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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Game 1 of 162: Fireworks on Opening Night

Holy smokes!

If last night was any indication, we could be in for one heck of a ride this week in Arizona. If you missed the game (I’m sure you didn’t), it was a doozy of an opener. Fortunately, the Giants have Buster Posey, who looks ready to have another monster season at the plate. Buster’s 2-run shot with two outs in the 9th capped a big comeback from the Giants, who squeaked out a 9-8 dogfight.

Is it me or was last night’s game eerily similar to the games the Giants played in April and May of 2013? Less than stellar starting pitching and sloppy defense, bailed out by late-game offensive heroics. I’ll take an exciting win like that on Opening Day, but make no mistake, last night was not a formula for long-term success.

Positives from Game 1: The “big-picture” positives for me last night were the bats of Posey and Brandon Belt. If there’s one knock on Posey at all, it’s that it usually takes his bat a while to heat up this time of year… especially when it comes to extra base power. The same can be said for Belt, who obviously hasn’t seen the same success in his short career as Posey. But for two usually somewhat slow starters to hit absolute moonshots like that on day one, that’s a very good sign. I’m still in awe of Posey’s homer!

Another positive: I think we saw last night just how flexible Bruce Bochy can be with this roster. While some people outside (and maybe even inside) the organization will scoff at the Giants bench, I see a group that can do a lot of different things. In fact, after the abysmal defense we saw early on, I was very excited when Bochy brought Ehire Adrianza and Juan Perez into the game late. Between those two, Gregor Blanco, Brandon Hicks and Hector Sanchez, the Giants have some weapons they can employ off the bench.

Honorable mentions: Jean Machi… holy splitter! The dude takes a lot of heat from fans on the Internet, but he was nails last night. Good thing those fans don’t set the 25-man roster, or Machi wouldn’t have been able to shut the door last night!

Adrianza: Pinch-hit double and a rally starter. Watch out Joaquin Arias.

Angel Pagan: If Pagan can set the table like he did last night, the Giants will have some good times on offense this year.

Negatives: Infield defense. Wow. When Mike Krukow is putting you down, you screwed up. Grounders through the legs, errant throws all over the diamond, misplayed rundowns. Those are plays I would have been upset with my 7th grade Little League team for making. Tighten that stuff up, fellas!

Madison Bumgarner: Victim of some bad defense, but not the shutdown start we were hoping for from MadBum on Opening Day. It’s a long season though, and the kid will bounce back just fine. I’d be surprised if that’s his last Opening Day start… and he’s only 24!

Cainer takes the hill for game 2 of 162 tonight. More fireworks to come? I’d be just fine with a 3-1 win and some good fundamentals, to be honest!

“Never Give the Hitter Too Much Credit”

Good evening, folks. Cactus League play rolls on, and our beloved Gigantes evened their record (that doesn’t count) to 3-3 today. Solid performances at the plate from 5th OF competitors Juan Perez, Tyler Colvin and Gary Brown. Colvin has been showing a nice stroke, but Perez certainly isn’t giving that spot up for free. Brandon Belt had another two hits today – Belt is the Spring Training champion every season… will this be the year he carries it into April?

Good outings on the mound from Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and Edwin Escobar today. Bumgarner looks to be on a mission this year, but I guess you could say the same thing about each of these guys every season. Solid work overall from the starting pitchers early on. You can’t ask for much more than that.

For any MLBtv subscribers out there, the first televised Giants game is tomorrow at noon PST. It’s Matt Cain’s first go-around of the New Year, and I’ll definitely be tuning in. Looking forward to it!

A couple of links before we wrap it up:

Baggarly Law Story – From today, Baggs tells the story of Derek Law’s pop Joe (a follower of Cove Chatter on Twitter… Thanks Mr. Law!). The elder Law made it to the show, but unfortunately never entered the stat books. Years later, his son is living by the mantra, “never give the hitter too much credit,” and D-Law looks ready to break through.

Baggs Bumgarner Story – Also from today, Bumgarner (3 months younger than me) playing the mentor role for some of the kids in camp. Bummy taught Mike Kickham how to throw a cutter. Speaking of lefties not to forget about…

That’s all for tonight. Keep grinding away, everyone. Less than a month until Opening Day.

