Tag Archive | "Second Basemen"

Can Matt Carpenter Win the MVP This Year?

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It’s official, the Matt Carpenter experience has worked. And having his bat in the lineup every day has helped the Cardinals go into the All Star Break with the best record in baseball.

Carpenter has ascended in the consciousness of fans, from becoming a utility player, to one of the best second basemen in the NL, and eventually on the All Star team. There is another step he needs to be considered for, an MVP candidate.

If the season was over today, would Carpenter deserve the MVP award? Possibly. Is he in the conversation? Absolutely. Can he win it? Yes. And for these reasons.

Carpenter is a darling of the stats crowd.

Carpenter is an on-base machine. His on base pct. is currently .393. His slugging pct. is .499. He has the 6th highest WAR in the MLB, and the 3rd highest WAR in the NL at 4.4 (only David Wright and Carlos Gomez are ahead of him). He is 6th in the NL with wRC+ at 152.

Carpenter takes a slight hit on wOBA, where he ranks 8th in the NL, which may undermine the fact he is 6th in on base. Also Carpenter’s ISO is under .200.

Regardless, Carpenter has the numbers to garner support from those in the sabermetrics community.

Carpenter has excelled at lead-off.

Matheny has brilliantly ignored any prototype of what a lead-off hitter is supposed to be. He has hit Carpenter lead-off, and Carpenter has excelled in that role. Derrick Goold pointed this out in the Post-Dispatch that even though Carpenter has an impressive slash of .320/.393/.499 on the season, he has an even more impressive slash in the lead-off role of .326/.417/.437. I’m not going to give any narratives that he has a special ability to excel in that role, but the truth remains, when given the lead-off role, he has filled in beyond expectations.

Carpenter could have the best second half of the season.

His OPS has continued to grow each month. In May it was .914, in June .933 and in July .979. His obs has been good all year, but what’s really effecting his OPS is his rising slugging pct, which hit .532 in July.

Along with that, he is 5th in batting avg in the NL (behind other players including Yadi and Craig for the Cardinals), he has a lower BABIP than any of them besides Posey. This shows a less amount of luck going his way which supports the hypothesis that he can maintain what he’s doing in the second half over his competition.

Narratives are in his corner. Like The Cardinals are going to the post season.

Though Carpenter is only on pace to hit 18 homeruns this year, and MLB hasn’t elected an MVP with that few of homeruns since Barry Larkin in 1995, Carpenter has traditions behind him. For instance, if the season was to end today, The Cards would be a playoff team. The old (and silly) unofficial rule that you have to be on a playoff team to win the MVP would eliminate much of the competition including David Wright and Buster Posey.

Another narrative. Carpenter switched positions.

Hey it worked for Cabrera last year. The “moving to a new position to help his team” narrative can help him quite a bit. I’m in favor of eliminating that school of thought altogether, as you can either play a position well or not. And like Cabrera last year, if you don’t play the position well, you’re not exactly helping your team. But if any of these narratives can help cancel out other narratives, like homeruns mattering in spite of slugging, then I’m all for them crossing each other out.

Which brings us to Carpenter’s defense. He has been at the least serviceable at second base. He has a fielding runs above average of 2.1. He looks comfortable with his range and turning double plays.  He is an athlete, and a good one at that, and has taken very well to his new position.

So all of this hopefully shows Carpenter’s name should be in the hat. With a consistent or even superior second half, he can be the first second baseman to win the MVP since Jeff Kent in 2000. And the first Cardinals second baseman to win it since Frankie Frisch in 1931.

Not bad for someone who was without a position last year.

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Hispanic Heritage in KC: Rojas, Beltran and Not a Lot Else

If National Hispanic Heritage Month is recognized in Kauffman Stadium, it is a holiday without a lot of history.

In mid-July, the Royals hosted an event called “Viva Los Royals,” which as far as I can tell was not connected to any relevant date on the calendar.

But if the month (Sept 15 to Oct. 15) officially designated to recognize Americans of Hispanic heritage goes unrecognized by the Royals, that would only seem fitting considering their first 40 years or so.

The lack of Mexican- and Latin-born players in the history of the team is surprising. Given that history, the team’s recent emphasis on signing players from Latin America has added significance.

