Position Battles: Giants’ 2B Job

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.

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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Larry Yocum

Velez has the most upside from a fantasy perspective with the bat, but he treats the glove like a foreign object, so I don’t know if he will ever be a decent enough fielder on a daily basis to play second. Even worse is that he can’t play outfield either so I don’t know what the Giants are going to do with him.

Burriss is too young still, so the job could be Frandsen’s to lose as long as he has a strong camp. He could hit .300 at the big league level and offer 10 HR and 10 SB potential. The Freddy Sanchez comparison is dead on.

The other scenario that I could see panning out is that Frandsen becomes the new Aurilia (provided the old one takes a back seat on the bench) and plays at second, third and SS on any given day and Burriss splits time with him at second. I see that against lefties with Sandoval moving to first, Frandsen playing third (he was a favorite there before blowing the achilles) and Burriss or Velez playing second. They will have a very flexible infield, but one that still can’t put up decent offensive numbers. I don’t know what they will do with Uribe or Aurilia at this point. I really don’t understand bringing in either one of them unless it was simply to provide depth. Either one of those guys making the club could mean Burriss goes back to the minors.

Nice article as always Mr. Golebiewski.