Coming into spring training, most of the Royals infield spots were set. Manager Ned Yost announced early in camp that the Royals would carry six infielders (some teams carry seven). Billy Butler, Kila Ka’aihue and Alcides Escobar were locks and Mike Aviles was going to make the club as long as he didn’t have an awful spring (he hasn’t).
That left two infield spots up for grabs. Chris Getz came into camp with a pretty good shot of winning one of those spots even after a disappointing 2010. At the beginning of the spring, I thought Aviles had a chance to take the everyday second base job from Getz, who still has an option remaining. However, the more I watch spring training, the more I realize it’s going to be difficult for Getz to lose his starting spot. Getz is better than Aviles defensively; not necessarily in terms of range but in terms of footwork, especially when it comes to turning the double play, and instincts around the bag. You could argue that whatever upgrade Getz gives you defensively is bettered by what Aviles gives you offensively (and, in turn, what Wilson Betemit would provide as the starter at third), but I can’t fault the Royals for thinking defense first. Especially since Aviles is going to be in the lineup no matter what, whether it be at second or third.
The final infield spot seems to be Betemit’s to lose. Betemit hasn’t helped his chances this spring, struggling to swing the bat for much of camp after being slowed early by an elbow injury he suffered in winter ball. Not to mention, Lance Zawadzki has had a very strong spring, showing some pop and solid defense at second base and shortstop. Going on sheer numbers, the final spot should go to Zawadzki, but there are a few things working against him. For one, Betemit is on the 40-man roster and out of options, and Zawadzki is a non-roster invitee (the Royals originally got Zawadzki on a waiver claim from the Padres, but dropped him from the 40-man in December to make room for Melky Cabrera). Also, most of Zawadzki’s professional games have been at either second base or shortstop and he hasn’t played much third base. If the Royals take Zawadzki, they don’t have anyone to back up third base who has much experience there (and, if you’re thinking the Royals would consider Alex Gordon as a backup third base option, think again. Royals have been steadfast in their stance that Gordon’s an outfielder only and will not play third for them again). Taking Betemit gives the Royals someone who can back up third and first and can provide some pop off the bench.
Technically, Irving Falu and Pedro Feliz are also in the mix for an infield spot. However, Falu hasn’t been very impressive either defensively or offensively (7 hits – all singles – and 2 walks this spring) and I’m a little surprised he’s still in Major League camp. Feliz has struggled to swing the bat and has an out in his contract that gives him the option of becoming a free agent if he isn’t on the Major League roster by the end of camp; I think Feliz will wind up exercising his out.
Looking ahead at the infield picture, I’m curious to see when Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer make their Royals debuts this season. Entering the spring, Moustakas was seen as being ahead of Hosmer but, now, there’s a good chance Hosmer arrives first, especially if Ka’aihue struggles. Moustakas’ arrival as the everyday third baseman could push either Aviles or Getz to the bench, which Aviles moving to second in the latter scenario. Both lefthanded-hitting, corner-infield prospects will start the year at AAA Omaha. You want to see them put up good numbers there first, but keep a close eye on how they hit lefties, especially Moustakas. It’s unlikely either will be up before June, but how they hit lefties will be a big factor in determining when they arrive in Kansas City.
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