Wednesday Chat Roundups, Gustavo Update, and Draft Drama

Just a hodge-podge of camp talk for this Thursday morning. Cactus League opener is less than a week away! The full squad has reported, save Santiago Casilla and Jose De Paula, who are stuck in the DR. I still don’t understand how the younger Casilla is in camp, but Santiago can’t get a visa. Are these guys required to go home in the offseason? If not, why would you voluntarily put yourself through that hassle? But I digress…

In other news, Brandon Belt and the Giants got a deal done at midnight Tuesday in a Florida hotel room. That could sound very shady, taken out of context. The agreement was for $2.9M, a slight win for Belt. The whole situation was sort of comical in the way it played out. As someone who flies pretty frequently for work, having to board a cross-country flight for a one night stay sounds awful. But for a measly $3M, you could put me on a Cessna and fly me to a remote part of Canada for all I care. Belt sounds happy about the whole thing (as he should be), and that’s all that really matters.

Chat Roundup

Both Baggarly and Pavlovic had mid-day chats at their respective sites yesterday, so I thought we’d touch on a few of the more interesting topics. First, it turns out I’m not off my rocker in regards to Kendry Flores’ size…

Comment From Cove Chatter: “Could Kendry Flores be this year’s Esky, ascending through the system after being placed on the 40-man? A couple pictures I’ve seen have Flores looking MUCH bigger than 6-ft-2, 175 as he is listed. What have you heard on him?”

Andrew Baggarly: “I agree Flores is not 175 pounds. I heard the stuff isn’t as firm. Flores doesn’t have the same ceiling as Escobar. He is definitely an intriguing arm, though.”

So, I guess there’s some work to be done on the hype machine, but I don’t necessarily think David Lee’s increased velocity reports from last summer have made all the rounds yet… which really doesn’t make sense to me. If a kid adds a good chunk of weight/muscles, sees a pretty dramatic increase and velocity, and puts up the second half peripherals that Flores did last year, I’d think everyone would be talking about it.

Baggs on Derek Law and the bullpen situation:

I still think he’s a longshot but we’ll see him at some point this season. You never want to go straight to the kids on opening day unless you’re utterly convinced they’re ready. As promising as the stuff is, Law hasn’t pitched above A ball. Seems like teams prefer to let a Kontos or a Machi begin in the bullpen, and if they don’t work out, then you have fallback options in the minors.”

Speaking of Law, Hank Schulman had a nice piece on him in the Chronicle yesterday. It’s pretty cool to see these young guys getting a lot of attention so early. I really don’t remember that being the case in camp last spring. There was a lot of talk about Heath Hembree and Gary Brown, but that was just about it. It’s becoming pretty apparent how the organization feels about this new group.

A few other noteworthy quotes from yesterday:

Baggs: “I’m keeping an eye on Joe Panik. This will be a big year for him. I still think he could be a Freddy Sanchez-type. And if Scutaro really does continue to wind down, there could be a great opportunity for Panik in the near future.”

Pavs: (When asked if we’ll see Panik in SF this season) “I think so … there’s not much in his way, is there? I talked to Joe for a long time today. He dropped some weight because he felt he was missing a little quickness last year. Still a really mature kid, with a nice swing and good feel for the game. He’s a guy to watch this spring.”

Baggs: (On Gary Brown) “Really interested to see what changes he made to his swing mechanics. Talked to him briefly and he said he doesn’t even want to think about last year, much less talk about it. He sees the positives of being on the 40-man roster and getting a fresh start. It is very hard not to root for Gary. He has a great personality. But I think he’d probably agree that he can’t let his effort waver from one day to the next. Scouts who watched a lot of him have pointed that out to me.”

Pavs: I’m an Adrianza fan, but the Giants don’t exactly need a defensive whiz at shortstop …”

Baggs: (On Angel Villalona) Saw him today. Yes they still see major league power and no, it’s not too late.”

Finally, Pavs sneaks in tremendous compliment about Andrew Susac, when asked a question about Quiroz:Yes, he’s a perfect fit there. My guess is that Susac would get most the playing time, but Quiroz is a great guy to have a couple hours away, just in case. Susac, by the way, looks fantastic.”

Like I said, TONS of love for the kids going around this spring, as well as some solid reports about the MLB guys. It’s so early right now, but I’m really liking the vibe of this camp. You’d have to think the minor leaguers are jacked up to learn from the vets, and I’ll bet some of those kids end up impressing the heck out of their superiors. I know that’s how it’s supposed to work in a big league camp, but it certainly doesn’t always turn out that way. Take this for what it’s worth, but I think this team could do big things in 2014.

