Believe it nor not, the San Francisco Giants may just be stealth contenders in the National League West. The club surely won’t be considered front-runners with such a tepid offensive attack, but a potentially outstanding run-prevention unit including Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Randy Johnson and Jonathan Sanchez (plus that Zito dude) might be enough to stay on the fringes of the race. Per PECOTA, the Giants project to surrender the fewest runs in the National League (717).
Of course, the promise of the pitching staff is matched only by the ineptitude of San Francisco’s bats: the Giants are projected to plate a league-worst 704 runs. The team enters the spring with three-fourths of its infield unsettled, with only free agent signee Edgar Renteria assured of everyday work at shortstop. In particular, the competition at second base is a crowded one. Emmanuel Burriss, Eugenio Velez, Kevin Frandsen and Juan Uribe all figure to battle it out at the keystone.
Burriss, who turned 24 this offseason, surprisingly made his major league debut last April. The 2006 supplemental first-rounder from Kent State had scarcely played above A-Ball prior to that point, accumulating just 64 PA at AAA after jumping from High-A. The switch-hitter’s game is all about speed: as evidenced by his near 58% ground ball rate in the minors, Burriss rarely hits the ball with any authority (his career minor league slugging percentage is .337) and instead tries to put the ball on the ground and beat the fielders. Once he’s on, Burriss uses those wheels often, as he snagged a total of 68 bases in the minors in 2007, as well as 13 in his time with the Giants.
It remains to be seen just how well Burriss’ small-ball approach will work at the highest level. He performed adequately in the majors last season (.283/.357/.329, .316 wOBA), but a total lack of pop and mild plate patience (8.4 BB% in the minors, 8.7% with the Giants) do limit his offensive potential. He’s worth keeping an eye on because of the steals, but owning a guy like Burriss means that you’re sacrificing some production in other aspects of the offensive ledger.
Eugenio Velez is another switch-hitting speedster, though his baseball history is much less probable than Burriss’. Velez was selected by the Giants in the minor league portion of the Rule V Draft back in December of 2005, and has since impressed the club enough to earn himself a roster spot. The 6-1, 162 pounder had a big offensive season as a 24 year-old in A-Ball back in 2006, but that was more the product of an older player beating up on guys several years his junior than it was a sign of great offensive potential. The 26 year-old possesses more pop than Burriss (career .126 ISO in the majors), but Velez’s approach at the plate is less refined. He has drawn walks at a 5.3% clip and has swung at nearly 31% of offerings thrown outside of the strike zone.
Kevin Frandsen will likely just be glad to be back on a baseball field on a full-time basis. The San Jose State product received all of one at-bat in 2008, as he lost the year to a ruptured achilles tendon. The 26 year-old makes contact often (10.6 K% in the majors, 8.8% in the minors), but that’s about the extent of his virtues with the bat. The right-handed hitter walked just 6.3% of the time in the minors with a .131 ISO. Frandsen is listed as the starter on San Francisco’s official depth chart and might be considered the favorite to grab the second base job at this point. If you’re looking for a comparison, think Freddy Sanchez, minus the anomalous 2006 batting title.
Pull-hitter extraordinaire Juan Uribe is also in Giants camp as a non-roster invitee. The equal-opportunity hacker’s game is pretty well-known at this point: he certainly offers more thump than his fellow second base competitors (career .170 ISO), but his impatient approach has left him with a career OBP south of .300. Uribe’s glove work and ability to play multiple positions might give him a decent shot of making the club.