Throughout the team’s history, the number of Hispanic players at positions other than middle infield is amazingly small. But the lack of Hispanic pitchers to play a significant role on the team is downright shocking.

Nonetheless, in light of National Hispanic Heritage Month, and especially considering that Hispanics are starting to play greater roles for the Royals, the contributions of Mexican- and Latin-born players deserve to be heralded.

In the Beginning:

Interestingly, considering how few Hispanics have been stars in KC, the team’s first “star,” was Puerto Rican catcher Ellie Rodriguez. Rodriguez holds the honor of being the first Royal to play in an All Star Game, in 1969.

Rodriguez aside, the Royals first true star of Hispanic heritage was Cookie Rojas. Second only to Frank White in the history of Royals’ second basemen, the Cuban Rojas played eight years (1970-1977) in KC and earned four appearances in the All Star Game.

Rojas was so popular in KC, you would think there would have been other Hispanic stars to follow. But the Royals produced only one significant home-grown Hispanic player – Onix Concepcion – during the next decade and a half.

Concepcion, from Puerto Rico, was signed by KC in 1976 and developed in the farm system. He began sharing the shortstop role with UL Washington in 1980 and is one of a collection of players to play in both World Series for the Royals.

In the meantime, the Royals did play host to one of the greatest Latin-born players in history. In 1974, future Hall-of-Famer Orlando Cepeda tried to milk one more season out of his aging Puerto Rican body. But the experiment produced just a .215 average and one homer in 33 games from one of the best sluggers of his era.

A Hispanic player did contribute perhaps the most significant play in team history. Mexican Jorge Orta benefited from a dubious call of “safe” at first in the ninth inning of the sixth game of the 1985 World Series, a game KC eventually won en route to the championship. Orta played admirably, primarily as a DH, for the Royals from 1984-1987.

Hispanics man the middle:

Not surprisingly, the Royals have fielded a number of Hispanic second basemen and shortstops since Concepcion in 1985. Many of the names may induce nightmares for Royals fans:

Angel Salazar (Venezuela), Jose Lind (Puerto Rico), Felix Jose (Dominican Republic), Jose Offerman (Domincan Republic), Carlos Febles (Dominican Republic), Rey Sanchez (Puerto Rico), Neifi Perez (Dominican Republic), Angel Berroa (Dominican Republic), Tony Pena, Jr. (Dominican Republic) and Yuniesky Betancourt (Cuba).

Many were fine fielders, but none solidified the middle infield during the dark days in KC. Current Venezuelan shortstop Alcides Escobar looks to stop the madness.

Other than Concepcion, the Royals produced almost no Hispanic talent from their own system until Puerto Rican Carlos Beltran emerged from the minor leagues in 1998. He would become the greatest Hispanic player in team history, not to mention possibly the second greatest Royal of all time.

“Nosotros Creemos:”

One of the most significant moments in Royals history was when they hired Tony Pena, Sr. to manage the team in 2002. The rallying cry “Nosotros Creemos” (“We Believe”) unified the upstart Royals for a time, but ultimately the believers’ faith was misplaced. The Dominican Pena departed in 2005 without having attracted elite Latin talent to KC, and without having produced a consistent winner.

Where are the pitchers?:

Unbelievably, the team went 20 years before a Hispanic pitcher played a significant role. Finally from 1988 to 1992, Puerto Rican Luis Aquino cracked the staff, earning 55 starts and pitching in a total of 114 games. Aquino posted a 22-19 record as a Royal.

Next came Hipolito Pichardo, from the Domincan Republic, who pitched in 281 games from 1992 to 1998. He started 49 games in his first two seasons, then converted to the bullpen. He notched a 44-39 record, and also 19 saves.

Perhaps the greatest starting pitcher in team history of Hispanic descent was not actually born in Latin America. Jose Rosado was born in New Jersey, but joined the Royals by way of Puerto Rico. He went just 37-45 in 112 starts for KC from 1996 to 2000, but his solid role on the Royals’ staff earned him two invitations to the All Star Game. Sadly, injuries ended his career at age 25.

