(Eds: Adds details. With AP Photos.)By DAVE SKRETTAAP Sports Writer
The names Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella appear right next to each other on an alphabetical listing of the Kansas City Royals who are still in spring training camp.
Call it fitting.
Article continues below ...
The race between them for the second baseman’s job is just that close.
The Royals have perhaps the fewest job competitions of any team in the major leagues this spring, mostly because they have one of the youngest, most promising groups of position players in the game. Along with second base, the backup catcher and utility infielder jobs, and the fifth spot in the starting rotation, are just about all that’s up for grabs.
The competition between Getz and Giavotella may be the most interesting, though, and most difficult to get a read on, because the playing styles of the principals are polar opposite.
Getz is the steady defensive stalwart who hits for average and not much else. He’s held down the job most of the past two years, and was having a breakout 2012 season – Getz wound up hitting .275 – before injuries set in: bruised ribs, strained leg and a broken left thumb.
The injuries provided another chance for Giavotella, whom the Royals view as their second baseman of the future. He has more upside at the plate, even though two big league stints haven’t been all that productive, but his balky defense has given the team reason for pause.
”I don’t think about the competition that much,” said Giavotella, a career .308 hitter in the minor leagues. ”I look at it more as an opportunity for me to get better as a player, and work on the things I need to work on. And if I work on the things I’m weak at, I’ll be an all-around good player, and that’s what I’m striving for.”
When asked about the perception that he’s a poor defensive second baseman, Giavotella seems to bristle. It’s the kind of reputation that is hard to overcome, mostly because improvement isn’t as easy to quantify as hitting, where average, homers and RBIs can prove progress.
Giavotella said he’s been working diligently on his fielding, improving everything from his lateral movement to his ability to snag groundballs and deliver accurate throws.
”It definitely kind of irks me a little bit, but it motivates me to go out there and prove everyone wrong,” he said. ”Defense is all just repetitions, and it’s all about listening to people who are better than you and more knowledgeable, and taking it and applying it to your game.”
What if one of those people is your competition?
Yes, Giavotella even has sought defensive help from Getz, who is trying his best to win the job and make sure ”Gio” flashes that vastly improved glove back at Triple-A Omaha.
Awkward? Maybe just a little.
”I’m definitely rooting for Getzy, every time he’s playing,” Giavotella insisted. ”I’m hoping he does well, and it’s good to be encouraging and learning from one another.”
Getz has been keeping a keen eye on Giavotella, of course.
It’s hard not to notice him.
”I’m literally at the games, so I’m watching,” he said, ”but I don’t think it’s going to be anything like that. I can’t worry about what he’s doing, getting a hit or not, and not wanting him to do well. That’s just not how it’s going to go. I need to take care of what I can do.”
Both of them are off to good starts in spring.
Giavotella is 7 for 23, while Getz is now 8 for 26 after going 3 for 4 in a 17-11 win over the Angels on Sunday, one that improved the Royals to a 13-1-1 entering Monday’s day off.
Getz has even homered, something he’s done twice in 1,309 career plate appearances.
”Getzy’s homer was really impressive,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. ”He made a little tweak to his swing. But you know, you talked about last spring how much stronger he got from the year before, and he came to camp even stronger than he was last spring.”
Yost isn’t about to name a leader in the race for second base, just like he’s not appointing a favorite between George Kottaras and Brett Hayes for backup catcher, or among Luke Hochever, Bruce Chen and Luis Mendoza for the fifth spot in the starting rotation.
There are still ample opportunities for someone to step up.
”Certainly, you don’t want to add any more pressure, but I know what’s at stake. No doubt about that,” Getz said. ”You want to bring your game every day, but it’s baseball. It’s difficult, especially in spring, because you haven’t played for a while. It’s kind of a combination of shaking off the cobwebs along with competing out there. You just kind of roll with it.”