Gustavo Update

Gustavo Cabrera’s health is a major concern for most of us at the moment, but we hadn’t really heard anything on him since his surgery took place (November?). Well, someone asked Baggs about the kid on Twitter this morning, and the response wasn’t what I’d hoped for. At this point, it doesn’t sound like Gustavo will play at all in 2014.

That’s a big blow for a guy who had tons of upside. Essentially, Cabrera and Nathanael Javier will both lose the entire season… and Cabrera’s situation is much more concerning. I guess it’s time for the Giants international scouts to get back out there and look for the next big thing. Bummer.

Draft Drama

If you missed this last night, Aaron Fitt from BA is all over the Phillies right now, after learning the team accused its 2013 5th round pick of violating NCAA policies regarding financial representation. That pick, Oregon State lefty Ben Wetzler, didn’t sign with Philly. He’s now suspended indefinitely. The Phils also did this with their 6th round pick from last year. I’m not going to go into all of the details here, but I would recommend reading Fitt’s article if you have time.

Essentially, what the Phillies did here was break an unwritten rule of MLB draft code… and they PO’d a lot of people in the process. The reason I bring this up is because Philly has the 7th pick in this summer’s draft, and there’s already talk about prospective picks not wanting to be selected by the organization. That could have huge ramifications in June, and potentially even push another top-end prospect closer to #14 and the Giants. Interesting stuff.

As someone who greatly values education and students’ rights, I am not a fan of the NCAA. For an organization that is supposed to have the student-athlete’s best interest at heart, that is one governing body that seems to only care about the cold, hard cash. It’s disappointing, really, and this Phillies fiasco just paints another picture of bone-headed rules that just don’t add up (my opinion, of course). End of rant!

Ok, that’s all for this morning folks. I don’t know about you, but I sure can’t wait for Spring Training games to start. I’m loving all the news and pictures lately, but nothing beats the sound of play-by-play on the radio on a sunny spring afternoon. Well, I guess being there in person would beat it, but you get the point…

Six more days!

Mac Williamson and the Eastern League Plunge

This is kind of an unusual post for me. I’ve been doing quite a bit of number crunching lately, and I wanted to share some of my findings. Long story short, it’s prospect ranking season, and I didn’t feel that Mac Williamson was getting the credit he had earned with his play in San Jose this season. I said as much in the comments over at DrB’s site, “When the Giants Come to Town” (Note: DrB has Mac #5 in his Giants top 50, so I certainly wasn’t complaining about his ranking there). Before you mock me, I’ll make it clear that I am fully aware of the hitter-friendly tendencies in the High-A Cal League, as well as the pitching-driven AA Eastern League. But I have seen a lot of unfair knocks on Williamson lately around the web… many from Giants fans. The old write off of, “He had a good year in San Jose, but there’s no way he holds up against the advanced pitching in AA.”

So, I wanted to know, just what are Mr. Williamson’s chances of excelling next year in Richmond? I also wondered whether the fact that Mac’s a right-handed hitter would help his chances, as it seemed to me (complete speculation) that lefty hitters had struggled more than righties in Richmond in recent years.

Here’s what I did in my attempt to answer these questions. Using Baseball Reference, I found 20 samples (10 right-handed, 10 left) of recent Giants prospects who’d played in both San Jose and Richmond, and measured the average decrease – or, rarely, increase – in their OPS. In all, I compared nearly 20,000 total plate appearances over five seasons, and I’ll admit the results were pretty eye-opening (and even somewhat promising).

A few things to keep in mind:

Players whose names are italicized have MLB service time.

The chart is sorted by the final column, which is the difference in OPS between SJ and Richmond. The players whose OPS dropped the least (or rose) are at the top.

The Giants AA affiliate moved Richmond in 2010, so I didn’t use any AA statistics from before that time (i.e. no Brett Pill).

I only included players who were right around or younger than league average (*Johnny Monell was 25 at AA in 2011). Essentially, nearly all of these guys were considered “prospects” at the time.

The ages/years listed are from the player’s season with Richmond. I did not include their age/year with San Jose. The average age of an Eastern League hitter from 2010-2013 was 24.4. The average age of a Cal League hitter in the same time was 22.7.