The first Hispanic closer in team history was Roberto Hernandez. The Puerto Rican came to KC in the much-maligned Johnny Damon trade. Hernandez did notch 54 saves, but was never able to earn much fan support.

During the 2000’s, guys like Jose Santiago, Runelvys Hernandez, Miguel Asencio combined for about 15 minutes of fame. Dominican Jose Lima’s self-proclaimed “Lima Time” had an even shorter duration.

Finally, in 2007, the greatest Hispanic pitcher to wear a Royals uniform arrived. Mexican Joakim Soria ranks as one of the greatest closers in the history of a team relatively rich in closers. Soria recorded 160 saves in just five seasons and hopes to add more if he can recover from arm surgery.

I-70 Celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month:

Considered the history of Hispanic heritage in Kansas City, it would be difficult to name an All-Time Team of Hispanic players. But it’s worth a try. That team will be forthcoming on I70baseball.com.

And as the Royals finish out the season with Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar providing some hope for the future, appreciate that the Royals are now a leader in Latin America when it comes to recruiting and developing young talent. Coming soon is a story celebrating Kansas City’s investment in Hispanic prospects.

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A powerful breakfast

As a guy who has lacked in home run power over the beginning of his career in Kansas City, Billy Butler, has taken the bull by the horns this season setting a new career high in home runs only 111 games into the 2012 season.  Butler is on pace to become the first Royal to hit 30 home runs in a season since Jermaine Dye did it in 2000. A 12 year drought could be broken by a player who for most of his young career has been criticized for not having enough power for not only his stature but also his position being designated hitter.

The power has changed from double to home runs this season mainly because instead of relying on his upper body to do all the work at the plate Butler has worked hard to get his legs stronger over the last 9 months and using them at the plate has equated into more lift on balls that are now carrying over the fence instead of bouncing off of the warning track.  One stat that has not been given enough credit was his ability to hit the double.  Trailing only New York Yankee second basemen in doubles since the beginning of the 2009 season, Butler has 158 two baggers, according to Baseball-Reference.  That is an astounding number that seems to have been pushed away because they are not turning into home runs. Everyone believes that if you have to power to hit that many doubles then you have the power to hit home runs. It does not work that way because it is not about the power or strength but the swing that the hitter has.  Over the first parts of his career Butler seemed to not lift the ball when it was needed and would use a more level swing that resulted in line drives in the gaps instead of towering fly balls into the stands.  But until the last two season Butler simply was not supposed to be the guy who hit the ball over the wall and gave the team the offensive lift they need. He has been asked to be a hitter and a hitter he has been.  But now he needs to continue to show the power he has shown so far in 2012.

On pace for 34 home runs this season two shy of the club record of 36 set in 1985 by the powerful Steve Balboni. The amount of home runs is not what stands out the most in the case of Butler.  The fact that he recognized that as the hitting leader of this team the best way to do that is lead by example.  In the off season he saw that he needed to work on his weakness of strength in his lower body which would help get more lift on the baseball and turn doubles in the gaps into home runs into the seats.

The philosophy that both Butler and hitting coach Kevin Seitzer have taken in the 2012 sea on seems to be working not only in the power department but a continued success to all fields for Butler. His doubles have gone down but that is what happens when the ball that were hitting the fence are now traveling over the fence.  To ask a guy to hit 30 home runs for the first time in his career and continue a pace of 47 doubles per year for the last three seasons would be outrageous.  The statistic that continues to slipped the minds of critics of Butler is the fact that the man is only 26 years old.  By comparison to other designated hitters of past that people would like to see Bulter become Edgar Martinez did not hit 30 home runs in a season until he was 37 years old.  he did flirt with 30 home runs in 1995 which still was when he was 33 years old.

Comparing the two a bit more in Martinez’s first 6 seasons in the major leagues he hit 91 home runs, 204 doubles, with 381 RBI while having a batting average of .290.  Now Butler in his first six seasons, which as of right now is 13 at bats less than Martinez had at this point in his career, has hit 97 home runs, 203 doubles, with 445 RBI and a batting average of .298, according to Baseball-Reference. If Butler continues to improve on an already good beginning to his career and progresses faster than Martinez did in Seattle than the Royals could have a once in a lifetime statistic wonder on their hands.

