Tuesday, January 12, 2010

On the Fringe: Where Do Five San Francisco Giants Players Stand?

From Bleacher Report

With new additions Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa signed, and Freddy Sanchez and Juan Uribe re-signed this offseason by San Francisco Giants General Manager Brian Sabean, the Giants seem to be a brand new team offensively going into next year.

Granted, while these signings seem to blend into Sabean's unending trend of signing veterans that are perhaps on the decline of their careers, on paper, the acquisitions done by Sabean and his management team have to be considered an improvement (I guess).

That being said, these latest moves make things very interesting come this Spring Training for five players who will be on the fringe of making the 25-man roster, perhaps even the 40-man roster: Eugenio Velez, Fred Lewis, John Bowker, Travis Ishikawa and Andres Torres.

Case No. 1: Eugenio Velez. Position: LF, UTL

Eugenio Velez had a solid start after his call-up in late July. However, after being moved permanently to the leadoff position, and seeing playing time everyday, he effectively cooled off and put up rather mediocre stats.

Last season, Velez finished with five home runs, a .267 batting average, and a .708 OPS. While Velez did have 11 stolen bases, he was caught five times, not a good percentage for a base-stealer.

According to Velez's Bill James and CHONE projections for next season, the lanky 27-year-old from the Dominican Republic, most likely will not improve much upon his numbers from a season ago.

CHONE only projects a four point improvement in his OPS, and Bill James actually believes his OPS will drop seven points. And this is also considering that Velez's OPS is pretty awful to being with, especially for a guy expected to bat leadoff.

The only shining grace? Velez is expected to improve his BB/K ratio in both projections. In Bill James, he is expected to improve by 10 points, while he is expected to improve by five points according CHONE. Granted, at 0.29 last year, Velez really has nowhere to go but up.

As far as Velez's future with the Giants? It doesn't look good. DeRosa made things bad, but Huff makes things almost impossible for Velez to continue his playing career in San Francisco.

Prediction: If he has a great (and key word: GREAT) Spring Training, then maybe he could make the roster. However, unless DeRosa gets hurt or Huff falls off the face of the earth, Velez most likely will be gone by May at the latest.

Case No. 2: Fred Lewis. Position: LF

Fred Lewis' future was already in heavy doubt last season, when Nate Schierholtz's surprisingly good offensive numbers in May put him on the bench. Furthermore, he lost even more ground when Velez put up his hot streak in late July and early August.

That being said, Lewis seems to be one of their best outfield options mainly for one reason: his OBP.

The Giants ranked last in OBP last year, and according to Jack Moore of Fangraphs, Lewis may be the Giants' best option when it comes to offense. Lewis had a .348 OBP last year, and according to Bill James and CHONE projections, he is expected to put up a .351 and .344 OBP, respectively.

Couple that with increases in his stolen bases (BJ projects him to steal 13 bases, CHONE projects 11, both projections up from the eight he had last year) and home runs (BJ and CHONE have him at seven and eight, respectively) and Lewis seems to be an enticing option.

However, the Huff signing definitely seems to put a wrench in Lewis' future. With Huff most likely playing first base (unless Bud Selig decides to add the DH in the National League), DeRosa probably will get bumped into left field.

That leaves a unique backup situation in Left Field among Lewis, Velez, John Bowker and Andres Torres. Bowker most likely will go to Triple-A to start the season, and Torres may be better utilized in Center as a backup to Rowand. Thus, the battle is between Velez and Lewis.

If you go by last year, Velez probably will gain more favor by some fans because of his spectacular couple of weeks when he was on fire. That being said, if you are a more knowledgeable fan, Lewis should be the go-to guy because of his consistency.

He wasn't awful, but he wasn't fantastic by any measure. The main question is which aspect is manager Bruce Bochy more impressed with: Velez's brief, spectacular play? Or Lewis' slightly above average consistency?

Prediction: Lewis most likely will get the boot unless he has a great Spring Training. Unlike Velez, there probably is actually a decent market for Lewis (because of his plate patience and decent speed), and it wouldn't be surprising to see the Giants get some return on Lewis by or right before the end of Spring Training.

Whatever happens, seeing Lewis in a Giants uniform by Opening Day isn't a strong possibility.

Case No. 3: John Bowker. Position: OF, 1B

Bowker is coming off a pretty lousy stint last season at the Major League level. He hit .194, posted a .620 OPS and a 0.22 BB/K ratio in 31 games last year with the Giants. However, Bowker is coming off an impressive campaign in Fresno last season where he hit .342, with 21 home runs, and posted a 1.047 OPS and 1.16 BB/K ratio. Basically. Bowker was the best player in the Giants Triple-A team, and he did this all in 104 games as well.

