2016 Giants: What’s the [Infield] Plan?

Hi everybody. Gosh, it’s been over a month since I started this series with a look at the 40-man catchers. I’m sorry for the hiatus. The sad truth is it’s just tough to find the time these days. Believe me though, my passion for this organization hasn’t ‘waned a bit. That was evident to me tonight when I scrolled down the official roster and saw this:

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 7.16.34 PM

Six infielders, all under 30, all homegrown success stories. Not one of these guys was acquired through trade, rule 5, or other. They were all drafted (Adrianza was signed IFA) and developed as Giants from the very start.

They now form one of the elite infield groups in the bigs, yet not a single one was hyped on draft day. Even Panik, highest drafted among them, was viewed as a first round reach. For someone who has followed this farm system so closely over the years, the success of this group is so rewarding. Let’s take a closer look at them.

As a quick side note, Nick Noonan and Kevin Frandsen have been removed from the 40-man since season’s end. That’s two more former promising Giants draftees, though neither had much of an impact on the club.

Brandon Crawford | Age 28: There’s no doubt B-Craw was a valuable player before 2015, but I think it’s also fair to say he was somewhat of a frustrating player as well. He’d make a highlight play, then turn around and botch a routine grounder. He’d make hard contact for a month straight, then go into a brutal offensive slump for 6 weeks. It always seemed like he was capable of more, and this year he became a star. If not for his September injury, Crawford had a legitimate shot at 25 HR. He’s absolutely deserving of a Gold Glove, as well as a long-term contract. I don’t think he gets the latter, however, and I don’t blame the Giants for waiting a year to see what he does. MLB Trade Rumors (who I defer to with this kind of information) projects him at $5.7M in arbitration this winter, and if he puts up anything close to this season’s 5.6 WAR in 2016, it’ll take some serious dough to get him locked up before his contract year.

Brandon Belt | Age 27: Belt came back from his injury-filled 2014 and settled in for a solid 2015 summer. He was an 18 HR, 3.9 WAR player in only 137 games, but his lingering concussion symptoms from the end of the season have some folks concerned heading into the winter. The guy really can’t seem to catch a break health-wise, so you just hope he can come back completely healthy from all this.

Belt still divides a lot of Gigantes fanatics, and I won’t say he’s my favorite player on the team… but this much I know: the Giants are a much better team with him than without him. If he’s healthy, it’s hard not to envision him topping the 20 HR threshold for the first time. He’s headed into what should be the prime years of his career, but I truly don’t know what his future holds at the moment. He’s got two years of team control left, and although it’s hard to see the organization letting him walk (or trading him!), there’s a few things standing in the way of him getting a long term extension at this point. The obvious elephant in the room is Posey’s potential move to first down the road (not a given in the next 4-5 years for me), but the more subtle barrier is the organization’s drafting of Chris Shaw, arguably the strongest power hitter in the 2015 draft class. Shaw led the short-season NWL in homers this summer and got a lot of positive reviews for his swing in fall instructs. It’s way too early to anoint him the incumbent at 1B, but the situation is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Joe Panik | Age 25: Panik’s sophomore slump took a vacation to the tune of a .312 average, 8 HR, nearly 1:1 BB/K ratio, Gold Glove defense, and a spot in the All-Star game. His lower back had something to say about it though, keeping him out of all but 15 second half games. Whether it’ll be an ongoing issue for him remains to be seen at this point, but at 25 you’d like to think to he’ll make a full recovery. Kelby T. was able to take a bit of the sting out of Panik’s absence, but there’s no doubt Joe’s got impact potential when he’s on the field. He’s been on an absolute offensive tear since the beginning of 2014 in AAA, but it’s easy to forget he was a sub-.260 hitter for Richmond in 2013. A lot of folks slapped a utility label on him that summer, an obvious oversight looking back. The Giants, they kept the faith, and they’re now seeing the player they hoped for when they “reached” in the first round four years ago.

Matt Duffy | Age 24: A 4.9 WAR player in his rookie year, the guy who made us forget about Pablo, and my favorite player in the organization? That’s a big hell yes, to all of the above. Everyone knows the story by now. Light-hitting infielder for Long Beach State, 18th round pick in 2012. He zooms through the minors; gets the call in 2014; helps win a ring; busts his butt in spring training; makes the club; eventually forces Casey McGehee out of a job. In the meantime, he took on a position at which he had no professional experience, learned it at the highest level, and gave tremendous at bats night…after night…after night. Oh, and he won the Willy Mac Award. All in a year’s work for the DuffMan. Now, the question becomes, can he do it again? The league is harsh, and it will adjust. Mark my words… so will Duffy.

Kelby Tomlinson | Age 25: Kelby was a 2011 draftee out of Texas Tech with little fanfare. He was a guy who could hold his own at shortstop and fly around the bases. But he wasn’t supposed to hit, and after posting a .357 average in the AZL that summer, he didn’t. His 2014 season in Richmond was an improvement, but .268 and 1 HR still wasn’t anything to put him on the prospect radar. A tweak in his swing last offseason changed all that, and he took the Eastern League by storm in 2015. Panik’s injury turned out to be an opportunity for Tomlinson to show what he could do. A month later, he’s got two nicknames and a big league gig. Word at the end of the season was he’d be tried out in CF in instructs, and apparently it didn’t go tremendously. I really have no idea whether he’ll see the position at all next year, but I do think his approach and speed will continue to force the organization’s hand. They’d be crazy not to at least give him regular reps in LF next spring, otherwise he’ll lose a ton of playing time as Panik’s backup at 2B.