Everyone knew that Butler was going to be a hitter but hitters do not alway produce.  Having a guy that is going to consistently flirt with a three hundred average which never seems to dip under .290 nor exceed .315 is something that can be found anywhere but having that same guy perform with the production that Butler has shown in just six years is priceless.  He started out as two eggs over easy with a side of toast and now has turned into a full country breakfast.  But over the season to come all we can do is wait and see if Butler can become the Thanksgiving dinner to lead the Royals to success in September and beyond.

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St. Louis Cardinals need more Daniel Descalso

The St. Louis Cardinals have used a trio of second basemen this year as they’ve muddled to a 58-49 record heading into play Sunday that mirrors the mess the team has at the second-base position.

It’s time for the Cardinals to make a playoff push, but to do so they will also need a regular second baseman who plays fantastic defense and can get a key hit when necessary. That player is Daniel Descalso.

Descalso was a key part to the Cardinals 2011 run to the World Series championship, and he could play an even more important role this year if manager Mike Matheny gives him the chance.

Descalso has always played stellar defense, and he has flashed the leather lately. He filled in at shortstop for Rafeal Furcal for five games last week against the Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies. In those games he made two outstanding defensive plays. He also had six hits during the weekend agains the Milwaukee Brewers and made a couple more fabulous diving plays.

Part of the Cardinals troubles this year have stemmed from their inconsistency in the field. The Cardinals have committed 69 errors and their fielding percentage ranks 17th in Major League Baseball. Beyond the errors, there have been countless plays fielders simply haven’t made. They don’t count as an error, but the runner still gets on base or takes an extra base and quickly ends up in scoring position.

Sure, Descalso is hitting just .241 on the season, but he gets hits when they matter most. He is hitting .281 in the late innings of close games. Of regular starters, only Furcal and Yadier Molina have a higher batting average in those situations.

The other option for the Cardinals at second base is Skip Schumaker. He is hitting .319 on the season and plays solid defense. Unfortunately, both Descalso and Schumaker bat left-handed. That means Tyler Greene continues to get at-bats when the Cardinals face a left-handed pitcher even though he is hitting .222.

Greene has long been an enigma for the Cardinals and their fans. The Cardinals drafted Greene in the first round back in 2005, but he has failed to hit above his current .222 batting average in any of his four seasons with the club.

Yes, Greene has speed. He has stolen nine bases and been caught just twice, but he doesn’t get on base enough to utilize that speed. Also, when he gets on base he sometimes tries to do too much. He has twice been thrown out at the plate to end a game this season.

So, while Schumaker has the better offensive numbers, Descalso has the intangibles that help a team win ballgames.

Descalso doesn’t have to be the starting second baseman for the entire final two months of the season, but he does need to be on the field more often than not if the Cardinals are going to make a run at either the NL Central title or a wild-card berth.

If not, the frustrating inconsistent play that has plagued the first four months of the Cardinals 2012 season will prevent the team from making a run at the playoffs in the final two months.

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The offense strikes back

After just a horrendous month of July, the Kansas City Royals start off the month of August on a good note.  A sweep, after a bad road trip and an even worse 30 days, is exactly what the Royals needed to get them back on the winning side of the game of baseball.  With timely hitting and some pretty good pitching the Royals started the month of August with two momentum shifting wins.

The month of July ended with the Royals trading their closer Jonathan Broxton to the Cincinnati Reds for two pitching prospects. The prospects look to be a good return for a guy that would, it seems, only be a Royal for two months.  Turning a two month closer into two guys who may or may not make it to the majors seems to be very welcoming by fans in Kansas City.  In the trade the Royals received Class AA right-handed starter J.C. Sulbaran and Class AAA lefty reliever Donnie Joseph. Joseph seemed to be the straw that broke to camels back in the trade.  A guy who by all accounts is a strike out king who may pair well with fellow lefty Tim Collins in the bullpen of the future.  Sulbaran projects to be a back of the rotation guy who won a state championship with first basemen Eric Hosmer in 2008 at American Heritage High School in Florida. So the Royals continue to put guys on a team that have won together before and could win together in years to come.

