Your opinions of Dayton Moore and Ned Yost aside, one of the biggest problems with the Kansas City Royals over the last few years has been that glaring hole at second base. While waiting for prospect Johnny Giavotella to develop, they’ve tried to plug the hole with names like Chris Getz and Yuniesky Betancourt and surprisingly (insert sarcastic eye roll here), it just hasn’t worked. Betancourt is usually capable of playing well for about a month, though the 30 days aren’t necessarily right in a row, Getz is incapable of staying healthy, and Johnny G just hasn’t developed past being a mediocre fielder and all-around lousy hitter at the major league level. When the prospect of making a run at the playoffs in 2013 became more than just a pipe dream, the team made a few minor deals to tweak the roster, one of which was bringing in an underachieving Emilio Bonifacio from Toronto to fill a super-utility role. There was nothing terribly exciting about the move at first and the Royals just seemed to be spinning their wheels, but once they finally handed the second base job over to the diminutive speedster full-time, Bonifacio took off and literally ran away with the job.
From his first days at the High-A level in the Diamondbacks organization to his injury-plagued 2012 season, Bonifacio had shown tremendous speed potential. He swiped 123 bases over three years and three minor league levels and then another 110 over what amounted to roughly four seasons at the major league level. He struggled with his plate discipline early on but made steady improvements, and while he never had a position to call his own, he offered fantasy owners the ability to move him all around the field, qualifying at third base, shortstop, as well as in the outfield. Drafting him was a bit of a risk as a utility guy always has the potential to see more time on the bench than you’d like in a player, but he seemed to be making it worthwhile with a combined 70 stolen bases between 2011 and 2012.
When he was traded to the Blue Jays in the Jose Reyes deal, there was hope that he would find a home at the keystone, but Toronto had also brought in Maicer Izturis and Bonifacio found himself in his usual utility role. The inconsistent playing time did nothing to help him and through 94 games and 275 plate appearances, Bonifacio posted a slash line of .218/.258/.321 and had just 12 stolen bases. With numbers like that, the Jays were happy to dish him off to the Royals just before the trade deadline.
Things clicked immediately for Bonifacio once he donned the Royals uniform and he while he wasn’t hitting for average initially, he stole nine bases in his first 17 games while playing nearly every day. When the calendar flipped to September, the Royals had Bonifacio playing every day, filling that chasm-like void at second base, and he stepped up his game even more. He hit .286 for the month, scored 15 runs, stole another seven bases and provided the Royals with a level of stability at second base they hadn’t seen in a ridiculously long time. It was a win-win-win situation as the team finally patched up its hole in the infield, Bonifacio finally found a home, and fantasy owners landed themselves a full-time middle infielder with speed.
Looking towards next season, it would seem like a no-brainer for the Royals to open the year with Bonifacio at the keystone. He is arbitration-eligible and while he was strong for them during the second half, his overall totals don’t exactly scream “show me the money.” The team will probably try to give Giavotella another crack at the second base job, but Bonifacio should be affordable enough that they retain his services, label him a utility player once again and just hand him back the job once Giavotella fails to deliver yet again. While the prospect of opening the year as a utility player doesn’t exactly leave fantasy owners with a strong desire to own him, it should help keep his price tag down, despite the 40-plus stolen base potential. Obviously he’ll need to maintain a certain level of plate discipline to keep his on-base numbers respectable and not just be a one-category contributor, but in looking at last year’s second half and his entire 2011 season (pre-thumb injury), there’s no reason to think that he can’t do just that.