The Kansas City Royals are in a pickle. With 5 viable candidates, there's no question that the Royals have a logjam at second base. As the 2012 season ended, the likely candidates were limited to three: Chris Getz, Johnny Giavotella, and Irving Falu. Unsatisfied with those candidates, the Royals front office signed veteran Miguel Tejada to a minor-league contract and acquired Elliot Johnson from the Tampa Bay Rays as part of the James Shields trade. Each candidate has their own strengths and limitations.
A look back to 2012
The Royals were in a similar place in 2012. They entered the season with three candidates to fill the second base position: Chris Getz, Johnny Giavotella, and Yuniesky Betancourt. Those three started 141 of the 162 games and hit a combined .246(BA)/.281(OBP)/.357(SLG)/.638(OPS). Defensively, Getz was the only one that approached average. Betancourt and Giavotella were abysmal. On top of the bad numbers; Betancourt turned out to be a malcontent, Getz turned out to be injury-prone, and Giavotella's offense was so bad, it made his bad defense look... well, still bad.
Later in the season, utility men Irving Falu and Tony Abreu came out of Omaha and performed decent. Falu, surprisingly, put up solid offensive numbers, but provided suspect defense at second base - a position in which he does not have a great deal of experience. Abreu, performed well defensively, but his offense was similar to that of the people he was replacing.
Betancourt was sent packing in August last year for thinking he deserved more playing time. Abreu, despite showing that he could be a solid utility man, was released.
What's on tap?
By all accounts, the battle for the starting second base job is going to come down to the wire. Chris Getz, Johnny Giavotella, and Miguel Tejada seem to be the frontrunners for the position. Irving Falu and Elliot Johnson are darkhorse candidates to be the starting second base job, but their versatility make them good candidates to nab one of the utility man positions. Let's take a closer look at each one of the candidates.
• Chris Getz
o Strengths: average defense, veteran presence
o Weaknesses: weak bat, has had three years to prove it's his job and he hasn't done it
When he was acquired from the White Sox following the 2009 season, the Royals saw a 25-year-old second baseman with solid defense and a promising bat. They saw him as their second baseman for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, Getz has failed to live up to the potential they acquired three years ago. He still has the same solid defense. but his bat has failed to improve on "promising". He's a good baserunner, but he has very little power. The other concern with Getz is that he has very little positional flexibility. He plays second base, and that is it. If he doesn't win the starting second base job, he's likely ticketed for Omaha or the waiver wire. He could also be a trade candidate for a team desperate for help at second base.
• Johnny Giavotella
o Strengths: excellent offensive numbers in the minor leagues, young
o Weaknesses: bad offensive numbers in the major leagues, bad defense
Johnny Giavotella was supposed to be the answer at second base in 2012. Last year can only go down as a major disappointment for Giavotella and the Royals. Hoping to build upon an "ok" rookie campaign, his offensive numbers slipped quite a bit, and his defensive numbers went down, as well. The hope is that Giavotella finally "gets it". The Royals want him to win the second base job, but without serious improvement, the Royals can't afford to keep putting him out there in the hopes that the light finally turns on. Because of his lack of positional flexibility,If he doesn't win the job, he's likely headed to Omaha.
• Miguel Tejada
o Strengths: veteran presence, wants to be a teacher to the younger players
o Weaknesses: he hasn't been a good offensive player since 2009, hasn't played second base
What can we expect from Miguel Tejada? Well, there's a reason they were able to get him on a minor-league deal. His age and obvious decline in skills are signs that Tejada is another washed up veteran trying to extend his career when he should have already hung up his spikes. Then he went to the Dominican Winter Leagues and hit the ball. Now, he didn't set the world on fire, but he did show evidence that his stroke might have returned. The Royals hope they can catch lightning in a bottle. If the Royals feel his clubhouse presence is enough to overcome his shortcomings on the field, at least he can play shortstop or third base.
• Irving Falu
o Strengths: positional flexibility, good offensive numbers last year, career Royal
o Weaknesses: limited potential to provide good numbers, career minor-leaguer
Irving Falu is one of my favorites. He's been in the Royals organization since he was drafted in the 21st round of the 2003 draft. He's moved as expected through the organization until he got to AAA, but he has never been seen as a potential starter. He's been a AAA player for 4 years, and he finally got his chance to prove himself last year. In his short major-league stint, he hit well. He has experience at second base, shortstop, third base, and has even spent a little bit of time in the outfield. Because he has experience at multiple positions, he has the potential to make the team as a utility player. Chances are, he won't get a chance to be the starter unless other players get injured or don't perform.
• Elliot Johnson
o Strengths: positional flexibility, athleticism, "the new guy"
o Weaknesses: inconsistent with the bat
Elliot Johnson was signed as a non-drafted free agent as an 18-year-old in 2002. Except for a standout season in 2010, he's been an average hitter for a middle-infielder. Though he's played the majority of his minor league games at second base, he has experience playing all over the field. If Miguel Tejada doesn't make the team, Johnson would likely be the backup shortstop. Johnson isn't likely to set the world on fire with his offense, but his defense grades out as well as any of the other options. His experience of playing most positions may win him the utility job.
I expect that the Royals will break camp with either Chris Getz or Johnny Giavotella as the starting second baseman. The loser of that battle is likely to end up in AAA - a place where neither of them need any more experience. The possibility remains that the Royals may try to trade one of them to a team desperate for help at second base.
That leaves Tejada, Falu, and Johnson to battle it out for one or two utility jobs. If Tejada makes the team, I expect the Royals to also bring along Falu or Johnson. If Tejada doesn't make the team, it still may be a battle between Falu or Johnson. The Royals have shown in the past that they have a soft spot for veterans with good clubhouse presence, so if Tejada can show that he has much of anything left in the tank, I expect that he'll make the club.
The battle is now between Falu and Johnson. Essentially, they are very similar players. They are both switch hitters, and they are both right-handed throwers. Falu hits better as a right-handed batter. Johnson hits better as a left-handed batter. Whereas, Johnson has spent the majority of his minor-league career playing second base (but still logged time at shortstop, third base, and outfield), Falu has split his time between second base and shortstop. They can both steal a base, and they both walk at a reasonable rate. Johnson has shown to have a little bit more power, however. The key factor is that Falu has options remaining and Johnson does not. So, if the decision comes down to Falu or Johnson, I expect Elliot Johnson will be on the opening day 25-man roster.