Around the Horn: Middle Infielders

Middle infield solid with Berroa, Grudzielanek

Following is the fifth in a series of weekly stories on MLB.com examining each Major League club, position-by-position. Each Wednesday until Spring Training camps open, we'll preview a different position. Today: Middle Infielders.

Just when you're feeling numbed by numbers, you happened to notice this:

Last season the Royals had six players that started between 10 and 74 games at second base. Shortstop? Angel Berroa was there for 159 games.

On one side, the middle infield was fiddle-faddle. On the other, fit as a...

Oh, not that Berroa didn't strike some sour notes. He did make 25 errors but, at the same time, made many spectacular plays. And he led American League shortstops with 108 double plays.

Yet, in the midst of working with a variety of middle-infield partners and losing 106 games, Berroa's lapse on some routine plays was noticeable.

"That's a big deal for him. But having Mark Grudzielanek at second base can only help," Royals general manager Allard Baird said. "Look at what Berroa did in 2003. You surround him with pretty good players and he's done well and we're hoping for the same thing this year."

Grudzielanek, moving over from the St. Louis Cardinals, topped the National League's regular second basemen in fielding. He made just seven errors, had the same number of double plays (108) as Berroa in fewer games, and was a bulldog.

"He stays in on the double-play pivot as good as anybody, almost to the degree of extreme. He takes a hit to finish the play," Baird said.

"He's a very efficient fielder over there, underrated defensively. He doesn't get enough credit for his defense."

The Royals figure the strong-armed Grudzielanek will absorb most of the starts filled last year by Ruben Gotay (74), Donnie Murphy (23), Andres Blanco (22), Tony Graffanino (21), Denny Hocking (12) and Joe McEwing (10).

Grudzielanek also probably will stop the revolving door in the No. 2 slot of the lineup. Twelve different batters plugged that hole last season.

"I'll let Buddy (Bell) make that call but he sure fits nicely as the No. 2 guy," Baird said.

Kansas City Royals
Starters: Rotation feels different
Bullpen: Young but talented
Catchers: Buck top backstop
Corner IF: Matter of extremes
Middle IF: "Grud" should help Berroa
Outfielders: Brown, DeJesus join in
DH/Bench: Good in a pinch

Grudzielanek, a right-handed batter, hit .294 for the Cardinals although he seldom swung second. But he said, "I've hit two many years, I've hit one many years so I'm comfortable in any one of those positions."

He'd be hitting behind center fielder David DeJesus.

"I like DeJesus," he said. "He's a very good player and could fit really nice in that one-hole for us this year."

Berroa, for a time last season, was tried in the leadoff spot ahead of DeJesus. But he did much better (.286) in the sixth or seventh holes. A free swinger, he prospered at wide-open Kauffman Stadium with a .308 average compared to .231 on the road and .270 overall.

He had a mere 18 bases on balls -- and got hit by a pitch 14 times -- and the Royals accept that he'll never be a walking man. But they want him to be choosier about pitches he goes after.

"He's only going to get so much better at that," Baird said.

"You know what? You've got a player whose track record shows that he can get better at his plate discipline to a large degree. Staying in the strike zone is all really what we're trying to look for. You don't want to take away his aggressiveness and have him be passive up there."

Berroa's best season was 2003 when he was AL Rookie of the Year and batted .287 with 17 home runs, 73 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. He had a 49-game errorless streak and made just five errors in his last 95 games.

"The big thing with him is to gain some consistency to his positive play -- that's all we want out of him," Baird said.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.