Therefore, that begs Giants fans to ask this question: is Bowker another Todd Linden, a guy who can hit 30 home runs in Triple-A, but do jack at the Major League level? Or is he a player that just needs the right opportunity to show what he can do?

Bowker has shown some success with the Giants. In 2008, he got off to a hot start and hit 10 home runs in a 111 games. That being said, he has really struggled in terms of plate patience. While his BB/K numbers were incredible last year in Fresno, they still were mediocre in 2008 at 0.26.

There is no question Bowker has some pop with the bat. In addition, there is no question that Bowker really doesn't have much else to prove at the Minor League level. However, the question is will he get a shot next year? Or will he continue to only be able to knock Triple-A pitching out of the park. He can play all three outfield positions (though left is really his only position), not to mention first base, but with all those positions already filled to the brim, Bowker might not get the opportunity unless somebody get injured.

Prediction: Bowker could get a shot, but only if somebody ahead of him such as Huff or Derosa fails miserably first. At that point, the season will be already lost, so who knows what could happen to Bowker.

Case No. 4: Travis Ishikawa. Position: 1B

Ishikawa is screwed. Plain and simple. With the Derosa signing, there was already widespread thought that Pablo Sandoval was going to move to first base to allow room for Derosa to play third. Now with Huff on the team, Sandoval will not only play third, but he most likely will play backup at first when Huff needs a spell.

The only role it seems Ishikawa will have on the Giants will be in terms of a defensive replacement. That is quite a shame considering the progress Ishikawa made as a Giant last year.

Last year, despite a putrid start and awful road numbers, he put up nine home runs, and a .715 OPS in 120 games last year in San Francisco. And if that isn't enough, his projections are pretty generous. Bill James projects him to hit 13 home runs, drive in 56 RBI, post a .772 RBI and improve his BB/K ratio to 0.44 (10 points). CHONE projects similar home run numbers (13) and RBI totals (50) and also projects him to make a massive jump in his OPS (.762), though not so much in terms of his BB/K ratio (only 0.35, a one point improvement).

I know Ishikawa is going to be a high strikeout guy. And, though he improved throughout the course of his year, he probably won't ever be a high walk guy either. That being said, Ishikawa's power most likely will improve (mainly because he can't put up putrid road numbers again like he did last year) and you can't really put up a true number of how valuable he is defensively.

Too bad Bochy doesn't know that.

Prediction: Huff's signing almost guarantees Ishikawa starting out in Triple-A Fresno. Only if Huff and Derosa falter simultaneously will Ishikawa get a serious shot at the starting job in 2010, and that probably won't come until mid-season. I mean, Bochy hit Molina in the cleanup despite his sub. 300 OBP.

Case No. 5: Andres Torres. Position: OF

Torres was an incredible surprise last year for the Giants. Despite not playing at the Major League level since 2005, Torres put up a .876 OPS, and stole six bases (and only got caught once). Furthermore, he hit .270 and six home runs in only 75 games, and a 170 plate appearances. This was a guy that had only one career home run at the Major League level prior to 2009.

So, it's safe to say, 2009 was a bit of a breakout season for the tiny, speedy Torres.

However, the question is whether or not he can do it again?

So far, the projections aren't optimistic that he will be able to build on his surprising 2009 season. First off, he's not exactly young (he'll be 32 next season) and he has such a small sample at the Major League level prior to 2009. Bill James predicts that he will have drops in batting average, OBP, and OPS (from. 270 to .264, .343 to .330, and .876 to .731, respectively). CHONE is even more pessimistic. They expect a 22 point dip in average (to .248), a 163 point drop in OPS (.713) and nearly double the amount of strikeouts (from 45 to 87).

The only optimistic stats concerning Torres projections? Similar home run numbers from a year ago (both BJ and CHONE project him to hit six home runs) and an increase in his BB/K ratio (from 0.36 in 2009 to 0.39 and 0.37 in 2010 according to BJ and CHONE respectively).

Granted, the offense may not be Torres most endearing quality. Torres is an incredible defender that was made to cover the sparse outfield at AT&T Park. Furthermore, with six stolen bases and getting caught only once, Torres is not only a speedy base stealer, but he's an efficient one to boot, a quality that makes him a more enticing commodity than Velez, who isn't nearly as efficient.

Prediction: With an ability to play left and center, and with Aaron Rowand on thin ice after an atrocious year last season, Torres is a safe bet to make the squad in 2010. At the very least, he will fill a Dave Roberts "ala 2004 with the Boston Red Sox" role where he will be used as a late inning defensive reserve and pinch hitter for the Giants.

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