Maybe it’s time we give Yuni the credit he deserves

By Jeffrey Flanagan
August 23, 2010

Almost from the minute the Royals traded for shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt in July of 2009, his critics began howling at his low on-base percentage and the perception that he took too many plays off in the field, and so on, and so on.

Royals general manager Dayton Moore still bristles at the harshness surrounding Betancourt�s arrival here.

�He hadn�t even played an inning here and they were unloading on him,� Moore said, shaking his head. �Just not fair.

�You can cite all the numbers you want but the truth is, we didn�t have a shortstop at the time. And Yuni is a solid major-league shortstop. People around baseball know this. Other players know this. I think he�s showing everyone now.�

Betancourt, 28, no doubt is having a career year offensively. Even more importantly, he�s delivering the clutch hits that decide games, as he did again last weekend.

Even his critics have to swallow the fact that he very well might end up leading the Royals in home runs and RBIs. With 13 homers and 61 RBIs now, Betancourt seems a pretty good bet to catch since-traded Jose Guillen and his 16 homers and 62 RBIs.

Betancourt isn�t sure where this power surge is coming from � his previous season high was nine homers with Seattle in 2007.

�I�m just seeing the ball better,� he said through interpreter Brayan Pena. �I�m doing the same thing. Just making good contact.�

Betancourt also cautions that Royals fans may not want to start counting on him being a 15-20 homer guy in the future.

�It makes me feel good that I�m getting those home runs but I know that it�s not my game,� he said, smiling. �I know that I�m not a power hitter. The main thing is I�ve got to just make good contact.�

Some players, though, develop a power game further into their career.

�I wish that was the case,� he said. �But I can�t assure you that it�s going to happen every year. This is the first year I�ve had more than 10. So far it�s feeling pretty good.�

Not that there aren�t glaring holes in Betancourt�s approach at the plate. He has drawn an embarrassingly low 12 walks in well over 400 plate appearances, explaining the poor .288 on-base percentage.

And yes, he does muff the occasional easy play in the field.

�So do a lot of shortstops around baseball,� Moore said. �But day in and day out, he makes solid plays out there. He makes the play in the hole. He�s got a strong arm.�

Betancourt also is reliable. Since defecting from Cuba and breaking into the majors in 2005, he has had just one stint on the disabled list (last year), which is rather remarkable considering the wear and tear of a shortstop playing over 150 games a year.

Betancourt, though, shrugs off that durability.

�I�m used to playing in Cuba where we played the whole year,� he said. �We only would get a month off. So playing 150 or 155 games here is nothing compared to what I was used to playing. It�s not easy playing that many games but then again it�s not really that difficult.�

Betancourt also shrugs off his critics and hopes he continue his recent surge in Kansas City.

�I can�t control what people say or think about me,� he said. �I can�t so I don�t think about (the criticism). All that matters to me is what my family thinks about me.

�The main reason for me last year for not having a good year was that I was hurt for the first time. The main thing for me having a good year this year is just staying healthy. I think I�m having a good year but it�s not over yet.

�But I like Kansas City. I�ve never felt like this before. The fans have really treated me well and I love them and I love my teammates and my situation here. I would love to stay here.