With Broxton gone and Joakim Soria recovering from season ending Tommy John surgery, right handed reliever Greg Holland assumes the role of closer which he stepped into Wednesday night as he got his first save of the season against the Cleveland Indians in a 5-2 Royals victory.

The stand out development of the Royals beginning to the month of August is the benching of both second basemen Yunieksy Betancourt and right fielder Jeff Franceour.  The problem with them being on the bench is that they may not see much more playing time since both Chris Getz, who took Betancourt’s spot in the order, and Jarrod Dyson, Franceour’s spot, have taken their opportunity by the reigns and excelled with it.  Getz went 3-9 with 4 runs scored and 3 RBI in the three game sweep of the Indians while Dyson went 7-12 with 2 runs scored and two RBI both contributing to run production with stolen bases in the series as well.  So the spots that seem to have been lost by the lack of productivity by Betancourt and Franceour have been given away and so far earned with Getz and Dyson.

After a road trip that saw barely any offense outside of designated hitter Billy Butler, the start of the home stand saw a resurgence in the Royal’s offense, scoring 20 runs in the last three games, with the absence of Billy Butler’s bat.  Butler having only two hits in the series and only driving in one run. The brightest spot, outside of the fact that the Royals came back from the dumps and have now won three games in a row, of the sweep of the Indians has to be the walk off win the Royals secured on Thursday.  After jumping out of the gates with 6 runs in the first, highlighted by a lead off home run by Alex Gordon and a three run shot off of the bat of Eric Hosmer, the Royals and struggling starter Bruce Chen let the Indians all the way back and it took extra innings to seal the win.  But it is how they won it in the 11th inning that stands out the most.

After late game at bats in crucial situations that did not see any success, manager Ned Yost had to keep reiterating that the need for shortstop Alcides Escobar to get the experience of late game at bats that could win or lose a ballgame for the Royals club.  Well that all came to fruition on Thursday.  Escobar has come up with clutch hits late in games all season long but none bigger than his walk off single in the 11th inning. It has been a season of firsts for Escobar after his first multi-homerun game of his life, as he stated, and now his first walk off win in the major leagues. To top all of that off he is having a season at the plate that no one saw coming but it needs to continue.

The Royals have done it once again.  They have hooked everyone right back on to what they are doing.  Now that does no mean that they have a chance at the division, which would take a Herculean effort from all 25 men on the roster, but they can give us that little tease that gets us all hyped and ready for the 2013 season.  Maybe then it will be “Our Time.”

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A Historic Day

You may have seen Sunday’s St Louis Cardinals victory over the Houston Astros, and Tyler Greene’s 2-HR day.  Was it historic?  You betcha.

Greene became the first Cardinal second baseman since 1918* to start a game and hit 2 home runs, drive in 4, score 3 times, and steal a base.  Considering the great players who have manned second base throughout the years – Rogers Hornsby, Red Schoendienst, Ted Sizemore – that is amazing.

It gets better.  Only three other Cardinals have ever had a final box score line like that.

  1. Jim Edmonds pulled it off during a Fourth of July destruction of the Cincinnati Reds.  Fireworks during and after the game that day.  I think the fans went home happy.
  2. Stan Musial watched Wally Moon turn the trick in a June 1956 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Moon’s line that day was virtually identical to Greene’s, except Moon had one more PA (he walked).  Musial also homered.  Personally I like it when I can connect Musial to anything going on with the team today.
  3. Twenty years before that, Don Gutteridge was the first Cardinal with the line.  Gutteridge actually scored 4 runs and knocked in 5 during the first game of a double header that day.  For what it’s worth, he doubled and struck out 3 times in the nightcap.

I half expected all three men would hit high in the order, and indeed Edmonds hit third and Moon fifth.  But Gutteridge hit seventh during his game, and Greene eighth Sunday; more proof that on any given day you can see anything at a baseball game from any given spot in the order.

One more factoid of interest.  There have only been four other second baseman with a day like Tyler Greene’s:  Joe Morgan, Ryne Sandberg, Juan Samuel, and Orlando Hudson.  That’s not bad company, is it?

