Morning Coffee: Royals Middle Infield Situation Reviewed by Momizat on . Once the Kansas City Royals signed Omar Infante to pair with Alcides Escobar in the middle infield, it became apparent that they weren't going to spend more tha Once the Kansas City Royals signed Omar Infante to pair with Alcides Escobar in the middle infield, it became apparent that they weren't going to spend more tha Rating: 0
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Morning Coffee: Royals Middle Infield Situation

Morning Coffee: Royals Middle Infield Situation

Once the Kansas City Royals signed Omar Infante to pair with Alcides Escobar in the middle infield, it became apparent that they weren’t going to spend more than $3 million for a utility infielder like Emilio Bonifacio. As expected, the Royals ended up designating him for assignment and the top utility infielder in camp now is Pedro Ciriaco, a 28 year-old with some speed, some range on defense and not much else. When camp started a month or so ago and Escobar and Infante were healthy, the idea that the Royals might not carry a backup middle infielder was a bit scary. Since that time, both Escobar and Infante have suffered from shoulder injuries that both took longer to heal than the Royals expected. Escobar’s injury hasn’t even healed yet. He was expected to play today, but now he’s not expected to play until Saturday. That’s troubling. And then we found out before Monday’s game that Infante is now dealing with elbow issues.

As a Royals fan, it’s pretty much the standard act to think the worst and think that Escobar is looking at a DL stint to start the season. If that is the case, Pedro Ciriaco is likely the guy to start the season at shortstop and batting ninth. You might be wondering why. Or you might not. Either way I’m going to tell you. Ciriaco is out of options, which means he can’t be sent to AAA without first having to clear waivers. The other player in this battle who is still with big league camp is Jason Donald, and the Royals signed him to a minor league deal this off-season, which means he can be sent down without the risk of losing him. Both have actually had their solid moments this spring, and Donald has surprised me quite a bit with his defensive range as he’s had a chance to show that off with Escobar missing most of spring training action to this point.

The issue underscores the lack of depth the Royals have in the upper levels of the organization in the middle infield. I understand the reasoning behind DFAing Bonifacio even though I don’t agree with it, but they’re now left in a situation where the best options are guys who the Royals have shown they have no faith in for various reasons. The Royals thought so highly of Christian Colon that they traded for Alcides Escboar in the off-season after drafting him. With the shortstop position seemingly locked up for awhile, Colon’s path to the big leagues seemed to be second base, so the Royals signed Omar Infante to a four year deal. Johnny Giavotella is the other guy who could be in line for second base reps if Infante can’t go, but he’s been in the big leagues in parts of three years and whether you think he’s had a real chance or not, he hasn’t gotten the job done.

So then the other options are players who their previous teams let go for nothing in return. Jason Donald, if you’re unfamiliar with his body of work, was in the Phillies system before being traded to the Indians as part of the Cliff Lee deal a few years back. He was really good in the minors through AA, but then hit a bit of a wall when he got to AAA. After being in the Indians system for a year and a half or so, he had a solid year in AAA and reached the majors for the first time where he hit pretty well and then followed it up the next year with even better offensive numbers. The metrics didn’t like him at shortstop, but he didn’t have a ton of time there with Asdrubal Cabrera the starter in Cleveland. Then in 2012, the wheels fell off in the big leagues and Donald became the Reds issue where he put up a line in AAA similar to the one that Escobar put up in the big leagues. Defensively, Donald has been impressive this spring, getting to a few balls I didn’t expect him to get to, but I have my doubts about his offensive game.

Between Donald and Ciriaco, the Royals have two middle infielders with big league experience and big league success. Still, that’s just not a recipe for success for a team that has their eyes on the playoffs. After the performance of Yordano Ventura this spring, I think there’s a sense of optimism that there is that other high end pitcher to pair with James Shields and give the Royals a shot. But then there’s up the middle. If Escobar and Infante are healthy, I think they’re good enough to make the playoffs if a few things break their way. Without one of them for a short period of time, the Royals could be fine. Without one of them for an extended period, things get iffy. Without both of them, that could be a problem.

Maybe this isn’t an issue right now, but Omar Infante has played more than 140 games three times in his career. One of those times was when he was 22. A big reason for playing so few games is that Infante simply wasn’t a starter early in his career, but he also has had his injury issues throughout his career. What’s been highlighted already is how thin the organization is up the middle, and even if both Escobar and Infante are fine for the start of the year, the grind of the season could really be a problem for a team with playoff hopes. We’ll see what happens, but at this point, it really makes you wonder if even if both players are healthy to start the season if the Royals might change their plans a bit and maybe keep Ciriaco around and try to pass Valencia through waivers. The next few days will be very telling, but the lack of middle infield depth could prove to be a huge problem for this team during 2014.

Follow me on Twitter @DBLesky

About The Author

I never had a chance. I was born into a family who loved baseball and the Royals, so I accordingly love baseball and the Royals. I just so happen to love to write also, which makes writing about the Royals for this site something that makes me happy each and every day. When I first started blogging, a fairly well known baseball writer told me to only do it until I'm unhappy doing it, but I don't see that coming any time soon.

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Comments (3)

  • mungakc

    David, after spending the last several days in Surprise (best/consistent weather there in the past dozen years!), I will add a few comments to yours. Middle infield is clearly a concern and really, always should have been with Escobar’s lack of any offense in ’13 and Infante’s injury history. Their collective ailments this spring just magnifies things. I have to say that I’m also more impressed with Donald at SS over Ciriaco; Donald looks more consistent and Ciriaco has had some some defensive lapses that appear to be a lack of focus. Offensively, Donald has looked better, but as you suggest, history would suggest otherwise.

    Regarding Jim’s point, I agree that starting with an 11 man staff makes sense, but not to protect Valencia on the roster. If they can’t sneak him through waivers, then let him go. They are clearly committed to Maxwell as the RH power bat off the bench, so Valencia is really just protection as a platoon partner for Moose. With how he looks, especially against LH’s, the Royals will give Moose plenty of time to prove he can’t hit southpaws, so Valencia is really a luxury the first 2 months of ’14. The real issue will be giving a 12 man staff enough work to keep them sharp during April. With 2 scheduled days off and 10 games in Minn, Clev, and Det the first 3 weeks, they will likely be skipping Chen a time or two. Because they can rotate a fresh arm from Omaha for even one game, an 11 man staff makes more sense.

    One more observation; I’m not going to say that I’m worried about Butler (he does have a legit track record), but I will say that the Billy I’ve seen so far looks allot like the ’13 version (rolling over almost everything and creating easy two-hop ground outs in the infield) and nothing like the ’12 we need. Enjoy,

  • David Lesky

    You may believe that and I may agree that they only need 11 pitchers, but the organization hasn’t even discussed that as a possibility. That could change in time, but as of right now, that’s not an option.

  • jim fetterolf

    Better might be an 11-man pitching staff to start with. Valencia has value, Maxwell is needed, so the staff with a depth of options is the most sensible place to start a little short.

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