The Littlest Giants

The San Francisco Giants’ infield could be a very interesting place in 2009. Eric touched on the organization’s 25-man roster earlier this week so I am going to now take the opportunity to focus on the young players in the infield. The club will feature an entirely remade infield and young players will be front and center in the remodeling.

New shortstop Edgar Renteria will be the veteran stabilizing influence at the shortstop position. His OPS slumped to .699 in 2008, along with a wOBA of .308 (down from .381 in 2008). Renteria’s defence is also on the slide with a UZR in the past two seasons of -1.7 and 0.9.

The other middle infield spot is still up in the air – although the 2008-09 off-season is far from over. If the season were to begin tomorrow, a group of young players would have the opportunity to fight for playing time. Those players struggling for scraps of at-bats would include Eugenio Velez, Emmanuel Burriss and Kevin Frandsen.

Velez can fly like the wind, but he is best suited to a utility role and pinch runner. He hit .262 in 275 at-bats in 2008, while also posting a wOBA of .297. Just under 60 percent of his batted balls were hit on the ground so he understands how to take advantage of his speed. He just needs to walk more (4.8 BB% in 2008).

Burriss hit .283/.357/.329 with a .318 wOBA in 240 MLB at-bats in 2008. He also has speed and stole 13 bases in 18 attempts. He has played more shortstop in the minors but he was more impressive at the Major League level at second base. He has the highest ceiling of the young middle infielders.

Frandsen appeared all over the diamond in 2007 but missed most of 2008 with a torn Achilles’ tendon. He returned at the end of 2008 and appeared in the Arizona Fall League where he dominated with a line of .333/.392/.421 in 133 at-bats. After stealing 10 bases in 13 attempts, Frandsen even showed that his Achilles tendon was feeling better.

At third base, Pablo Sandoval likely has the inside shot at this point. The catcher-third baseman hit .345/.357/.490 with a wOBA of .361 in 145 MLB at-bats last season. He held his own in the field at third base and did not make an error in 85 innings.

Minor League free agent Jesus Guzman, signed out of the A’s organization, is a sleeper option for 2009 at third base. His defence is nothing to write home about but if he continues to hit, he’ll earn his shot. Currently this off-season in Venezuela, Guzman is dominating with a line of .349/.435/.616 in 232 at-bats. He also recently broke the winter league’s 35-year-old RBI record with his 67th of the season.

At first base, the Giants will have former Jays top prospect Josh Phelps in camp on a minor league deal. He held his own for the Yankees and Pirates in 2007 but was a victim of numbers despite a .306 batting average and seven homers in 157 at-bats. He hit .265 in 34 at-bats for the Cardinals in 2008 but was playing in an organization that really didn’t need a back-up first baseman very often.

John Bowker, 25, also has a shot at playing time at first base in 2008 after spending 71 games there in 2008. Defensively, he was nothing special with a RF/9 of 7.96. Offensively, Bowker batted .255/.300/.408 with a wOBA of .307 and an ISO of .153 in 326 at-bats.

Travis Ishikawa will battled Bowker for time from the left-handed batter’s box. The 25-year-old hit .274/.337/.432 with a wOBA of .337 in just 95 MLB at-bats in 2008. He had a very nice minor league season split between Double-A and Triple-A, after a putrid 2007 season. He needs to come out and have a hot start to the season to put the doubters’ whispers to rest.

All-in-all, the Giants organization likely will not receive above-average offensive or defensive production from the infield in 2009. But it should be interesting to watch and one or two of the players will likely stick around in San Francisco for a number of years to come.



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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects, depth charts and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.


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oldjacket
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oldjacket
7 years 5 months ago

I don’t think Bowker is being seriously considered at first base.

obsessivegiantscompulsive
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7 years 5 months ago

Yeah, Bowker’s now viewed as a corner OF only, based on info that the Giants management have given since the end of the season.

Otherwise, nice analysis overall. It should be noted that Renteria, after a slow start (which some have attributed to poor conditioning coming into the season), had an OPS over 800 for the rest of the season. If he were done due to age, he would not have improved during the season, and thus should be expected to have a regression to the mean for the previous 3-4 seasons, which would be an above average production at SS.

But yeah, overall, offense and defense will be lacking. However, if the infield ends up being Ishikawa, Burriss, Renteria, Sandoval, then the infield defense should be around average overall. Ishikawa is considered plus defensively, Burriss reportedly should be plus as a 2B defensively (at best average at SS), Renteria has been slightly below average at SS, and Sandoval could be slightly below to severely below, and if he is only slightly, then the infield should be around average overall.

oldjacket
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oldjacket
7 years 5 months ago

The only other thing I would add to this is that Velez is prone to the kind of defensive and mental lapses that make it especially hard for a manager to write his name in the lineup card with out fear of being subject of tomorrow’s Sporting Green column.

Hal Incandenza
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Hal Incandenza
7 years 5 months ago

You clearly have never seen Sandoval. He is huge (think Prince Fielder) and will quickly be relegated to 1st where he will be a below average defender (Molina then Posey behind the plate). Frandsen will probably play 3rd with Burriss at 2nd and Velez backing the whole infield.
Smart move is to trade Molina put Sandoval behind the plate and sign a real 1st baseman. And Burriss can be a ++defensive 2nd baseman. After watching his first ever season at 2nd, he will only get better.

wpDiscuz