six years into his major league career, that Betancourt will actually become the defensive master that Dayton Moore so wants us to believe he already is?

Now, Betancourt’s place in our ‘everything goes right’ scenario is that Dayton Moore ‘gets right’ and Mike Aviles gets healthy. The best case for 2010 is that Aviles comes back from arm surgery, plays as he did in 2008 and forces his way back into the everyday shortstop job. Aviles may not hold up defensively as well as he did in his rookie year, but would certainly seem to be adequate to man shortstop for the remainder of 2010 and part of 2011.

On the other side of the bag, the Royals went out and got Chris Getz from the White Sox despite having their second best hitter, Alberto Callaspo occupying this position. I have been working on the game by game season summary for the upcoming 2010 Royals Authority Annual and it is amazing how often the recap of a game mentions a defensive miscue by Callaspo. I certainly remember Alberto being downright awful in the field, but I had forgotten how much and how often his defensive shortcomings came into play during the 2009 season.

That single fact has reinforced my feeling that the Royals have to put Getz at second base, hope his defense improves over his rookie season and see if he can develop into an above average offensive player at second (as have seven other current regular second basemen with similarly unimpressive minor league resumes).

I am not sure exactly what you do with Callaspo. Given that the outfield heavy Orioles rejected a Callaspo for Felix Pie deal, you can see that Alberto’s current trade value does not match up with what you, me and Dayton Moore might have expected for a plus .800 OPS middle infielder. The Royals could go unconventional and DH Alberto, take a gamble and try him in left field (pushing DeJesus to right) or, knowing 2010 is probably a lost cause anyway, play him at second for a few months in hopes of getting better trade return as the season unfolds. At any rate, by the second half of the season, the best case scenario is a middle infield of Mike Aviles (playing competent defense and posting a 2008-esque line) and Chris Getz (playing above average defense, stealing bases and smacking doubles).

Do you contend with a middle infield of Aviles and Getz? I am not exactly sure, but remember, everything is going right for the Royals. That means Jeff Bianchi (who will just be 23 years old in 2010 by the way) will have parlayed his .307/.356/.435 line of 2009 into big numbers to start the year in AA and continued them upon a mid-season promotion to Omaha. Along the way, the hope has to be that Bianchi can stick defensively at shortstop and be in a position to push Aviles into a super utility role as early as the beginning of 2011.

At the same time, second baseman Johnny Giavotella, will have torn up AA pitching in 2010. Remember, even though his second professional campaign was not as impressive as his rookie year, Giavotella still walked more than he struck out in High A, had 38 extra base hits and 26 steals, not to mention a .351 on-base percentage despite hitting just .258. Since he will be 22 in 2010, Johnny may get some time in Omaha late next year and certainly start off the 2011 season just a phone call from the majors.

Behind this group of players, the Royals have 20 year old Fernando Garcia, who posted a .392 on-base percentage playing second base the Burlington Bees last year and talented 18 year old shortstop Yowill Espinal who began to show power and speed in his second season of rookie ball. Both could conceivably advance quickly through the system if they continue to show improvement and provide the Royals something of a ‘Milwaukee scenario’ where the Brewers enjoyed the flexibility to deal J.J. Hardy as he was pushed out of his job by young Alcides Escobar.

The reemergence of Bianchi has given the Royals some hope for real improvement either at second or short over the next couple of years. Frankly, the panic to acquire Betancourt seems more foolhardy with every line I write. Did the Royals really need to make such a daring move with a finally healthy Bianchi hitting and Mike Aviles simply an injury removed from hitting .325? Whether Dan Cortes or Derrick Saito ever develop into major leaguers is irrelevant: the Royals did not need to waste the time or the money on Betancourt.

That said, in our ‘everyting goes right’ scenario, Yuniesky Betancourt becomes nothing more than an expensive footnote as Aviles comes back healthy and effective, and some combination of Bianchi, Getz and Giavotella develop into a well above average middle infield combination.