The Royals Infield

You may have heard about the Royals decision to designate Emilio Bonifacio for assignment. Bonifacio is widely regarded as ever so slightly better than replacement level, so getting out from under most of his $3.5 million contract is probably a good thing for the Royals. That roster move actually could have fantasy ramifications. It didn’t appear as though there was consistent playing time for Bonifacio in Kansas City, whereas several teams could use his services on a regular basis. Since he’s a notable stolen base threat with a lot of fantasy flex, the right job and a little BABIP luck could make him a positive fantasy contributor.

Enough about the guy who probably won’t be a Royal this year. Kansas City has an interesting mix of fantasy talent in the infield that offers value at different points in the draft.

The Starters
Eric Hosmer
Omar Infante
Alcides Escobar
Mike Moustakas
Billy Butler
Salvador Perez

According to mock drafts, rankings, and general punditry, Hosmer is the best of the Royals infielders. While his power is somewhat disappointing for a fantasy first baseman, his ability to post double digit steals is a blessing from a slow-footed position. Projection systems expect modest growth from Hosmer this season, and it’s definitely nice to get well rounded, five category production around the 50th pick. JZ wrote about Hosmer earlier this offseason.

Infante will finally resolve the Royals second base black hole. He brings batting average to the fantasy dinner along with the odd counting stat. The quality of his season is largely determined by his BABIP. As far as targeting Infante as a fantasy starter, I advise against it. If you want a “safe” back-up in a deep format like Ottoneu, you could do worse with $1-3.

Escobar put together a useful 2012 season that included 35 steals and a .293 batting average. That also came with 68 runs, 52 RBI, and five home runs. Not bad for an afterthought shortstop. Prior to 2013, some owners hoped that the Royals would promote him to leadoff due to his combination of speed and batting average. I would hazard to guess that those owners never really watched him hit. Of course, 2013 happened and his .344 BABIP fell to .264, while his ISO dropped 32 points to .066 and his walk rate bottomed out at three percent. He stole 22 bases for fantasy owners, but ruined four other categories in the process. He hit seven percent more fly balls last season all at the expense of ground balls. When your ISO is .066, any fly ball is a bad thing. He could be a nice last round speculation pick, but shortstop is deep enough for you to leave him out of your plans.

Moustakas kind of falls in that post-hype sleeper category. The reason I say “kind of” is because there is enough data to cause concern. As Howard Bender points out, Moustakas’ power hasn’t really shown up at the major league level. That was supposed to be the one category where he was a reliable asset, which in turn would drive run and RBI production. Instead, he’s looking like a no category third baseman who is over-adjusting to his issues. A change of scenery might be the best case scenario here. As for fantasy, treat him like any other questionable post-hype sleeper – throw a dollar at him or late round pick and don’t become too attached.

With seven games at first base last season, Butler barely passes the threshold for first base eligibility in Yahoo! Some popular sites will consider him a UTIL-only. After a career year in 2012, Butler saw his power take a lurching step backward. He went from 29 to 15 home runs with an accompanying decline in ISO. What we know about Butler is that he’s a very strong bet to provide a good batting average and on base percentage. What we don’t know is how much power to expect. We can hope that it will be a range between 2013 and 2012, but we can’t rule out an early career power decline. Mike Podhorzer has the rest of the details, which include a decreased HR/FB ratio and low fly ball rate.

Like Hosmer, Infante, and Butler, Perez’s batting average stands out as his most valuable and reliable fantasy asset. He’s sees the usual amount of rest for a catcher, so prepare a plan to maximize games played if you draft Perez as your primary catcher. He offers a bit of pop but not too much, and he’ll never steal a base. He generally batted around fifth last season which led to a healthy RBI total but fewer runs scored. He might get bumped down to sixth this season with the addition of Infante and Norichika Aoki. That means fewer plate appearances, but the quality of the hitters in front of him will be the same, so he should get similar opportunities with men on base.

The Bench, Platoons, Prospects
Danny Valencia
Johnny Giavotella
Pedro Ciriaco
Christian Colon
Cheslor Cuthbert

One of these names is not like the other, by which I mean that there is possible fantasy utility to be had with Valencia. A slow start from the left-handed hitting Moustakas could open up a permanent platoon role for Valencia. He’s shown some large splits in the past. Last season, he posted a .440 wOBA in 105 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. That compares to a .292 wOBA in 68 plate appearances against righties. Surprisingly, those rates aren’t crazy outliers. For his career, the split breaks down to a .380 wOBA against lefties compared to a .276  wOBA against righties. The samples are 428 and 833 plate appearances respectively, so we’re talking neither a big nor small data set.  He was a late season staple of my Daily Grind column when facing lefties and I expect he’ll fill the same fantasy role this year.

Giavotella and Colon are the next most interesting names since their minor league performance is enticing. Giavotella has struggled mightily at the big league level despite strong Triple-A numbers. If he ever gets it together he could be a fringy fantasy second baseman, but he’s now firmly blocked by Infante. Colon is on the cusp of reaching the majors as a utility infielder. He was once a promising prospect and a fourth overall draft pick. If he finds playing time and you squint a bit, there is potential for 20 home runs plus steals in his future with a lot of position flex. For now, neither player is worth more than a cursory glance from most fantasy owners.

Ciriaco appears to be the utility infielder of choice for the 2014 squad. Perhaps you remember 2012 when a .352 BABIP and 16 stolen bases propelled him to very brief fantasy relevance. He might be worth the odd stream start under the right conditions, but nothing more.

Cuthbert has an 80 grade name, but his ball playing skills grade out as substantially worse. He’s not a fantasy asset.

We hoped you liked reading The Royals Infield by Brad Johnson!

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