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Infielder Hanser Alberto waited patiently for his time to come to get the chance as an everyday player in a Major League Baseball team’s lineup. When that chance came, Alberto flourished. Yet he still found himself without a team this winter.
The Kansas City Royals swooped in and Wholesale Kansas City Royals Jerseys made what manager Mike Matheny described as a “sneaky good” signing when they secured Alberto on a minor-league contract in February. While not a brand-name player with gaudy statistics, Alberto potentially gives the Royals a versatile starting-caliber bench option with a proven bat.
“This offseason was slow and weird,” Alberto said on Sunday. “I’m not going to lie. It surprised me a little bit because the last two years I’ve been playing really good. I didn’t find an MLB deal. I had a lot of teams calling and offering me minor-league and a lot of stuff like that.
“Here, in this organization, I think it’s a good fit for me. We’ve got a lot of young talent. We’ve got veterans, but they’re still young.”
The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Alberto, 28, came to Royals camp as a non-roster invitee. The right-handed hitter and native of Dominican Republic made his MLB debut in 2015 with the Texas Rangers. He remained with the Rangers through the 2018 season.
After having appeared in 89 games in three seasons — a shoulder injury wiped out almost the entirety of his 2017 season —the Baltimore Orioles claimed Alberto off waivers in 2019.
He started 181 games for the Orioles in the past two seasons, including 52 games in last year’s 60-game season. He batted .299 with a .322 on-base percentage and a .413 slugging percentage from 2019-20.
During those two seasons, he ranked 15th in wins above replacement (2.6) among second basemen as calculated by FanGraphs.com, just slightly behind San Diego Padres infielder Jurickson Profar (2.7).
Alberto credited his success as a starter in recent years to learning from veteran players with the Rangers, even though he played sparingly.
“I just had all that information in my mind and now I put it together,” Alberto said. “When you get the opportunity to play, it doesn’t matter if you got 0 for 3, 0 for 4, and you know you’re going to be in the lineup the next day. That kind of gets you relaxed, more comfortable.”
The Orioles non-tendered Alberto, who was about to reach arbitration for the first time in his career, in December. Rather than risk getting locked into a significant salary increase, the Orioles let Alberto hit the open market.
“We have absolutely loved having Hanser in every way, shape or form since he got here,” Orioles general manager Mike Elias told reporters at the non-tender deadline. “He’s a terrific player. I expect that he’ll have opportunity and interest, but part of our job is to operate within the economic framework of the collective bargaining agreement and the quirks of the arbitration system.”
Despite having enjoyed success in a starting role, Alberto appears amenable to whatever role Matheny asks of him with the Royals.
“(I want to bring) the same things that I bring to the other teams, my high energy, being a good teammate on and off the field and go out there and have fun, enjoy the game, do my best and try to do my part to help the team win and be ready for whatever the manager needs me to be,” Alberto said.
Alberto has started games at every infield position as well as in the outfield during his MLB career, but he has made 142 of his 226 starts in the majors at second base.
However, Nicky Lopez enters the season as the Royals’ starting second baseman, and the organization appears committed to him at least for the short term. Adalberto Mondesi remains entrenched as the everyday shortstop and Hunter Dozier will move back to third base this year.
Should the Royals need someone to step in for an extended period of time due to injury, Alberto provides the Royals with depth at several positions.
“You talk about a player who is highly regarded by everybody that he has ever been around, any team that he has been with,” Matheny said. “That’s this guy. You can never have too much of that.”
Alberto struck out just 80 times in 781 plate appearances and batted .394 against left-handed pitching the past two seasons. That batting average ranked first among players with at least 100 plate appearances against lefties.
“He has consistently been a terror on left-handed pitching,” Matheny said. “We know that that’s something he brings to the table. You can see how that piece would fit no matter how everything else played out.”