For players who repeated either San Jose or Richmond, I usually included their first season at each level. *The two exceptions to this are Angel Villalona, whose 2009 season at San Jose I omitted, and Roger Kieschnick, because his first stint in Richmond was cut short to injury. Kieschnick is also one of the prominent players that Williamson gets compared to, so I thought it beneficial to include both of his seasons in AA. For this reason, you’ll see his name twice (compared against his 2009 SJ season in both instances).

The average Eastern League OPS from 2010-2013 was .723.

The Average OPS in the Cal League from 2009-2013 was .767.

That should give you enough information to understand these numbers. If you have any questions about my thought-process or additions for me to consider, please don’t hesitate to address them in the comments section.

RH Hitters

Year

Age

PA (Rch)

OPS (Rch)

PA (SJ)

OPS (SJ)

Diff

Susac

2013

23

310

0.820

426

0.731

0.089

Villalona

2013

22

209

0.686

309

0.711

-0.025

Duvall

2013

24

430

0.785

598

0.814

-0.029

Joseph

2012

20

335

0.705

560

0.787

-0.082

Peguero

2011

23

296

0.763

538

0.846

-0.083

Culberson

2011

22

587

0.675

551

0.797

-0.122

Perez

2011

24

497

0.684

596

0.809

-0.125

Dominguez

2011

24

313

0.675

279

0.802

-0.127

Brown

2012

23

610

0.731

638

0.925

-0.194

Neal

2011

22

585

0.799

559

1.01

-0.211

RHH Totals

22.7

4172

0.732

5054

0.823

-0.091

LH Hitters

Year

Age

PA (Rch)

OPS (Rch)

PA (SJ)

OPS (SJ)

Diff

Parker

2013

24

524

0.785

571

0.757

0.028

Gillaspie

2010

22

540

0.754

530

0.750

0.004

Belt

2010

22

201

1.036

333

1.121

-0.085

Panik

2013

22

599

0.68

605

0.77

-0.090

Monell

2011

25

441

0.728

472

0.837

-0.109

Kieschnick

2011

24

501

0.737

563

0.876

-0.139

Noonan

2010

21

406

0.584

530

0.727

-0.143

Oropesa

2013

23

259

0.562

583

0.763

-0.201

Kieschnick

2010

23

246

0.673

563

0.876

-0.203

Crawford

2010

22

342

0.712

119

1.045

-0.333

LHH Totals

22.8

4059

0.725

4869

0.852

-0.127

All Hitters

8231

0.729

9923

0.837

-0.108

Findings:

First off, I forgot how good Thomas Neal’s season in San Jose was. Holy smokes! On the flip side, Gary Brown in Richmond, yikes…

To the heart of the matter, though. These 19 players were once (or still are) some of the top hitting prospects in the organization. As a whole, this group was 70 points above average in the Cal League. In Richmond, 14 of the 19 were at least a full year younger than the Eastern League average, and as a group they (all 19) had an OPS 6 points above the league average. So, despite them losing 108 points in OPS (on average) from SJ to Richmond, 11 of these guys were still above average hitters in the Eastern. So the prognosis isn’t all bad. But wow, lefty hitters really take a hit in making the jump. Even in his second – and more successful – stint in AA, Kieschnick’s OPS still dropped 139 points from what he’d done in San Jose. On the surface, it appears that lefties really don’t struggle in Richmond any more than righties do, as I wouldn’t consider a 7 point difference to be all that dramatic. But, if you remove Brandon Belt’s 1.036, it drops the average OPS for the group down to .714… that’s below league average, and quite a bit lower than the average for the righties as well. So, for some reason, lefties do tend to have a harder time in Richmond. Especially when you consider that they fare better (on average) than righties in San Jose. If you remove Brandon Crawford’s inflated OPS in 119 PA, it drops the lefty average to .831, but that’s still higher than the .823 RHH mark.

One other thing I will note that caught my eye here. You’ll notice that the three top spots for righties and the top lefty are all 2013 Flying Squirrels. That’s some pretty sweet stuff, especially for an organization that gets knocked for its lack of impact bats. I know Susac didn’t play much in the second half, but can you see why people around these parts are getting excited about him? An 89 point spike from SJ to Richmond is very, very impressive. What about Parker and Duvall? What the heck are those guys doing? Don’t they know their numbers were supposed to fall off in the monster Eastern? Maybe those power numbers shouldn’t be taken too lightly… a .785 OPS in the EL is nothing to sneeze at.