*Baseball Reference’s play index only goes back to 1918, so although we could argue ‘first ever’ it is prudent to put the date, just in case. Search was done for games where the starting second basemen had two or more HR, 4 or more RBI, scored 3 or more runs, and stole 1 or more bases.

Mike Metzger is a freelance writer based in San Diego.  He blogs about the Padres.  You can follow him on Twitter @metzgermg.

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Royals bullpen: who’s in, who’s out

We keep hearing that there’s very little competition at the day-to-day positions in Royals camp. Other than the mess that Yuniesky Betancourt and the other second basemen are in, the roster could have been filled out prior to spring training.

Having Salvador Perez go down created intrigue that wasn’t expected at catcher. That problem was resolved for the time being with the acquisition of Humberto Quintero.

But the bullpen situation is another matter entirely. When Joakim Soria was sidelined with a serious elbow injury, it only further muddied the waters. The Royals have so many questions to be answered it’s hard to know where to begin.

In the words of Inigo Montoya, “Let me explain… No there is too much. Let me sum up.”

First, Soria’s injury ended, for the time being, the conversion of Aaron Crow to the starting rotation. He’s now fully entrenched in the bullpen and will probably end up closing some games.

Manager Ned Yost most likely will try a closer-by-committee approach, using Crow, Jonathan Broxton and Greg Holland in that role.

So if the Royals starters include Jonathan Sanchez, Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen, then a couple of rotation spots will affect the pen.

Felipe Paulino and Luis Mendoza are out of options, so they are going to be given every opportunity to stick. Paulino showed potential last year, but has been rough so far this spring. Mendoza was great at Omaha last year, and has had a good spring.

But Danny Duffy has been solid thus far and has the most potential. It’s hard to envision him not coming to KC. The numbers don’t add up.

The Royals have room for eight relievers. Crow, Broxton and Holland are locks. That leaves five spots.

Guys who had bullpen roles last year are right-handers Louis Coleman, Blake Wood and Nathan Adcock, and left-handers Tim Collins and Everett Teaford.

Add to the mix righty Kelvin Herrera and lefty Jose Mijares. Both have been very good so far this spring, but there isn’t room for both.

Wood is temporarily out of commission, so we’ll count him out for now.

Adcock has already been sent to minor league camp.

Injuries to Wood and Soria probably take most of the decision making out of Yost’s hands.

Best case seems to me to have potential starters Mendoza and Everett Teaford join the bullpen mix for now. That gives another righty (Mendoza) to work with, and two guys who can go long innings or make necessary starts.

Herrera would probably benefit from some time in Omaha, so he’s a logical cut. If the Royals don’t keep Mendoza in the pen, however, then Herrera becomes a more important right-handed option to keep in KC.

Seems like what was a mess a few days ago now lines up pretty clearly like this:

Starters (5): Sanchez, Hochevar, Chen, Duffy, Paulino.

Middle Relievers (5): Righties Coleman, Mendoza; Lefties Collins, Teaford, Mijares.

Closers (3): Righties Crow, Broxton, Holland

If the Royals are willing to go with Mendoza in the bullpen, this would look on paper like a balanced, experienced group holding down the fort until Soria returns.

Some wonder if Soria will ever return. Either way, the confusion of the Royals bullpen seems to be resolving itself.

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Yuni being Yuni

When the Kansas City Royals announced that they had signed shortstop and now utility infielder Yuniesky Betancourt fans were shellshocked to say the least.  But what was the base of their discomfort with having Yuni back on the Royals roster? In 222 games over the span of two seasons with the Royals, Betancourt batted .253 with 20 home runs, 39 doubles and 105 runs batted in.  A good show of power from the shortstop position in a ballpark that does not help batters with power.  Last season with the Milwaukee Brewers, he batted .252, with 13 home runs, 27 doubles and 68 runs batted in.  So over the last three season he has show consistent power and been a good run producer from a position that does not always require these kinds of statistics, for example Alcides Escobar. Yet fans are still skeptical of Yuni’s defense which has been spotty throughout his career but not having to play as the everyday shortstop could help him be a more popular player with fans while he is in the field. But the big question is where and when will Yuni play for this Royals team?

