Not as good as Detroit.

Those two lines pretty much sums up the past week for the Kansas City Royals.  Oh yeah, a guy named Giavotella also joined the team and in three games is basically halfway to surpassing Chris Getz in total extra base hits this year.

I found the various discussions surrounding the Giavotella call up intriguing.  Foremost was the assumption that Johnny cannot field..at all…and never will.   He will either be an All-Star or won’t last the month and is really just filler until Yamaico Navarro is ready to play everyday.   It turns out, for all the loyalty, Royals’ fans are not a very patient bunch.

There was a debate over at Royals Review over the MLE’s of Giavotella:  a metric whose creator will tell you is a general performance indicator not one to be used to devine the actual stats a minor league player will produce in the major leagues.    Patient fans?  Not really.   Interested fans?  You bet.

In this case, however, the Royals got this one right.   In the end, statistics are better at rationalizing what happened than they are at forecasting the future.   Scouts have opinions and sometimes those opinions are wrong.   Organizations have plans, but sometimes plans change.

When a guy hits .338/.390/.481 in his first year at AAA and .305/.375/.437 for his minor league career while moving up one level each year, you have to find out what he can do in the majors.   Maybe he can just plain hit everywhere.   While we as Royals’ fans have become jaded by flame-outs of supposed great minor league hitters, it might be wise to remember that there are, right now, one hundred players in the majors who hit in the minor leagues and just kept right along hitting when they reached the majors.

Although drafted in the second round, there was never a lot of talk about Giavotella being the Royals’ second baseman of the future.  He was a, dare we say it, gritty kid who played hard, had a quick bat and produced in college.   The Royals, I think, did not have great expectations for Johnny and, in fact, traded for a second baseman in his mid-twenties when Giavotella was in Wilmington.

What transpired, however, was that Johnny Giavotella forced the organization’s hand and the organization did what they are supposed to do:  promote when the position above is not procuding and then play the guy until he proves he can’t.     Can Giavotella field?  The Royals, instead of speculating, are actually going to find out and do so in a timely manner.

It was not an organizational failure that Kila Ka’aihue did not produce as the everyday first baseman at the start of 2011.   The organization failed that they did not find that out at the start of the 2009 season instead of giving up Leo Nunez to watch Mike Jacobs hit a Kila-esque .228/.297/.401 the entire year.  

While it seems a no-brainer to us ‘internet crazies and bloggers’ that an American League team in the modern era cannot carry a second baseman hitting .256/.315/.285 (numbers virtually in line with his 1000+ at-bat career major league total), it was a difficult decision for the Royals to call up Giavotella and replace one of their favorite sons in Chris Getz.   The Royals may have taken longer to make that call than we would have liked, but they did finally make the right decision.

Now, Dayton Moore will enter the off-season having seen Eric Hosmer bat close to 500 times, Mike Moustakas around 350 times, Giavotella a good 150 times and have two full seasons of data on Alcides Escobar.  He should have a clear picture of what his 2012 and, frankly, 2013 and 2014 infield will look like or what needs to be improved.    After years of watching this organization speculate and wonder and talk about what players might be able to do and might not be capable of doing, we are actually going to have ACTUAL MAJOR LEAGUE GAMES PLAYED that will give us a far better indication.

Johnny Giavotella won’t hit .338 in the majors and he will certainly have some growing pains in this first taste of major league action, but we will have a far close idea to what type of major league player Giavotella might become now than if his major league exposure was a handful of September games after the AAA playoffs were over.  

That brings us to the next ‘internet darling’:  Lorenzo Cain.  

Like Giavotella, there is a fairly large segment of Royals’ fans who have already decided Cain probably isn’t that good.   In a world where outfield throwing arms have suddenly been deemed more important than, you know, tracking down flyballs in the gaps, I have lost the ability to fully understand most arguments.   That said, I have to admit we really don’t know what Lorenzo Cain can do playing a full season as a major league centerfielder.

We do know that, excluding the year he played hurt, Cain has hit at every level.   We know he made some great catches in spring training and has shown excellent defensive range.   We know that he hit .300 in 150 major league at-bats last season and thus we can speculate that Cain is more likely to ‘hit the ground running’ in the majors the next time he is up given that Lorenzo has already gone through that first adjustment period.

That said, Cain is in a different position than Giavotella.   The guys above him are producing.  Melky Cabrera is .303/.337/.461 and Jeff Francouer is solidly whacking away at .273/.324/.466.     Those numbers are not as great as many a Royals’ fan, jaded by the likes of Josh Anderson and Rick Ankiel clogging the outfield,  might think, but good enough to hang onto an everyday job…for now.

Truth is, I am a Lorenzo Cain guy and believe he might well be better than either Cabrera or Francouer over the next couple of seasons, but he has some major leauge experience already and the urgency to get him at-bats at the expense of Francouer and Cabrera right now is not great.    Let Cain, whose strikeout rate has decreased with each month in AAA, continue to get regular at-bats in the minors while he waits for a spot to legimately open in the major league outfield.    It is a situation the Royals have seldom been faced with in the past ten years, but one that good organizations deal with every year.

The Royals have a lot to prove yet to reach ‘good organization’ status, but promoting Giavotella now as opposed to later is a step in that direction.

For now, Kansas City is better than Baltimore….and not as good as Detroit.