Johnny Giavotella has played at all levels of baseball in his young 29 years, and he will soon add one more to the list. The New Orleans area native has committed to play for Team Italy in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, in what will be the fourth year of the international competition.
Giavotella prepped at Jesuit High School in New Orleans, where he was a member of a Louisiana 5A State Championship team. He then went on to star for the University of New Orleans. In his sophomore year, he was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2007 Sun Belt Conference Tournament won by UNO. As a junior he hit .354 with 12 home runs, 56 RBI and 19 stolen bases.
He was the second-round draft choice of the Kansas City Royals in 2008, making his major-league debut with the Royals three years later. For four years, he split time between the Royals and their Omaha Triple-A affiliate. The second baseman was the recipient of the 2011 George Brett Award as the Royals organization’s top hitter and was named Omaha’s Player of the Year. In his most active season with the Royals in 2012, he appeared in 53 games. After the 2014 season, Giavotella was traded to the Los Angeles Angels.
Giavotella played for the Angels as their regular second baseman, but then lost his starting job late last season, due to his declining offensive production. The Angels then decided to go in a different direction at second base, and he was granted free agency after the season. He recently signed a minor league contract with the Baltimore Orioles.
Giavotella is eligible to play for Team Italy by virtue of his Italian heritage. In addition to native-born players, the countries participating in the WBC are allowed to augment their rosters with non-resident players who are descendants of immigrants from those countries.
He is hoping to extend the improvement Team Italy enjoyed in the last WBC competition in 2013, when they finally got out of the first round pool play for the first time with a surprising defeat of Mexico. In the two previous WBC tournaments in 2006 and 2009, Team Italy was able to win only a single game in the first rounds.
Giavotella will join fellow major leaguers on the Italian team, including a couple of veterans of WBC competition, Francisco Cervelli of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Drew Butera of the Kansas City Royals.
Other major leaguers who have already committed to play this year for Team Italy are Chris Colabello (Indians), Brandon Nimmo (Mets) and Daniel Descalso (Cardinals). Team Italy organizers are also hoping to sign up additional players like Andrew Benintendi (Red Sox), Joey Gallo (Rangers) and Alex Liddi (Mexican League), although the rosters won’t be finalized for a couple more weeks.
The manager of Team Italy is Marco Mazzieri. He has been the manager of several Italian national teams since 2007, including their entry in the 2013 WBC. Hall of Famer Mike Piazza has been designated as a coach on the team. Piazza actually played for Italy in the inaugural WBC tournament in 2006.
The 2017 WBC starts first-round pool play on March 9. Italy will compete in Pool D in Jalisco, Mexico, where other participants will include Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
Three other first-round pools will be played in Miami (Pool C), Tokyo (Pool B) and Seoul (Pool A). The teams that advance out of the first-round will play semi-final elimination games in San Diego (hosting winners from Pools C and D) and Toyko (hosting winners from Pools A and B). The final championship round will be played in Los Angeles. Team USA will be competing in Pool C.
Francisco Cervelli credits his participation in the 2009 WBC for Italy with opening the door for him to secure a major league roster spot with the New York Yankees. Perhaps a solid showing by Giavotella in this year’s installment of the international competition can help him land on the big-league roster with the Orioles this season.
Contributed by Richard Cuicchi