Betancourt out to prove he is everyday player
When the Royals demoted second baseman Johnny Giavotella last Sunday, it signaled that the organization wasn't willing to sacrifice any defense.
It almost surely means that Royals fans are going to see a whole lot more of Yuniesky Betancourt.
Manager Ned Yost's plan is to split time between Betancourt and Chris Getz. But behind the scenes the feeling is that Betancourt can give the Royals more offense and defense.
That last bit will no doubt send the sabermetric sect out there into a frenzy. Betancourt has been the sabermetric society's punching bag for years because of suspect offensive and defensive stats, and Royals fans among that society were bewildered when the Royals signed Betancourt during the off-season,
The signing – one year at $2 million – came almost a year to the date of after the Royals traded Betancourt to Milwaukee, perhaps the best part of that blockbuster trade to the Royals' sabermetric crowd.
So, once again, as was the case in 2010, Royals general manager Dayton Moore has had to defend the acquisition of Betancourt to a segment of the fan base.
Except that Moore really isn't feeling the need to defend anything this time.
"I'm not going to spend my time doing so," Moore said by phone. "The truth is, we have a shortstop who we feel is the long-term answer in Alcides Escobar but we didn't have anyone backing him up. We also had a need at second base because at the time Johnny's defensive skills at the big-league level were certainly in question.
"Yuni provided the answer to the problem. He is a player with some pop in his bat who can play short and can play second, and play third as well. We didn't have that type of utility player. There's nothing really to defend."
But with Giavotella's demotion, and with the fact that no one will be "groomed" at second base, the door is open for a veteran such as Betancourt and his .292 career on-base percentage to play more than just a few times a week, as was originally thought.
"How much Yuni plays and where he plays is up to the manager," Moore said.
The guess here, though, is Betancourt will play almost regularly, mainly because he provides extra-base power that Getz never will, and because the gap in defense between Betancourt and Getz, if there is one, isn't that great.
Betancourt has impressed the Royals' coaching staff with his ability to get reacclimated to the second-base position he played often in Cuba.
"A very quick transfer on the double-play," Moore noted. "Very quick hands and can turn the double play. He also, as everyone can see, goes very well to his right. Defensively, he will be just fine there I believe."
The Royals also realize that first baseman Eric Hosmer goes extremely well to his right, meaning Betancourt could get some help on balls hit toward the right-side hole.
Offensively, Betancourt's numbers produce the biggest debate. He did set career highs in 2010 with the Royals when he hit 16 homers with 78 RBIs. The Royals certainly would take that again.
But one reason he can draw fans' ire is that woeful .292 on-base percentage, and his tendency to swing early in the count, even when an opposing pitcher may have walked consecutive hitters. That issue came up during Betancourt's one-year stint with the Brewers, whose fans became frustrated to the point of booing him at times last season.
Even Brewers manager Ron Roenicke addressed that issue last summer and explained why he stopped trying to get Betancourt to take some pitches.
"It doesn't work," Roenicke said. "You ask him to take a pitch and then the next pitch he's going to swing at a lot.
"A player doesn't always figure out why you're asking him to do things. They think you're trying to dictate things to him. If I tell Yuni, `Hey, you have to go up and take the first pitch every at-bat,' he's going to say, `Why does he want me to do this? My batting average is good when it's a 0-0 count.' But that's a very misleading stat."
Moore, too, said he and his people have examined all of Betancourt's stats and still come to the same conclusion they did in 2010.
"You have to trust your eyes and what you're seeing," Moore said. "He had a good year for us and he played shortstop every day for a team (the Brewers) who won their division and went to the championship series. That's the bottom line. And I think he'll play well for us."
And, Betancourt may play a lot. Even Betancourt acknowledge to The Kansas City Star earlier this spring that he wasn't exactly ready to become a backup player.
"I'm used to playing every day," he said. "I believe in my talent, and I believe what I can do on the baseball field. I only have to wait for my opportunity and for (my talent) to take over."