This is post #2 in a series looking at the state of the Giants going forward, one position at a time. We started with right field and Mr. Pence, the $90 million man. Now we’re on to the ever valuable center field. Much like right field, the center field spot for the Giants is one with little debate these days, as Angel Pagan is heading into year 2 of 4 in a $45 million contract. Pagan is one of the most valuable players on the team, and like Pence, he plays the game all-out, all the time.
May 25th, he crushes one into triple’s alley in the 10th inning of a tie game against Colorado, proceeds to bust it around 3rd, and keeps-on-a-goin’. He slides in safe for the winning run, a walk-off inside the park homer. Hands down, that’s the sweetest play of the year. Dust flying, Pagan’s helmet down over his face, Flannery running around high-fiving like a lunatic… utter chaos, and one of the most amazing AT&T Park scenes I’ve ever seen that didn’t involve the postseason or a Bonds home run.
That play was the essence of Pagan. It was the last time he’d take the field until August 30th. That walk-off made the Giants 27-22. When he came back, they’d been out of contention for two months. There were so many things that went wrong this year, but you could make a pretty strong argument that Pagan’s absence was the one that sunk the ship. Sure, Torres and Blanco held their own as the CF/leadoff hitter for a little while after Pagan went down. They were exposed eventually, though. Especially Torres… he fell apart, both at the plate and in the field. It’s pretty simple: when Pagan plays, the Giants are a much better team.
So Pagan is the undoubted center fielder and leadoff hitter going forward, as long as he can stay healthy. There’s no doubt about that, as he is being paid handsomely to be that guy. Pagan is an asset on this team, a player who kind of drives the bus in a sense. But, the center field position hasn’t always been a known commodity or strength for the Giants. Like right field, center had been pretty unstable before Pagan entered the picture.
Where it’s been: Remember Aaron Rowand? If there’s any question about Brian Sabean’s preference to lock up players who’ve already contributed at AT&T Park (especially hitters), you can look no further than the Rowand contract to find answers. One year after the Zito deal, Rowand got 5 years and $60 million… I don’t have to remind you that he didn’t make it through 4 full seasons as a Giant. But Rowand was the primary CF for a few years until Andres Torres came out of nowhere in 2010. 2011 was a mix and match farewell tour for Rowand (cut in September), Torres (traded) and Cody Ross (left for free agency). That’s a four-year overview of center field before the Giants acquired Pagan for Torres prior to 2012. Nothing special. But there were trophies and rings earned during that period… just goes to show what can happen when a team gets hot.
Where it’s headed: Pagan is signed through 2016, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be the everyday center fielder for the length of his contract. He’s 32, heading into his 9th year in the bigs, and has only played 150+ games in a season twice in his career. He’s also not the greatest defensive center fielder in the world, and many think he’ll eventually be pushed to left. When he’s healthy, he’s a .280 hitter with extra base power and some serious speed. Health is the big wildcard… he’s starting to seem like one of those guys that can’t avoid a trip to the DL every year. You just hope you don’t end up getting into a Freddy Sanchez situation with Pagan, because he’s owed a lot of money. Next season will go a long way in telling how much value the Giants will get out of the deal.
The Giants will likely fill in behind Pagan with Blanco or Juan Perez next year. In reality, both are stronger defenders than Pagan, but neither have his impact bat. Neither will spend much time in center next year, either. Pagan was given big money to be the center fielder, and you can bet that’s where he’ll be when he’s on the field. Whoever gets the 4th OF job will probably spend most of their time as a late inning replacement in left, as there won’t be many innings to go around in right field either… Mr. Pence has those taken care of.
I’m not sure if the Giants will go with two outfielders on the bench next year. Blanco and Perez are both above average defenders, but I don’t think you need both of them on the 25-man unless there’s an injury. Perez has an elite arm, but Blanco has the better bat. I think Blanco’s bat will win out and Perez will start the year in Fresno. If he can develop a little plate discipline, I can definitely see Perez getting himself some more playing time in the future. He’s just too good of an athlete.
Where does Gary Brown fit into all of this? As recently as a year ago, Brown was the top prospect in the organization and the CF/leadoff hitter of the future. Now that future’s in big trouble. The 2010 1st round pick has seen his average drop from .336 in San Jose, to .279 in Richmond, to .231 this year in Fresno. His stolen bases have also dropped each year, from 53 to 33 to 17. Brown is a tremendous athlete in center with one of the best outfield arms in the organization. The Giants definitely have some superb defensive CF’s in their system, but Brown, like so many others, is seeing his bat fall off as he advances through the minors. Coming in, his contact and speed tools were supposed to be elite to go along with the advanced defense. So how does he strikeout 135 times in Fresno after striking out only 164 times combined over the two previous seasons? What the hell’s going on with him these days?
One thing is for certain with Brown. Whether he can rebound to his future MLB-regular status or not, he’s going to get his opportunities. You don’t give up on top prospects, and while many in the national media will write him off after this year, he still has every chance to get the bat going and move Pagan to left field by 2015. Brown’s a stubborn kid with a great story. I think he’s got a ton of untapped potential left, the coaching staff just needs to help him find it… and he needs to be willing to make changes.
The only other real CF prospects of note in the system are Gustavo Cabrera, Jesus Galindo, and Joneshwy Fargas, all of whom are at least a few years off (if they ever make it). Galindo has plus speed and was a Future’s Game participant this year. Don’t know if he’ll ever hit enough. Fargas is a recent draft pick from Puerto Rico with some athleticism and speed tools. He had a nice summer with the bat in the AZL, and will be a sleeper guy to keep an eye on. Very young. Cabrera is the big ticket, the million-dollar baby, the potential 5-tool stud. But he’s yet to play a professional game in America. He’s a top-10 prospect in the system to me, but no way is he even sniffing San Francisco for another 4 or more years.
I think that’s a pretty fair look at CF in the organization. If I’m missing something, please feel free to let me know. The first two installments of this series were pretty easy, but we’ll get into some of Brian Sabean’s heavy lifting with the next one when we tackle left field. As we all know, the position could go one of about a thousand ways this offseason, and I don’t have any better of a clue than anyone else out there not working within the organization. But I’ll sure take my best stab at it!