SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — The names Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella appear right next to each other on an alphabetical listing of the Kansas City Royals who are still in spring training camp.
Call it fitting.
The race between them for the second baseman's job is just that close.
The Royals have perhaps the fewest job competitions of any team in the major leagues this spring, mostly because they have one of the youngest, most promising groups of position players in the game. Along with second base, the backup catcher and utility infielder jobs, and the fifth spot in the starting rotation, are just about all that's up for grabs.
The competition between Getz and Giavotella may be the most interesting, though, and most difficult to get a read on, because the playing styles of the principals are polar opposite.
Getz is the steady defensive stalwart who hits for average and not much else. He's held down the job most of the past two years, and was having a breakout 2012 season — Getz wound up hitting .275 — before injuries set in: bruised ribs, strained leg and a broken left thumb.
The injuries provided another chance for Giavotella, whom the Royals view as their second baseman of the future. He has more upside at the plate, even though two big league stints haven't been all that productive, but his balky defense has given the team reason for pause.
"I don't think about the competition that much," said Giavotella, a career .308 hitter in the minor leagues. "I look at it more as an opportunity for me to get better as a player, and work on the things I need to work on. And if I work on the things I'm weak at, I'll be an all-around good player, and that's what I'm striving for."
When asked about the perception that he's a poor defensive second baseman, Giavotella seems to bristle. It's the kind of reputation that is hard to overcome, mostly because improvement isn't as easy to quantify as hitting, where average, homers and RBIs can prove progress.
Giavotella said he's been working diligently on his fielding, improving everything from his lateral movement to his ability to snag groundballs and deliver accurate throws.
"It definitely kind of irks me a little bit, but it motivates me to go out there and prove everyone wrong," he said. "Defense is all just repetitions, and it's all about listening to people who are better than you and more knowledgeable, and taking it and applying it to your game."