Bianchi may finally get chance with Brewers
JUL 24, 2012 12:39p ET
But for the seven years before that, injuries threatened to keep him from ever making it in the sport he loves so much. It's a cruel coincidence that Bianchi clearly doesn't like to call attention to. Instead, in just his second week in the Brewers' clubhouse, Bianchi chooses to assure reporters how thankful he is to simply be where he is. He is as wide-eyed as any new player has been all season.
That's because Bianchi knows how tough the road can be to get to the majors, perhaps better than most. A second-round pick of the Royals in 2005, Bianchi was one of Kansas City's most touted prospects — at one time, he was the fifth-best in a talented Royals system, according to Baseball America.
Those were better days for Bianchi, who thrived for the Royals' rookie ball team in the Arizona League. In 2005-06, Bianchi hit .414 in 140 at-bats. But Bianchi was sidelined with a back injury in 2005. Then a torn labrum in 2006. The injuries would leak over into his 2007 season and clearly affect his game in 2007 and 2008, as his average hung around the .250 mark in Single-A ball.
Everything seemed to come together for the young shortstop in 2009, though, as a healthy season allowed him to begin his expected rise through Kansas City's farm system. Between Single-A and Double-A ball that season, Bianchi batted .308 with nine home runs and 70 RBI. The Royals could see the potential that made them draft Bianchi in the first place, four years before.
The progress he made in a healthy 2009, however, would deteriorate in spring training in 2010, as Bianchi couldn't ignore the undeniable pain in his elbow. He needed Tommy John surgery, nixing his entire season before he even took the field for Double-A Northwest Arkansas. It all seemed like a cruel joke to a player who had never sat out more than a game or two before reaching the minor leagues.
Soon, the Royals had given up on their infield prospect. Unsure if his injuries would continue to affect him, the Cubs claimed the 25-year-old off waivers last December. But he lasted only a month with Chicago.
Without much depth at shortstop in the organization, the Brewers appeared to be the perfect destination for Bianchi. He didn't show much in spring training — hitting just 1-for-12 — but his production at Double-A Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville — batting over .300 — begged a specific question: Was Bianchi ready to fulfill his massive potential?
At the beginning of July, Bianchi finally was able to walk up to his locker in the Milwaukee clubhouse and looked up at the nameplate above it, soaking it all in. He had finally made it.
"To overcome those injuries," Bianchi said, "it just makes me more thankful to be here, someplace I wasn't sure I would ever make it to."
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke knows why Bianchi is in Milwaukee. He's heard the good things — and the bad — about the Brewer's newest shortstop. But on a team desperate for potential, Bianchi could provide a spark. It's an addition Roenicke believes is worth the risk.
"This is a guy that everybody in the minor leagues likes," Roenicke said. We've had some of our people from the front office go down and see him and everybody likes this guy. We need to see what he can do. It's not anything against Cody Ransom or ( Cesar Izturis), but this is a guy that maybe can play some here for us. If he's as good defensively as they say and if he can do all the little things offensively that they tell me, then he should have a chance to play."
Bianchi has yet to get a hit in 11 plate appearances, but there's no frustration in his face. He's just happy to be here.
Asked about his injury history, it's clear Bianchi has tried his best to move on from the topic. But he does acknowledge that he wouldn't be who he is now if he hadn't faced so many struggles.
"It's hard to say I'm happy I went through them, but I am," Bianchi said. "I grew a lot from that time being away. It made me appreciate the game that much more. And it just makes it even more special to be here."
Bianchi will fight with journeymen Cody Ransom and Cesar Izturis for playing time the rest of the season, as Gonzalez's early-May injury left a significant hole in the Brewers' lineup. The opportunities haven't been frequent so far, but neither Ransom nor Izturis has proven he deserves to be an everyday replacement and that leaves an opening for a high-potential player such as Bianchi to take advantage.
Still, after becoming the fifth different Brewer to play shortstop this season, he brushes off questions of taking advantage of the opportunity. For now, he's just concerned about filling his role. He knows how fickle baseball can be, how an opportunity can be there one day and gone the next. He smiles when he's asked if he feels like he's fulfilling his life-long dream.
"This is my eighth season, so it's been somewhat of a long road to get here," Bianchi said. "But it only makes it all that much sweeter, knowing I overcame these injuries. I've very thankful to be here. This road has been blessed for me to get here."
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