Bianchi to miss 2010 season

On a day in which Royals fans were dealt a blow with news that third baseman Alex Gordon will miss several weeks with a broken thumb, the minor league system suffered perhaps an even bigger setback. The Royals on Sunday announced that shortstop Jeff Bianchi will miss the entire 2010 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow.

The news is particularly devastating for a system that is already short on middle infield prospects in the upper minors. Bianchi, 23, put together an outstanding 2009 campaign, hitting .308/.358/.435 with nine home runs between High-A Wilmington and Double-A NW Arkansas. After the season, he was assigned to the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .265 in 68 at bats. During the offseason, the Royals placed the infielder on the club's 40-man roster.

Through five minor league seasons, Bianchi is a career .288 hitter with 29 home runs in 1394 at bats. Originally selected in the second round of the 2005 draft, he missed significant time in his first two professional seasons with back and shoulder issues. He eventually recovered and managed to stay healthy for most of the last three seasons, and his offensive breakout last season prompted us to rank him as the top middle infield prospect in the Royals' minor league system (#11 overall on RC's 2010 Top 60).

Clearly, this is a significant blow to the system. Bianchi was likely headed back to Double-A this spring, but the shortstop picture in NW Arkansas is now unclear. The top candidates to replace Bianchi figure to be Chris McConnell and Anthony Seratelli. McConnell, 24, played sparingly last year for the Naturals, primarily in a backup role, and he finished the season with a line of .219/.280/.272 in 169 at bats. Seratelli, 27, spent the last two seasons in Wilmington, and he took over as the Blue Rocks' starting shortstop last year once Bianchi was promoted to NW Arkansas. He hit .268/.342/.353 in 2009.

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