When Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval went down two weeks ago with a broken bone in his left hand two things happened: San Francisco lost the heart of their offense, and the organization’s lack of infield depth at the Major and upper Minor League levels was almost immediately exposed.
To replace Sandoval the front office called up Conor Gillaspie, their number one third base prospect at Triple A Fresno.
Not only was Gillaspie unable to get his bat going (6 games, 20 ABs, .150AVG), it became clear he did not have a Major League-caliber arm. Several of Gillaspie’s routine plays were much closer than they should have been, and he simply didn’t appear to have the afterburner arm needed to get outs when throwing off-balance or charging bunts.
Eventually extra infielder Joaquin Arias was tabbed to take over at third base until Sandoval returns. Arias has filled in very well defensively and on this team his .250 BA makes him an offensive god in the batting order.
At second base it appears that Freddy Sanchez may be rehabbing through the rest of his contract. Ryan Theriot (.217) and Emmanuel Burriss (.221) have shown little either defensively or offensively.
So to fix second base, the Giants brought up Charlie Culberson from Triple A Fresno, who in a very small sample size is hitting .091 in 3 games, with 11 ABs and 4 SOs. But Culberson is not the long range solution at second base for San Francisco– a guy named Joe Panik will likely fill that role.
Minor League hitting machine Joe Panik is playing shortstop at Single A Salem-Keizer and is putting up serious numbers: .346AVG/.401OBP/.868OPS. Panik is several years away from the Majors and a college injury will likely mean he joins the big team as a second baseman.
It’s true that minor league shortstops Nick Noonan, 23, at Fresno (.314/.369/.768), and Ehire Adrianza, 22, at AA Richmond, have at times shown promise either at the plate (Noonan) or with the glove (Adrianza). And Chris Dominguez at Richmond has great potential as a third baseman with power.
But here’s the 400 pound reality check in the room: there are simply no immediate upgrades available to Bruce Bochy at those three critical infield positions.
Management started the 2012 season giving shortstop Brandon Crawford a reluctant pass on his hitting in order to bring his outstanding glove to the Giants’ infield. Crawford has fulfilled the hitting part of the bargain (.225 BA, .275 OBP) but hasn’t found a consistent defensive groove.
Crawford clanked 8 errors in the first month and a half of the season, but my guess is he settles down and that glove starts to get consistent and routinely spectacular real soon.
[There's seems to be an epidemic of shortstop errors in the National League-- the Cubs' Starlin Castro has 8 errors, LA's Dee Gordon has 9 errors, and the otherwise incredible Troy Tulowitzki has 7 errors. Go figure.]
What the Giants’ minor league system is producing is a lot of really promising outfielders (Gary Brown, Francisco Peguero, Roger Kieschnick) and catchers (Hector Sanchez, Tommy Joseph, Andrew Susac).
If the long range plan is to put Buster Posey at first base, you can start to see in the direction San Francisco will need to go to upgrade the infield: trading some number of Major League prospects, like Brandon Belt, Hector Sanchez, or maybe Brett Pill, as well as some number of the above named minor league outfielders and catchers.
For now, San Francisco is a team desperately treading water. In the twelve games played since Sandoval was put on the DL San Francisco hitters have managed only a .248 BA and scored an average of 3.33 runs per game– usually a recipe for 4-8 record. The Minnesota Twins are averaging 3.31 runs per game which has earned them 10 wins and 26 losses so far this season– the worst record in baseball.
But the Giants are 6-6 in those twelve games, yet another example of how dominant pitching can help compensate for a batting line-up that cannot score runs. With the Panda out for another four weeks, this is a team waiting for a winning streak and trying to stay relevant in the NL West.