Finally, Mr. Mac Williamson, the focus of our study… Mac began last season at 22 years old (turned 23 in July), and compiled an .879 OPS. The age factor isn’t really a big deal to me, but it should be noted that he’ll be a little young for the EL next year. His OPS in SJ was better than all but four of the guys on this list. So, how will the jump affect him? Until the games are played next summer, none of us can really know for sure. But based on the 8,000+ PA in Richmond of top Giants prospects before him, I’d say it wouldn’t be a shock to see Mac’s OPS drop 100 points. His BA and OBP are likely to take a hit, but if he can maintain a slugging % above .475, he should be just fine. Mostly, he just needs to stay healthy and take his hacks. If the average drops near the Mendoza line, then it might be time to panic.

Here’s my take. If Williamson struggles in AA, he certainly won’t have been the first Giants prospect to do so. He’s set such a high bar for himself in SJ that he certainly has a lot to live up to in the coming years. But if Susac, Parker and Duvall can all post an OPS of .785+, I think Mac will be all right. If he posts anything north of .850, it’ll be time to get very excited. For now, I’ll look for something in the neighborhood of .795-.815 with about 17 HR, and cross my fingers for anything better. So, I guess I would say yes, Williamson could certainly conquer the Eastern League, even if his numbers won’t blow anyone away. In my opinion, he’s one of the premier hitting prospects in the organization… and I hope to be saying that again next winter.

Mac  Williamson

(Kenny Karst/MiLB.com)

A Wild 24 Hours

On a day when the Giants gave their minor league players a day off from conditioning camp after one of their team vans was involved in an accident, I think it fitting to take a day off from the Cove Chatter 100 prospect lists. If you missed all the commotion this morning, here’s the write-up over at CSN Bay Area. Fortunately, all of the players that were taken to the hospital (Mejia, Bandilla, Soptic, Tomlinson, and Slania) were released without any serious injuries.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter which players were in that van. What matters is their safety. The pictures of the car that hit them aren’t pretty… what a scary situation. This is one blog that is sure thankful those guys are all safe.

In other, not so stressful baseball news, it’s been a very busy 24 hours for the hot stove. Last night was the non-tender deadline for MLB, and the Giants were pretty generous with their contracts. No surprise that Brandon Belt, Gregor Blanco, Yusmeiro Petit, and Joaquin Arias were re-upped, but it was a bit of a shocker to me (and likely a few others) that Tony Abreu was tendered a contract. I guess Sabes doesn’t think too highly of the infield market… not enough to cut ties with Abreu – who really didn’t provide much support last year – anyway.

While all five of the arbitration-eligible guys were awarded contracts, Sandy Rosario and Francisco Peguero were sent packing last night. The Giants apparently couldn’t find a trade partner for Peguero, as they did with Johnny Monell (Baltimore). I’m sure someone will offer Peguero a minor league contract eventually, but his MLB future is very much in doubt at this point. Rosario’s time as a professional has sort of become a revolving door, as I remember his name popping up on numerous waiver claims last winter. He’s a guy I’d take a chance on, but the Giants seem to be looking for more stability from the bullpen next year… I can’t blame them.

So… it would appear that the same reserve infield/outfield issues still loom for the Giants going forward. Let’s assume for a second that Arias and Blanco have two of those spots locked up (which I think is a safe bet). If that’s the case, you still have Juan Perez, Brett Pill, Ehire Adrianza (who is out of options), Nick Noonan, and now Abreu all fighting for the final two spots… plus any other IF/OF Sabean decides to bring in before camp. I don’t know about you, but I sure hope there are more moves to come, even if it’s a guy like Mark Ellis, who I’d gladly take over Abreu to back-up Scutaro at 2B. Abreu and Adrianza are both switch hitters, but Abreu can’t stay healthy, and Adrianza’s ability at the plate is TBD. This is going to get a little messy, friends, and likely won’t be decided until spring.

Around the league, there really weren’t all that many interesting names on the non-tender lists… again, let me show you my surprised face. Noticeably absent from those lists were Justin Ruggiano and Drew Stubbs, two guys who I could see as decent fits to platoon with Blanco in LF. If Sabes is interested in either of those two (which is purely speculation at this points), he’ll have to acquire them in a trade.

