KANSAS CITY, Mo. – All over their lineup, the Royals have impact players and difference-makers.
Alex Gordon is a Gold Glove outfielder. Billy Butler is an All-Star designated hitter. Catcher Salvador Perez and shortstop Alcides Escobar are rising stars defensively and offensively.
Talented center fielder Lorenzo Cain is poised to have a breakout year. Third baseman Mike Moustakas and first baseman Eric Hosmer can deliver pop from the infielder corners. Even right fielder Jeff Francoeur, coming off a dreadful offensive season, has a big arm and is capable of a 20-homer season.
But the soft spot in the lineup is easy to detect – second base.
And it may be awhile before that changes.
As of now, the weak-hitting Chris Getz holds the position. But he is a bizarre offensive fit in a bomber’s league — he hasn’t homered in 918 major-league at-bats, the longest active homerless streak in the major leagues.
Royals fans have been hoping for two years that prospect Johnny Giavotella could win the position. Giavotella has shown he can hit for average and with some power in the minor leagues.
But Giavotella has not shown that offensive ability in the major leagues, hitting just .242 in 99 games. And with a chance to win the job in spring training the last two seasons, Giavotella has been less than impressive.
So, Giavotella returns to Triple-A Omaha, where he will divide time with two other middle infielders – Irving Falu and Christian Colon, the Royals’ top pick in 2010.
“CC (Colon) will play mostly shortstop at Omaha,” Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo told FOXSportsKansasCity.com. “Johnny will get a lot of time at second, maybe some time at third, maybe a little infield. Irving will move around quite a bit in the infield and outfield.
“It will be a rotation to some degree. It will sort itself out.”
The problem is, there may not be a difference-maker in the group. Falu is a career minor leaguer who will be 30 in June, and Colon has not wowed anyone going into his third full season.
“We’re not the least bit disappointed with Christian Colon,” Picollo said. “I would say of those three guys at Omaha, he probably has the best balance in terms of offense and defense. Johnny has improved defensively, but Christian is an excellent defender.”
But any Royals fan dreaming of Colon becoming the long-term answer at second base should have some reservations. Colon doesn’t project to be an offensive weapon at the next level.
“I think there are things he can do with the bat,” Picollo said. “I wouldn’t project him to be a No. 3 hitter down the road or anything like that. But he could be a valuable No. 2 hitter. He has made strides offensively.
“What I like about him is that he sees the game real well. He’s very mature, and we knew that when we drafted him.”
Still, the Royals may be looking for the difference-maker at second base in the lower minors.
“The nice thing about having so many shortstops in the lower system right now is that they’re all very athletic and they can all play second base,” Picollo said. “You never know who might emerge out of that group who could take charge at second base.”
Shortstop prospects such as Adalberto Mondesi, Orlando Calixte, Humberto Arteaga and Jack Lopez all have a chance to emerge at second base.
“As we all know, Alcides Escobar is our shortstop and he will be our shortstop for quite some time,” Picollo said. “So we also know there’s going to be some overlap between Escobar’s time with us and when these prospects are ready. So when you think about it, some of them are going to have to emerge at another position like second base.
In terms of high offensive ceilings, Picollo points to Mondesi (son of former big-leaguer Raul Mondesi) and Lopez.
“Mondesi is so young, you never know,” Picollo said. “He’s only 17 and he’s playing against pitchers who are 22 or 23. But he doesn’t back down. He meets the challenge. And we can see that he could be pretty good with the bat. We know he can play defense.”
Lopez just turned 20 and could be another prospect who improves significantly at the plate.
“He played at Kane County last season and his numbers weren’t great but we look for him to make a significant jump offensively,” Picollo said. “And I don’t want to rule out any of those guys, like Calixte or Arteaga, either. Someone will emerge.”
And that someone could be the difference-maker at second base some day for the Royals.