Judging the Royals

Three things Royals fans can look for in the competition at second base

Omar Infante’s batting average tumbled after he took a pitch to the jaw.
Omar Infante’s batting average tumbled after he took a pitch to the jaw. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

As Star beat writer Rustin Dodd recently pointed out, the Kansas City Royals have question marks at a couple of positions: second base and right field. For now, let’s focus on second base.

When a team gives a player a significant amount of money, that player will get every possible opportunity to prove he’s worth it; the people who gave him that money have a stake in his success. Omar Infante is in the third year of a four-year deal and despite hitting .252 in 2014 and .220 in 2015, it looks like he is getting another chance to prove he should be starting at second base.

On April 7, 2014 the Royals were playing the Tampa Bay Rays. In the seventh inning, Heath Bell was on the mound and Omar Infante was at the plate. The season was only six games old, but nevertheless, Infante was off to a good start, hitting .348. Then — with the count 2-2 — Infante took an 89 mph fastball to the jaw.

At the time, Infante’s lifetime batting average was .276 so it was unlikely that Omar was going to hit .348 or anything like it the rest of the way, but after getting hit in the face Infante hit .247 for the rest of 2014 — nearly 30 points under his lifetime average.

In 2015, things got worse; Infante hit .220.

To be fair, getting hit in the face may have had had nothing to do with Infante’s drop in average, but it sure didn’t help.

When a batter takes a pitch to the head, everyone might feel sympathy for him, but big-league pitchers will still use it to their advantage: they’ll pitch up and in for effect, brush the batter back and then throw strikes on the outer half of the plate. If a hitter is reluctant to lean out over the plate in order to reach those pitches, word will get around quickly and now the whole league knows how to get that hitter out.

So that’s the first thing you might want to look for: can Omar Infante handle the outside pitch?

To give Infante some credit, once Ben Zobrist took over second base it was clear that Infante was much faster than Zobrist at turning the double play. Zobrist was deliberate; Infante is much quicker and spends a lot less time with the ball in his glove.

It also sounds like Christian Colon will get a look at second base. The questions concerning Colon have to do with defense.

Last year, Colon was the Royals’ backup infielder but was sent down to the minors at the start of July. At the time, the Royals said they wanted Colon to get some at bats, but he did not make it back to the big leagues until September — that’s quite a few at bats. If the Royals were dissatisfied with Colon as a backup infielder, does he really have a shot at being the everyday guy?

So here’s the next thing you want to look for: Does Colon have enough range to play second base every day?

The third candidate for second base appears to Raul Mondesi. He’s a shortstop, but played 18 games at second base in Class AA; that’s not a heckuva lot of games. I used to believe that if a guy could play shortstop, he had the athletic skills to play just about anywhere, but then I saw Mike Aviles struggle when the Royals tried to move him to the right side of the infield.

On the 6-4-3 double play, the second baseman has his back to the runner; some infielders can handle that, some can’t. A second baseman has to have an internal clock that tells him when he can hang in there and turn a double play and when he needs to bail out to prevent getting hurt. Aviles struggled with that and appeared to give up on some makeable double plays.

So there’s the third thing to keep your eye on: how does Raul Mondesi handle the 6-4-3 double play?

Teams are not in the business of undercutting the value of their players, so they’re never going to say a guy can’t handle an outside pitch or lacks range or struggles with a 6-4-3 double play; but if you watch closely, you won’t need a team to tell you that.

You can see it for yourself.