The few non-tender players who do intrigue me: Justin Turner, John Axford, Wesley Wright, Daniel Hudson, Andrew Bailey, Jerome Williams. Among this list, I think Turner could be a nice fit (although I seriously don’t know the priority for middle infielders now that Abreu was tendered). He plays all over the diamond, seems to be passable on defense, and is accustomed to a reserve role. The OBP isn’t all that great, but the positional flexibility would be nice. The rest of these cats are pitchers. Hudson isn’t very far removed from a pretty darn good season with Arizona. Axford, Wright and Bailey could all be valuable pieces in a bullpen, but Bailey especially comes with the high injury risk. I would think all three of those guys will find a home pretty quickly. Finally, if the Giants want a little more depth in the rotation heading into spring training, Williams could be a nice full-circle story on a minor league deal. I didn’t really find much else that caught my eye… remember, these are the guys that other teams DIDN’T want.

We’ll wrap up with a quick overview of the recent trade/FA signing action. To my knowledge, there have been approximately 250 moves in the past 48 hours – and those are just from the office of Billy Beane. Seriously, though, the past couple days have been trade central. The A’s (Jim Johnson, Craig Gentry, Luke Gregerson) and Rays (Ryan Hanigan, Heath Bell) have certainly been the most active, but the Nats probably swung the biggest deal in snagging Doug Fister from the Tigers. Fister is a very nice addition to that rotation.

If we’re learning anything here, there are certainly trades to be had out there. The winter meetings are next week, and I sure as hell hope Uncle Sabes is working on that shopping list for a LF. Even if it’s a Ruggiano type, I don’t care. I’m not satisfied with a Blanco/Perez platoon, and I hope you aren’t either. Maybe the front office will completely surprise us with a trade nobody was expecting. They sure have enough interesting prospects to snag a decent player, but whether they’ll pull those strings or not remains to be seen.

We’ll pick back up with the CC 100 tomorrow, with another honorable mention list to be released. For now, though, we’re just thankful here at Cove Chatter that those prospects are safe, and still able to play the game they (and we) all love.

Tony Abreu

Giants 2014: Shortstop

Class is in session… Who’s teaching? The Professor.

Brandon Crawford, or “McDreamy” as my mother refers to him, has held down the Giants’ everyday shortstop job for the past two years, and will likely call it his again next season. Crawford is 26, with two full seasons under his belt, and under team control for another 5 years. He’s a homegrown talent, a Bay Area kid who grew up a Giants fan (giving the puppy-dog eyes for the Chronicle photographer in his backwards Giants hat as a young kid), a new dad, and overall just seems like a pretty cool guy. He’s also made some unbelievable plays in the field during his short career, and has legitimate Gold Glove potential. He was an integral part of the 2012 World Series run, coming up with clutch hits in the postseason last fall.

Many things to like about Crawford, his wavy locks and 5 o’ clock shadow not least among them. But has he earned the right to be the everyday shortstop going forward? Can the Giants do a better job of maximizing the position? We’ll talk more about it later in the post…

Where it’s been: When the Giants drafted Crawford out of UCLA in 2008 (4th round), the position he began grooming for was held by Omar Vizquel, who at 41 years old could still pick it, but couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. Manny Burriss, Ivan Ochoa and Brian Bocock all played at least 25 games at short for the Giants that season, the last losing campaign by the orange and black until this year (Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?). That was Vizquel’s final year with the Giants, so Brian Sabean brought in another veteran to fill the position: Edgar Renteria.

Renteria didn’t have much of an impact in the regular season during his two years with the club, but everyone remembers where they were when he took Cliff Lee deep to left-center in Game 5 of the 2010 World Series. The damn guy hit 10 HR in two years with the Giants – 5 in 2009, 3 in the 2010 regular season, and 2 in the World Series. Incredible. If you’re feeling a little blue watching these Boston-St. Louis games (as I certainly had been), just give this link a click, for old time’s sake.

Enough memory lane stuff for a while, back to the topic at hand. Renteria didn’t return in 2011. Enter Miguel Tejada, 37 years old. We all know what happened to that team. Tejada couldn’t hack it anymore, but stuck around for way, way too long. About this time we started seeing videos like this of a kid with slick shades and silver necklaces doing all sorts of crazy things with his arm and glove for the new Flyin’ Squirrels. Crawford made his MLB debut in Milwaukee in late May and promptly jacked a grand slam. Personally, I think the granny did him a bit of a disservice, as it set some pretty high expectations among the fanbase for a kid who’s bat probably wasn’t quite ready for the show. But he stuck around for a couple months, scuffling at the plate but providing something not seen by a Giants shortstop in quite some time: defense. That disappeared pretty quickly, however, when Sabean replaced him with Orlando Cabrera at the trade deadline. Cabrera couldn’t field… but it was ok, because he didn’t really hit all that well either (that last line’s for you Tex, if you’re reading).

