SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) In the hall outside the Royals' spring training clubhouse, there's a life-size portrait of Johnny Giavotella above an inscription that reads, "The George Brett 2011 Hitter of the Year."
Talk about a lot to live up to.
Giavotella led all minor leaguers with 153 hits last year at Triple-A Omaha, and compiled a .305 average over four minor league seasons, earning him a promotion to Kansas City in August.
"Anytime you're mentioned in the same breath with George Brett it's an accomplishment," said Giavotella, who was the Royals' second-round pick out of the University of New Orleans in 2008.
"I'm very proud to have my picture up there."
Now, the trick is to replicate the success on the big league level.
Giavotella hit just .247 with nine doubles, four triples, two homers and 21 RBIs in 178 at-bats with Kansas City. Fighting pain in his right hip and leg, he showed flashes of becoming a franchise second baseman, but also signs that he has plenty of growing left to do.
"Johnny needs to play well," manager Ted Yost said. "He needs to continue to grow as a player, like he did last year. His minor league numbers are phenomenal, but he needs to continue to grow and get better as do all of our players."
Giavotella may be the only starting position player on the Royals roster getting pushed for his job. Chris Getz is getting a shot during spring training - he's better defensively and provides speed on the base paths, swiping 21 in 118 games last season.
But it was Getz's inability to get on base that ultimately gave Giavotella his chance.
"It's definitely competition," Giavotella said. "I'm trying to earn a spot, compete my tail off every day and when the season comes I expect to be prepared. I just have to prove to everybody I'm healthy, that I'm capable of handling big league competition and that I fit in with the guys."
Giavotella had surgery last October to repair a tear in the labrum in his right hip, which should eliminate some pain that had been bothering him much of the season.
"I just had various pains in the right side of my leg. It was really bothering me the last two months of the season, but I just gutted it out," he said. "I thought it was a groin strain. I got it checked out at the end of the season and discovered it was a small tear.
"I was surprised when they said it was torn. I definitely felt some pain, but I didn't think anything was torn. I thought it from normal wear and tear of the season."
Giavotella was on crutches for three weeks after the surgery and began jogging about six weeks after it. He spent the first month after the surgery rehabbing in Kansas City and then came to the Royals' complex in Surprise for supervised workouts for another two months.
He's been hitting and throwing for the past month.
"I really didn't get to spend too much time at home," Giavotella said. "Whatever puts me on the field 100 percent I'm willing to do. I'm real close to 100 percent. I'll be fine for spring training and it won't affect the season at all."
Giavotella got off to a good start in the Royals' first intrasquad game Thursday, hitting a pair of singles in four at-bats, the first ignited a two-run inning.
Of course, Getz also had a pair of hits in the game.
Getz hit .255 with six doubles, three triples and 26 RBIs in 380 at-bats last season, but he hasn't homered since 2009 with the Chicago White Sox, and he has only 18 extra-base hits in 604 at-bats with the Royals. Giavotella had 15 of them in 178 at-bats last season.