Royals Shock World, Send Giavotella To AAA

Since the 2011 season ended and the offseason began, people largely assumed that Johnny Giavotella would break camp as the starting second baseman for the Kansas City Royals. He mashed Triple-A last year to the tune of .338/.390/.481 and was named player of the year in the Royals’ minor league system. Furthermore, the organization benched starter Chris Getz late last year in favor of Giavotella in hopes of grooming the 24-year-old for extensive big league action in 2012.

Despite those facts, the Royals optioned Giavotella to Triple-A Omaha yesterday and will begin the season with some combination of Chris Getz and Yuniesky Betancourt at second base.

You read that correctly. On Sunday afternoon, the Kansas City Royals actively chose a pair of players who both compiled an identical wOBA of .278 last season (average wOBA for an American League second baseman was .312) to split time at second base over a young player who posted a .390 and .381 wOBA in his past two minor league stops, respectively.

The decision did not simply boil down to offensive statistics, however. Nor should it. Royals manager Ned Yost told reporters on Sunday that Giavotella was sent back to Triple-A to work on his defense.

“(Giavotella) needs to continue to focus on his defense,” manager Ned Yost said. “Johnny is a much better defender today than he was at this time last year, but we had two better defensive options in Betancourt and Getz.”

Defense has long been an issue for Giavotella, coming up through the minors. The issues continued in the majors last season. Scouts say his range is well below-average. That played out in the numbers after his promotion, as his RngR was -1.4. Ultimately, he cost the Royals -2.5 runs defensively in just 46 games.

If Kansas City would have handed Giavotella the starting second base gig, they simply would have had to deal with his poor defense and hoped that he could hit enough to make up the difference.

In that context, it makes sense that the Royals would opt for a different starting second baseman. The problem, however, is that two significant questions surround Chris Getz and Yuniesky Betancourt at second. They are as follows:

(1) Are Chris Getz and Yuniesky Betancourt legitimately good defensive players at the position?

(2) If so, can Getz and Betancourt hit enough to warrant the defensive upgrade?

The first question seems simple enough. The Royals’ coaching staff has watched the two players all spring and believes in both of their gloves. Furthermore, Getz was +5.2 runs better than average at second base last season for the Royals, and Betancourt will be shifting to an easier position on the defensive spectrum, which suggests his defense should only improve from previous years at shortstop.

Of course, those defensive numbers for Getz only encompass a single season. He was worth exactly zero runs at second base in 1454.1 innings with the Chicago White Sox from 2008-2010. Should we willingly ignore his average defensive numbers until last season, when he increased his range factor significantly? That seems foolish. Perhaps Getz replicates his 2008-2010 stretch next season and does not provide much value with the glove. Suddenly, his career .290 wOBA becomes very difficult with which to cope.

Furthermore, the limitations Betancourt has with the glove are not suddenly going to disappear because he moves to second base. His range will continue to be well below-average. His penchant for committing careless errors and not getting in good defensive position to field the baseball will continue to limit his defensive value, as well. Betancourt has been worth -48.8 runs throughout his career at shortstop. That indicates more fundamental problems than just playing defense at the incorrect position.

The perceived gap between the defensive abilities of Johnny Giavotella and Getz/Betancourt seems a bit overblown. Then, consider the fact that Getz and Betancourt own a career wOBA of .290 and .294, respectively. The Royals can thus confidently expect below-average production with the bat at second base. That becomes scarier once one considers that Chris Getz was only able to generate +1.0 WAR in 2011 with his one season of good defense.

Ultimately, sending Giavotella down to Triple-A hinders his developmental process. He is what he is with the glove. Perhaps he improves to be a roughly average defender. Ultimately, though, his playing time will be dependent upon his bat, and Giavotella needs time to adjust to major league pitching. He struggled last year in his brief call-up, hitting .247/.273/.376 with two home runs. His walk rate dropped, and his strikeout rate rose. All the trademarks of a young hitter attempting to make the massive jump from Triple-A to the big leagues.

The Kansas City Royals are still a year or two away from seriously putting pressure on the Detroit Tigers for the AL Central crown. This season should bring about significant improvement, but too many holes in the starting rotation should keep them from overtaking the star-studded Tigers. The Royals should be optimizing their roster for that window of contention, and stashing Giavotella in Triple-A — where he has nothing left to prove with the bat — does not aid in his development for big league success. He will likely be relied upon to be the everyday second baseman in 2013, and the Royals would do well to allow him to make his big league adjustments this season, instead of doing so in the midst of what projects to be a potential postseason run.

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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).

29 Responses to “Royals Shock World, Send Giavotella To AAA”

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  1. Shane H says:

    Service Time?

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    • Shane H says:

      Mid to late june to keep him through 2018.

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    • Geoff says:

      My thoughts exactly. They’re probably a year or two away from being real contenders so might as well stash for 2 months and get the benefit of another season on the other end.

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      • Domenic says:

        That didn’t stop them from calling Hosmer up fairly early last season, though – and Hosmer’s a far, far better prospect than Giavotella. I suppose, however, that the counterargument here is that the Royals learned from the error of their ways last season, and/or are a bit more bearish on their time frame to compete.

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      • Baltar says:

        My thoughts exactly exactly.

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      • Could the kid Colon look more like a keeper than Gio. I hear he’s been moved to 2B from SS.

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  2. tsinor says:

    Doesn’t shock me at all. The Royals aren’t ready to content yet and a June call up would insure he’s around longer when they do.

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  3. BlueEyes_Austin says:

    I don’t see Johnny-G as a service-time issue guy. At best he’s a David Eckstein type.