The Giants completely tanked the month of August that season, ending any chance at defending their 2010 title in the postseason. By September, Crawford was back in the big leagues as the everyday shortstop, while Tejada and Cabrera were has-been’s. Crawford would hit his 3rd HR that month, and slap two hits on the final day of the regular season to push his average over the Mendoza Line.

Where it’s headed: After years of employing aging vets and kids who couldn’t hack it, there’s been almost no drama at shortstop for the Giants since September 2011. The same can’t be said about 1B, where another young homegrown Giant who made his debut in 2010, Mr. Brandon Belt, has been the center of heated debate among fans almost since the day he was called up. If you compare how those two guys have been handled during the last two years and factor each one’s production, it really does make the Belt situation all that much more incredible. The dude is truly an enigma.

In his two seasons as the everyday starter, Crawford has been pretty consistent at the plate. He’s hit exactly .248 both years, and his OBP (.304 in 2012; .311 in 2013), extra base hits (33; 36), and BB/K (33/95; 42/96) totals have been nearly identical. He’s even been consistent in the field, making 18 errors in 2012 (.970 F%) and 18 this year (.974). Ok… what a minute now. Crawford made how many errors? Raise your hand if you knew he’s made 33 errors between the last two seasons. I knew he’d made his share, especially in the first couple months of 2012, but I had no idea he’d made that many! For a guy with his reputation and talent, that’s way too many.

Here’s the deal. Crawford’s an athletic guy, and one the best fielding shortstops the Giants have employed since Vizquel. He’s also got a cannon out there, which doesn’t hurt. The dude has swag; he’s got the confidence that he can make any difficult play, and he can. But I think he has such a flare for the highlight-reel plays that he often loses his focus on the routine jobs. That, to me, is the mark of a young player. Remember, Crawford has only been in professional baseball since 2008. He was moved to the show quickly, and it’s where he’s done most of his learning. I think he’ll grow out of those mental miscues, as early as next year you’d like to think.

This is getting a little long-winded, so I’ll try to tie it all together with a couple more paragraphs. When Crawford came up, we heard that he was an all-glove, no-bat type player. If you’re like me, you didn’t believe that for a second. Dude hits a grand slam in his first game, he can hack it. He’s got a good swing with some pop to boot, and he hits righties fairly well. But he’s streaky at the plate, and he’s doesn’t really hit lefties. He played a good chunk of the second half with some finger problems, which surely didn’t help the cause. Through May, he had 5 HR and 25 RBI, with an average above .280. He hit 4 HR and drove in 18 the rest of the way. At times, his bat was a total non-factor in the lineup. You’d like to see him have a few less of those prolonged slumps as he progresses.

Last year, Crawford was a .272 hitter against righties, and he’s .250 for his career. Against lefties, he was .199 last season with a .214 career mark. The way I see it, the Giants should take a look at finding Crawford a platoon partner if they really want to maximize their production at shortstop. Even if they start by playing Joaquin Arias against lefties, they’re really not losing that much on the defensive end, and they’re upgrading to a career .297 hitter. It’s a move I’d make, but I don’t know if management will…. And what about the other defensive wizard in the system, Ehire Adrianza? The guy was a highly-regarded prospect in the organization for some time, and he looked impressive in his brief debut last month. Will they give him a roster spot? If not, he’ll have to be traded or placed on waivers, and I’d imagine there are some teams who’d be happy to have his services.

Although Crawford still seems to be the starter going forward, Sabean still has some decisions to make on the shortstop position going forward. If the Giants are content to run Crawford out there no matter who they’re facing on the bump, they’re going to sacrifice some offense over the course of the season. In that case, Crawford’s numbers will likely end up near where they’ve been the past couple years, which isn’t awful at all. I do think he’s got more in the bat, and could be a 15 HR guy for a couple years if everything comes together. For now, though, he’s a young, controllable, homegrown talent who makes game-changing plays in the field and can hold his own at the dish. Oh, and the ladies love those chops. The Professor’s (likely) not going anywhere right now, and most Giants fans are just fine with that.

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