Ehire Adrianza | Age 26: It’s crazy to think Adrianza’s been with the Giants for 10 years, and he’s only played just over 100 games at the MLB level. He was once considered a top 10 prospect in the system, dubbed a defensive wizard whose bat would always be in question. Personally, I think his defensive abilities have been a bit overplayed, while I don’t think he’s nearly as bad at the plate as he’s been made out to be. He’s one of the few players on the roster who can hold down SS on Crawford’s days off, and that to me gives him a guaranteed spot. The Giants have shown faith in Adrianza, and I believe he’ll reward them for it someday.

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3 thoughts on “2016 Giants: What’s the [Infield] Plan?”

  1. Crawford — Giants will probably try to lock him up long-term. There is nobody in the MILB the pipeline that can actually play short stop. At least before Crawford is gone and that assumes Lucius Fox doesn’t end up failing or in a position switch.

    Belt — Yeah, I know, everybody want him gone. Thing is, you move Posey from Catcher you may increase 1B WAR somewhat, but you’re not going to come close to finding a pitch-framing, great-all-around catcher to replace him. In the end, you’ll be setting the club back.

    Panik — I like the kid, but he’s not Gold Glove. Very good, yes. Gold Glove. Not yet. However, he is one of the most balanced and productive 2B in all of baseball.

    Duffy — He’s pushing Gold Glove. Like Panik. But, like Panik, he’s not there yet. And, like Panik, he’s one of the most balanced and productive 3B in all of baseball.

    Tomlinson — He’s interesting. I can’t wait to see what he does next year. Mostly because I’m not quite so sure about his hitting. I think it’s real. But…

    Adrianza — He is a soft-contact hitter who rarely hits line drives. SInce line drives/hard-contact are the keys to BABIP and BA, he is what he is. It’s not bad luck. It’s not great defense. It’s just he can’t beat major league pitching and fielding.

  2. Crawford: Had not really thought about it to a great degree, but I agree with moseszd, there’s no one in the system with Crawford’s offensive and defensive abilities, and that plus his love for the Giants should lead to some sort of long term deal this season, one would think. However, SS is a dangerous position to put a lot of money into. But with Pagan’s salary coming off soon, switching it over to Crawford is one way to cover that.

    Belt: I’ve understood both sides of the Belt spectrum, and ultimately, see his potential more than his down side. He’s one of my favorites because no matter how much he has struggled – and he’s been up and down a lot – ultimately, he has pretty good stats and batting lines. You gotta love a guy who can help but contribute, even if it’s hurky-jerky. I still think he can become a Votto-lite, if he can ever put together a healthy season, perhaps this will be the season. I think a long term deal is possible even with Posey taking 1B time away, because I can see the Giants making Belt their LF at some point in the future, perhaps as soon as 2016, if they end up not signing anyone, as I like the idea of Posey/Susac sharing starting duties at C/1B, with Susac sitting regularly to allow bench players to get starts.

    Panik: I mostly agree with what you say other than that he was not hot offensively when he reached the majors, he had serious problems hitting for his first month or so in the majors before finally figuring out the key and stinging line drives after that. Gold glove or no, he’s a pretty darn good 2B, I have no problem if he never wins one.

    Duffy: wow, what a great season, a great transformation. I will note a few things. Most importantly, its the Willie Mac Award. Also, Duffy faded at the end, and I suspect it was because of lack of stamina, not just league adjustment, playing so many games, and I expect him to fix that during the off-season. You hit the nail on the head: he’s just got that “can do” attitude that makes you think he will.

    Tomlinson: I expect the Giants to make him a super-utility player and put him out in LF at times. With his speed, even if he’s not, as Evans noted, a natural out there, well, neither was FLew, and he still racked up positive defensive WAR in LF. Speed will cover a lot of sins defensively (though not all, see Aoki). I expect Bochy to use Tomlinson as a frequent starter in many different spots to give the main starters a breather (particularly 2B and 3B, plus LF, and perhaps SS too) and save their strength for later in the season.

    Adrianza: Defensively, he’s been what was advertised when he was a younger prospect, an MLB ready SS. He’s also shown the ability to hit well when he around the age of the league, so I still have hopes for him offensively, but not enough that the Giants would absolutely start him if Crawford should leave via free agency. But with the rest of the lineup so good, I think the Giants would at least contemplate that option, should the need ever arise. He’s been waived by the Giants before, so I would not go as far to say that he’s guaranteed a spot, but the Giants like to have two MI bench players, and right now, he and Tomlinson are the guys and nobody seems close yet.

    Thanks for your interesting series, yes, it’s been a while, but that’s OK, we got a long way to go in the off-season, we haven’t even gotten to the Winter GM meeting yet!

  3. I read yesterday that Adrianza is training w/Blanco.He’s trying to put 10-15 lbs on.I think that will help him a little offensively.It’s hard to hit,when every pitcher can muscle you.

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