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    • Ronin says:

      I agree with BE Austin, the service time issue is overblown. I agree it is probably better to give Giavotella more time to adjust to big league pitching but I dont think it is as detrimental to his development to send him down as the article indicates. A month or two in AAA working on his defense in a less stressful environment might do him more good than the extra MLB at bats. Since the Royals are unlikely to compete this year letting Getz and Yuni stink it up probably wont hurt them any.

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      • stan says:

        How could it be that they want him to adjust to big league pitching? The guy dominated offensively at AAA last year and he’s going to be dominating those very same pitchers again. That and the service time issue don’t make any sense.

        The only reason I can think of that actually makes sense is the reason they actually give- its a stupid reason, mind you, but at least it makes some sense. There’s just no way Getz’ offensive (non) value hurts the team less than Giavotella’s defensive (non)value. How can the Royals claim they are trying to win with a straight face when they’re starting a player in Getz who would be very unlikely to actually make another major league team?

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      • Baltar says:

        No, stan, the only explanation that makes sense is service time. Since teams don’t like to admit that, the crazy explanation is just an excuse.

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    • colin says:

      I agree. I think service time may have been an issue, but probably not a big one. Gio’s upside is pretty low and he really needs to have at least an average glove if he’s going to be a 1-2 war player down the road.

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      • Paul says:

        Exactly. It’s funny, I’ve never seen the service time argument for an average at best player. He was completely underwhelming last season, and last I checked had not drawn a walk all spring. He has okay offensive upside, but he’s the type of guy that’s just going to have to bust down the door to win a job, and he simply has not done that.

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  4. VJO says:

    Your manager just said that Yuniesky Betancourt is a better defensive option than you. How would you feel?

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    • Ronin says:

      Pretty confident that I am gonna stick in the bigs longer than my manager?

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    • colin says:

      Big difference between the average defensive player at SS vs the average defensive player at 2b. Really it is big enough not to make assumptions that Betancourt is still below average at 2b.

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      • Justin Bailey says:

        So what you’re saying is that Betancourt will be as bad as he’s always been, he just won’t LOOK as bad. Great.

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  5. chuckb says:

    If scouts are as down on his defense as you say, how much better will his defense get by spending a month or 2 at AAA? In other words, is it possible he’s as close to ready as he’s going to ever be and they’re just destined to have a Dan Uggla-type at 2B? If he’s not really going to get any better, why keep him down?

    Perhaps the marginal benefit of starting him at the big league level isn’t all that great either since the Royals probably won’t be all that good but if he’s not going to get any better defensively, at some point they’re going to have to call him up or move him to a different position.

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  6. Big Jgke says:

    Man, wouldn’t want a guy with even a scintilla of promise standing in the way of Chris Getz getting his AB’s.

    You just keep on truckin’ Royals, those banners will fly forever.

    You get banners for finishing last and being terrible, right?

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  7. bwh says:

    So which player would the Royals drop to keep Giavottela? Isn’t this Getz vs. Giavottella, with Betancourt as a crappy utility guy either way?

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  8. Timbo Collins says:

    Was at Royals camp once last week and at two games in Surpise and I didn’t think there was any doubt Johnny G would be the starter. Wasn’t sure why Getz was trying to steal a base every time he came in late the two games I saw….Service time must be the reason, Ned’s not that dumb.

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    • EspeciallyK says:

      Uhh…yes he is. Yost and DM most certainly are that dumb.

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      • KCExile says:

        Do you have incidents to cite on Yost? The trade of Chapman, and other head scratcher moves by Moore could be used, but of Yost?

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  9. SaberTJ says:

    What is the point of calling up Hosmer, Moose, and Duffy last year if your future starting 2nd baseman isn’t going to get playing time over Chris Getz and Betancourt? Service time can’t be an issue for Giav because Hosmer/Moose etc are the players whom will eat a lot of their salary during their arb years, not an average major league 2nd baseman.

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  10. jim fetterolf says:

    It might be worth mentioning that Giavotella had a hip injury late last season that was surgically corrected over the winter, so both injury and rehabilitation might be more a factor in his performance than just getting used to September or spring training pitching, the same pitching Sal Perez hit .331 against and Mike Moustakas added about sixty points against and that ‘Zo Cain has been abusing this spring.

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  11. vhailorx says:

    Agree with some of the earlier posters: Giavotella is only worth service-time tinkering if he turns out to be a martin prado type surprise/success. that’s a pretty low probability. It’s much more likely that he is a guy who doesn’t hurt a good team in his prime, but isn’t anything close to star. Additionally, if they were willing to push Hosmer inspite of service time implications, there is no reason not to do the same with Giavotella.

    It will be interesting to see what happens if Getz/Betancourt have good april stats that could obscure their true talent level from a casual observer.

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  12. Ed Nelson says:

    I’m not sure that Giavotella is necessarily their long term guy at second anyways and the management of his service time may have more to do with trading him. I know he looks like a lock now, but going into last year he wasn’t considered one of the Royals’ top 20 prospects much less top ten. Maybe the Royals simply realized that the best way to not remove the luster from a marginal prospect who pops big numbers in the PCL (Kila monster anyone?) is to leave him in AAA and trade him while everyone is still trying to figure out if he’s really any good. An .870 OPS in the PCL with no power and a .367 BABIP doesn’t always portend MLB success.

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  13. bjoseph316 says:

    I’m sure if this headline were actually accurate, it would have read “World Shocks Royals, Pays Attention.”

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  14. shthar says:

    That’s the most sarcastic headline I’ve ever seen.

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