Undoubtably he will be able to step into the utility role to give shortstop Alcides Escobar and third basemen Mike Moustakas their time off but that is not where Yuni will get the most of his playing time. Second base is where Yuni will make his mark in 2012 since the Royals are so thin at that position and truly do not have someone to play everyday. Royals young second basemen, Johnny Giavotella, has not yet shown in either his time at Kauffman in 2011 or in the early stages of Spring Training this year that he is ready to be a full time Major League ballplayer.  Chris Getz has also shown that over long periods of time that he is both lacking in the field and also not consistent with the bat, though he does have the speed that the Royals like on the base paths. But to be a good base-runner you have to get on base which Getz has not shown he has been able to do on a consistent bases. Shortstop, Alcides Escobar, is still developing as a hitter and will definitely, over the course of his career, show that he is a defensive first player. This being said, the Royals cannot afford to have both of their middle infielders struggle with the bat. Being such a young team at the plate, the Royals line-up will not be able to give outs away and with Getz/Giavotella that may be what they are doing. But now they have Yuni.

The fact that we know what he is and know what he can do is a big advantage for Betancourt.  We know that he will be consistent with the bat and showcase himself with a little bit of power. The one knock that people have given Yuni over the course of his career is his lack of range at the shortstop position.  If he is given the nod at second base then he will in turn be a better defensive player because the range will not be suspect and therefore able to be exploited like it was when he was an everyday shortstop.  The chemistry that both he and Escobar can develop over the course of the season up the middle could be a big plus for a team that will already be great defensivley.

So with all this said, Giavotella will have to improve his Spring Training stats and show the Royals that he is ready for the big league role or he will find himself back down in Omaha to develop his game more.  Chris Getz will probably make this team as a back up because he can be a filler and also has speed that he can showcase will on base.  But Yuniesky Betancourt came into the season as the utility player and has both earned and fallen into the de facto starting second basemen.

So Giavotella to AAA Omaha, Betancourt would be my starting shortstop while being able to play third base and shortstop to allow Moustakas and Escobar days off and Getz will fill his spot on those days. That is what I would do but what the Royals will do to fill their only hole in the field is still in question and only time will tell.

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Backup plan?

If the Royals were a football team, they would be in a pretty good spot right now. They have a solid “two-deep” that features depth and competition at nearly every position.

Photo Courtesy of Minda Haas

Too bad the Royals don’t play football.

Considering they are gearing up for baseball season, the Royals have a mess on their hands when it comes to infield depth.

They made the inexplicable decision to bring back Yuniesky Betancourt as their “utility infielder” completing a spiral of confusing moves in which they discarded first Mike Aviles, then Yamaico Navarro         .

Much as everyone seems to hate Betancourt, you could make an argument that he’s not a terrible shortstop. But the Royals tried to convince us that he could play second and third too.

If that’s so, then the Royals should be planning to send either Johnny Giavotella or Chris Getz back to the minors, right? But you certainly don’t hear that about the position battle at second. At least to this point, it looks like the Royals plan to carry both second basemen.

If that happens, it eats a roster spot. And that shifts the spotlight to third base, where one would assume the Royals would like a safety valve for Mike Moustakas. Will that be Betancourt, who’s never played a game at third in the big leagues? Or will the Royals try to figure out a way to keep Kevin Kouzmanoff, a veteran third baseman who was once highly thought of.

Keeping a second-stringer at either second or third will most likely deny the Royals a fifth outfielder. They will have to break camp with Mitch Maier because of his versatility, instead of Jarrod Dyson. Dyson was a silver bullet in manager Ned Yost’s holster early last season, and certainly Yost would like the luxury of having a run-scoring machine on the bench.

The Royals’ two-deep quandary seems to lack any effective solution. If one of the participants in the mix should falter during the spring, or if one should get injured, then the Royals will look smart for having given themselves options. But if the problem doesn’t solve itself, then they will be stuck making a decision that didn’t need to be made.

A legitimate option at the utility player position would have made the mess avoidable.

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The Revolving Door At Second

No aspect of the 2012 Cardinals comes with more questions than the middle infield, where one position has no clear starter and one has a veteran with something to prove. Rafael Furcal returns on a two-year contract with the Redbirds, hoping to show he can still play at the high level he displayed as recently as 2009, while the team goes into Spring Training with an open competition for the starting second-base job.

