Versatility in Yuni's favor as Phils mull roster
Veteran infielder's defensive ability likely to be a significant factor in competition
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Yuniesky Betancourt is making the Phillies think.
They need two utility infielders on their Opening Day roster, and he could be one of them. In January, Betancourt signed a Minor League contract that includes an opt-out clause for March 24. That is when the Phillies must tell the infielder if he has made the Opening Day roster -- a week before they'll play their final exhibition game. It means the club will have to reach an earlier-than-usual conclusion about those jobs.
"He is certainly in a battle among the guys that are in our camp right now, with Freddy [Galvis] and [Kevin] Frandsen," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said before Tuesday's 15-2 loss to the World Baseball Classic's Dominican Republic squad at Bright House Field. "We're trying to figure out the best combo platter for our club. Yuniesky brings experience. He's had success. He's played for a winning team in Milwaukee as an everyday shortstop. The guy can play. He's got nine years of experience. He's a good Major League player."
Betancourt has hit .412 (7-for-17) with one double, four RBIs, one walk, one strikeout and three runs scored in five Grapefruit League games. He has handled himself adequately defensively.
"I'm happy for the opportunity here," Betancourt said. "I signed with Philadelphia because it's a very good team, a very good organization. I'm going to try to help this team win a ring."
Betancourt hit .228 with seven home runs, 36 RBIs, a .256 on-base percentage, a .400 slugging percentage and a .656 on-base plus slugging percentage last season with the Royals. He has a .266/.290/.392/.682 line for his career. But it is his ability to handle three infield positions that could make or break Betancourt's chances with the Phillies. He has played 949 games in the big leagues at shortstop, 55 at second base and eight at third base.
"I'll play anywhere," Betancourt said. "I just want to get a ring before I retire."
Said Amaro: "What drives us is whether or not he can play defensively. As we saw, last year, we sacrificed defense for offense and it didn't work out too good. He's pretty solid. There are times his concentration may wane, but he's a solid Major League middle infielder at the very least. He's played third. He's played a few different positions. We think he can play all three of them. We'll start bouncing him around and moving him around."
If defense is important, it would seem Galvis (.226/.254/.363/.617 last season) has an edge for one of the two spots. He played brilliant defense at second base last season, and he looks just as good at shortstop, which is his natural position.
"You could probably say right now, even though he's a young player, he'd probably be the most reliable guy [defensively]," Amaro said of Galvis. "But again, Yuniesky has got a lot of experience. It depends on how [Betancourt] performs. We're not making any decisions today. We don't have to make any decision for several weeks, so we're OK."
But it is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which the Phillies start the season with Betancourt and Frandsen on the bench. Galvis can be optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he would get more seasoning, while Betancourt has his opt-out clause and Frandsen is out of Minor League options and will make a guaranteed $850,000, having avoided salary arbitration. If Betancourt or Frandsen struggle, the Phillies could always bring back Galvis.
"I think Freddy is going to be an everyday player in the Major Leagues, either second base or shortstop," Amaro said. "That's how I view him. But it may be best to utilize him now as one of our guys, particularly if he's used a lot during the course of the season. If not, and we feel like he's not going to be used that much, again, it'll kind of depend on how [manager] Charlie [Manuel] wants to use him."
Manuel has said he believes he could get Galvis 200 or more at-bats coming off the bench. But every Spring Training, Manuel talks about giving his everyday players more rest, only to see that fall by the wayside as his competitive juices flow.
Frandsen hit .338 with 10 doubles, three triples, two home runs, 14 RBIs and an .834 OPS in 210 plate appearances last season. He has played everywhere in his big league career other than center field and catcher, so he brings offense as well as defensive versatility. He also is well liked among his teammates, which is noteworthy as the Phillies have tried to improve clubhouse chemistry.
"He has good at-bats," Amaro said of Frandsen. "He's come into his own offensively. He has slow starts. Last spring, he struggled defensively. This year, he's had some good defensive days and some mediocre defensive days. We just have to make sure he's ready to play. He's a little bit of a slow starter. Once he gets going, he's fine."
That hasn't been a problem so far this spring. Frandsen is hitting .385 (10-for-26) with four doubles, one triple, one home run and three RBIs, which includes a 2-for-4 effort on Tuesday.
But the presence of Betancourt, who said he lost 15 pounds in the offseason, will force the Phillies to come to conclusions about all three players in less than three weeks.
"They haven't said anything to me," Betancourt said. "I'm trying to play good. It's March , but I don't control that."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.