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Looking Ahead: 2011 Infield

I’m going to begin a Friday series that will last a few weeks where I look ahead to the 2011 season. I know, real original. I’ll take a look around the organization beginning with the 2011 Major Leauge infield and will work my way through the franchise.

The infield for next season, I believe, will appear in multiple waves. Your Opening Day infield will look different than your July infield will look different than your September infield. That’s what you get with a team in transition…hopefully this time it actaully works.

To start the year, I think the infield will include the following:

Billy Butler: Many people, including me, thought this season would be Billy Butler’s big power breakout year. Well, it didn’t happen. I don’t think he regressed quite as badly as some believe, but he didn’t progress as much as we had hoped for. Still, with three games to go in the season, he’s hitting .318/.389/.469. Average and OBP are up while slugging is slightly down. His OPS is just .005 points higher than last year, but his OPS+ is 10 points higher due to offense being down as a whole around the league. I can’t quite remember who mentioned this, but a John Olerud comp has been mentioned and I have to say that I wouldn’t be too broken up if that’s the sort of career Butler has.

His hitting is a giant positive, but he does have his warts. Due to more of a line drive swing than one with loft, Butler tends to hit the ball on the ground more than most would like a big, lumbering first baseman. That results in lots and lots of double plays. Earlier in the season he was on pace to break the record for most in a season but went DP cold and now figures to just finish in the top five on the single season list. There’s always next year. In addition to the DPs, his defense, while improving, is still a weakness. From my untrained eye, it’s his footwork that is an absolute mess. That’s good and bad because footwork can be taught, but if it’s not learned, it makes for some distastrous plays.

Kila Ka’aihue: Doubts have begun to get erased about Ka’aihue’s ability to play in the Majors during September, a month in which he’s put up a .274/.361/.548 line. I’d take that over the course of a season. I doubt Kila ages terribly well, but the Royals will have him in the big leagues for his prime years and should reap the benefits of that. In an ideal world, he forces Eric Hosmer to a corner outfield position with fantastic play and a .900 OPS. When Hosmer’s ready, though, he’s going to be in KC, so if Kila’s not producing he won’t be here long. A short audition, sure, but we only have the front office to blame for that. While he’s in the Majors and the lineup, Kila provides a power bat that may very well be the best on the team…at least until mid June. Now go call your sophomore English teacher and let him/her know that you remember everything about foreshadowing.

Mike Aviles: Aviles, I believe, was on the verge of becoming an afterthought before his crazy hot September. There’s still a question of whether this outburst is a mirage or if he’s finally back after injuries ruined his 2009 season and sapped his power for much of 2010. I tend to think he’s back to an extent. He played over his head some in 2008. Realistically, the season numbers we’re seeing out of Aviles right now are probably about where his talent level lies and there’s a giant use for that from a middle infielder. We’d like to see him go about getting those numbers a little more consistently, but hopefully back to full health we’ll see more of that. He’s probably slated for second base duty for now, though he’s also easily the best shortstop on the roster. (More of that damn foreshadowing…) Something to note is that the future of second base in the organization is probably not Mike Aviles, but rather Johnny Giovatella, so a hot start for Gio and a bad run for Aviles could spell the end of his time here.

Chris Getz: I think Getz has until early to mid-June on this roster as a super utility guy. He’ll get time at second, third, short, outfield and maybe even some first base in an effort to see if he’s the left handed Willie Bloomquist. Getz doesn’t hit much and he’s pretty good defensively at second and third while he’s below average at shortstop but can fill in admirably in a pinch. Offensively, he’s not a juggernaut but he’ll give you a decent at bat and if he can find his way on base, he’s an excellent base stealer and base runner. It’s the getting on base part that has flummoxed Getz a bit. If he can prove to be a solid utility player he might last on the roster the full season or be traded to a contender in need of a jack of all trades. Odds are good, though, that he spends some time in Omaha’s new stadium.

Yuniesky Betancourt:
I don’t like Betancourt as a player. I don’t know him as a man, but he seems like a good dude. That’s not enough. He’s really bad at baseball. He had an August power surge that the Royals PR team tried to use to vindicate the trade that was made for him, but then Betancourt has followed that up with a terrible month of September. His OPS is back to it’s familiar sub .700 level and his defense continues to be rated poorly by all metrics, though in his defense it is improved from last season. I suppose there aren’t many shortstop options around other than his keystone partner, but if the Royals could figure out a way to remove Betancourt from their 2011 plans, I suspect they’d be a better team for it.

Wilson Betemit: Full disclosure here: I’ve always loved Betemit since his days as a top prospect in the Braves organization. When he was signed and started to make his ascent up prospect lists was a time in which I followed the Braves very closely due to their being on television way more than the Royals. I sort of latched on to Wilson as a player to watch, my little attempt to uncover a gem and look awesome for it. Well, he had a couple of decent seasons and then began his tour around baseball and struggled. When Dayton Moore picked him up on a minor league deal this winter, the younger version of me was pretty excited while the current version of me saw it as a deal that could pay off as some cheap production. I never expected this. Betemit allowed the Royals to trade Alberto Callaspo and actually get better (while Callaspo continued to get worse after the trade). I have to believe he’s a part of the future, or at least the immediate future. Everybody knows he’s keeping third base warm for a certain someone, but what nobody knows is what to do with Betemit when that certain someone is in Kansas City. It entirely depends on how he’s playing. Maybe he becomes the right fielder with DeJesus traded. Maybe he becomes the DH with Ka’aihue struggling. Maybe he becomes the first baseman with Butler injured or traded. There are any number of possibilities, but at some point next season there will be three spots available for Betemit, Butler, Ka’aihue and Moustakas. Betemit could slide into a similar role to the one Getz will fill early in the season or if he’s hitting .300/.375/.500 he could be traded for a fairly handsome package that could net some prospects to go along with the best system in baseball. Either way, Betemit has a chance to make the biggest impact of anyone on the 2011 Royals and beyond.

Josh Fields: I’m not an especially big fan of Fields, but he brings a power element to the table that the Royals lack. He can also play a little left field and first base in addition to third base. I’m not sure he can play any of them especially well, but he’s capable of all three of those positions. In reality, he might be a perfect platoon partner for Alex Gordon in left while being able to spell the Betemit/Butler/Ka’aihue trio. Either way, I have to believe he factors into the 2011 plans for at least a little while. He, along with Betemit, Getz and Ka’aihue could be a casualty of a Mike Moustakas promotion.

That looks to be your infield when the season opens up in March as things stand right now, but I did mention multiple waves of infields throughout the season. Here’s a quick look at who I think could see time in the majors and when we might see them:

Mike Moustakas – early to mid-June
Eric Hosmer – September
Johnny Giovatella – August
Christian Colon – September
I mentioned this would be a continuing series, so here’s the schedule for the remainder –
Outfield: October 8
Starting Pitching: October 15
Relief Pitching: October 22
Upper Minors: October 29
Lower Minors: November 5

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