If Furcal’s performance is an unknown, at least his role is not. On the other side of the keystone, there’s a different kind of uncertainty. Three players go into camp with a shot at winning time at second base: Tyler Greene, Daniel Descalso and Skip Schumaker. Any of the three could win the lion’s share of the job, or manager Mike Matheny could fashion a job-sharing arrangement among two or three of the contenders.

This is one spot where the Cardinals find themselves far from the top of the division, both offensively and defensively as it stands today.

Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney hit .276 in 2011, with a pair of homers, nine steals, 43 RBIs and 66 runs scored.  Barney secured the starting second base job in Spring Training and never looked back. A .238 batting average in the second half dampens any enthusiasm for this youngster, who hasn’t shown much power or speed.

The Reds exercised Phillips’ $12 million option on Oct. 31, but the three-time National League Gold Glove winner has long trumpeted his desire to re-sign with Cincinnati for many years.  Phillips, 30, has also been firm about his lack of willingness to accept a hometown discount to remain with the Reds.  Phillips recorded his first .300 season but the numbers weren’t all as rosy. His home run total was the lowest since 2006 and his 14 steals were the lowest since 2005. Phillips remains a quality second baseman but at age 30, it remains to be seen if he can climb back to the 20-20 level.

Astros rookie second baseman Jose Altuve hit .276 with a pair of homers, seven steals, 12 RBIs and 26 runs scored in 221 at-bats during his inaugural season.  Altuve was hitting .389 in the Minors when the Astros gave him the call to the show. The 21-year-old showed some speed and the ability to collect hits against Major League pitchers but his lack of power and elite speed will limit Altuve’s potential in the short term.

Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks finished up an injury-plagued 2011 season with 20 homers, nine steals, 49 RBIs, 77 runs scored and a .269 batting average in 453 at-bats.  Weeks launched 17 homers in the first half of the season but suffered a serious ankle injury near the end of July and registered only 83 at-bats in the second half. The 29-year-old is an attractive asset heading into 2012 because of his ability to hit for power as a second baseman.

Without a lot of fanfare, this second-year player  produced a solid 2011 with .273 with 12 homers, nine steals, 83 RBIs and 76 runs scored.  Walker has settled in as a solid, but not spectacular second base option. Don’t look for major improvements in 2012 but at age 26 he could still make small gains. A  reasonable expectation for him and a solid season cound make him one of the few second baseman to collect 90 RBIs.

Schumaker, 31, hit .283 in 117 games last season, including a .299 mark after the All-Star break. He batted .381 in the playoffs and had the game-winning RBI in the decisive fifth game of the National League Division Series against the Phillies.

By the time 2012 is said and done here is how I see things shaking out amongst the NL Central second basemen

  1. Brandon Phillips
  2. Rickie Weeks
  3. Neil Walker
  4. Darwin Barney
  5. Skip Schumaker
  6. Jose Altuve

Looking ahead:

Descalso and Greene are likely slicker fielders, but Schumaker has established himself as a solid hitter for a middle infielder. Whereas at the start of the winter it sounded as though he was being removed from the second-base picture, later indications have made it clear that Schumaker can compete for the job.

Greene and Descalso both come from other positions. Descalso has played plenty of second, but in the Major Leagues, he’s spent more time at third. Offensively, he’s a bit similar to Schumaker, a line-drive hitter with some on-base ability but not much power. Defensively, he is probably a superior second baseman. But his versatility is also an asset that Matheny may covet.

Then there’s Greene, who sometimes sounds like the favorite coming into the spring. A former first-round Draft pick and a shortstop by trade, he has tremendous tools but has yet to turn them into dependable production at the big league level. Greene’s upside is the highest of the contenders, but of the three, he has proved the least in the Majors.

One advantage for Greene is that he is a shortstop, and there’s no clear backup to Furcal. If Greene doesn’t win the starting job, he could well stick as a utility player. Descalso is also almost certain to be on the roster for his positional flexibility, defense and pinch-hitting savvy, while Schumaker will be on as a utility man if not the starter.

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