If you're a Giants fan, take a guess the average age of the position players currently on the active roster...
If you guessed 29.4 years old, then you are correct (and John Nash from "A Beautiful Mind"-esque in math as well...congrats).
That isn't exactly young, especially when you consider the fact that most of the guys that bring that average age under 30 sit on the bench. Case in point: last night, the only players in the lineup under 30 years of age were Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey.
Now, this isn't exactly breaking ground. Giants fans have been used to Bruce Bochy's "Play the Vets At All Costs" mentality since 2007 when he first came on as manager. Some of the young guys have been solid under Bochy's tenure, and some haven't. That being said, there are some guys with solid potential, and some young guys that may just not be good enough for the big league level (ala Joe Borchard...he's tearing up Fresno, I know, but believe me, he is a Quad-A player).
John Bowker, Nate Schierholtz, Travis Ishikawa and Emmanuel Burriss are those players still with potential (whether you want to believe it or not...I'm saying it).
Of course, who knows if these four will get many opportunities this year. As a matter of fact, chances are, with the roster as veteran-stocked as it is, they probably won't get much, if any opportunities for regular playing time this year unless some injuries happen.
Yet, in terms of next season, these four arbitration-eligible players in 2012 should have some opportunities to play come Spring Training and I'll give you reasons why for each player.
John Bowker, outfielder, 26 years old.
Major League Stats: .303 average, .863 OPS in 552 games.
Major League Stats: .238 average, .678 OPS in 183 games.
What can I say about John Bowker? It's hard really. After being sent down to Fresno to make room for Pat Burrell, his 2010 season has been a bit of a disappointment. He tore up the Pacific Coast League last year, posting a .342 average, a 1.047 OPS and also hit 21 home runs in 450 plate appearances with the Grizzlies. Furthermore, he got off to a resounding start in Spring Training, hitting .312 with six home runs in 77 AB, which led him to getting the starting right fielder's position on Opening Day over Nate Schierholtz.
Unfortunately, the 2010 regular season has been anything but kind to Bowker. In 90 plate appearances this year, Bowker posted a .207 average, a .609 OPS and a .262 wOBA (his projected wOBA prior to the season was .350 according CHONE projections).To make matters worse, he didn't seem to transition the plate patience he showed in Fresno in 2009 to the big league level these first few months of Major League play. Bowker's 0.26 BB/K ratio (compounded by a 28 percent strikeout rate) is a far cry from the 1.16 BB/K ratio he sported with the Grizzlies (though, to look at it optimistically, it is better than the 0.22 ratio he had in 2009 at the Major League level).
However, despite the poor start, there is hope for Bowker.
First off, look at what he's doing in Fresno right now. In 10 games and 46 plate appearances with the Grizzlies, Bowker has hit four home runs and posted a batting average of .390 and an OPS of 1.166. Bowker is hitting the ball hard and hitting the ball with confidence, something you couldn't say he was doing in the Majors this year.
It is possible to think that Bowker will develop the confidence he needs in Fresno and will transition that to the Majors the next time he is called up. Then again, Giants fans thought that would happen this year (but Giants fans also thought he would get more of a chance as well).
Second, if you look at Bowker's plate discipline numbers, he has shown improvement, which is comforting. He has swung at less pitches outside the strike zone (22.5 percent, which is down 25.9 percent in 2009), and he is making better contact as well (his contact rate is up from 72.3 percent in 2009 to 78.7 percent this year).
The big problem for Bowker in the Majors? He is hitting more groundballs and he has struggled to find holes. His GB/FB ratio is abnormally high at 1.63 (he was under one the past two years in the Majors) and his BABIP is low at .241.
That being said, the numbers aren't as bad as they look. Despite only having a flyball rate of 31.1 percent this year, his HR/FB percentage is 15.8 percent (the highest it's been since he's been in the Majors). Additionally, his line drive percentage sits at 18 percent, an improvement from 2009 when it was 14 percent.
Prediction for Bowker in 2011
The outfield situation is very touchy for next year. Aubrey Huff will be a free agent, but considering how well he has played this year, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Brian Sabean re-up him for another year, which would hurt Bowker's chances of playing. Second, Thomas Neal, Roger Kieschnick and Darren Ford waiting on the horizon don't make things easier, especially considering how much is invested in them. Bowker certainly has the opportunity to break out as expected, especially if he can continue to gain confidence at the plate, which is what he needs after such a horrid start this year. However, if he can't produce at the Major League level soon, it won't be surprising to see the Giants cut him loose ala Fred Lewis-style.
Nate Schierholtz, outfielder, 26 years old.
Minor League Stats: .308 average, .871 OPS in 627 games.
Major League Stats: .281 average, .732 OPS in 230 games.
I admit, it has take me a while to come to terms with Schierholtz. I love him defensively and his numbers certainly back him up (career 20.9 UZR). Prior to 2010 though, I wasn't too big a fan of him offensively. He was an extremely free-swinger (he had O-Swing percentages of 34.7 and 34.9 percent in 2008 and 2009) and I didn't think he had the power (.133 ISO in 2009) to back up his lack of plate patience (0.28 BB/K ratio in 2009).
In 2010 though, Schierholtz has changed himself offensively. The power still isn't there (.107 ISO this year), but he has become much more disciplined at the plate. His O-Swing currently sits at 29.1 percent, not exactly great, but a great improvement considering it was never under 34 percent in his time in the Majors.
What sticks out the most for Schierholtz is his BB/K ratio and BB percentage, which have greatly improved. His BB/K ratio is currently 0.76 and his BB percentage is 9.4 percent. How has he improved these percentages from 2009? In addition to swinging less outside the strike zone, he has made better contact at the plate as well. In 2009, he only made contact 77.7 percent of the time. In 2010? That percentage is 84.6 percent, four points above the league average.
Now, Schierholtz doesn't hit the ball in the air, which is a bit deflating considering his ability to make contact. His GB/FB ratio sits at 1.61 this year and his line drive percentage is 18.1 percent. The line drive percentage is disappointing considering the past two years it was above 20 percent.
And, not only has Schierholtz dropped in terms of hitting flyballs this year (his FB rate sits at 31.4 percent), but he hasn't been very effective in making those flyballs count. His HR/FB percentage is three percent.
To put that HR/FB percentage in perspective, only Freddy Sanchez (who doesn't have a homer this year) has a lower HR/FB ratio of Giants hitters with 50 or more plate appearances.
Prediction for Schierholtz in 2011
Schierholtz deserves regular playing time and he should get it in 2011. With Mark Derosa's health a serious question, Schierholtz could have a shot to finally capture the job that probably should have been his this year. After all, he has done nothing to merit losing his job. His offensive numbers aren't eye-popping, but they aren't detrimental either (his wRC+ is 98, only two points below league average). However, when you add it along with his defensive value, it makes sense why Schierholtz has a WAR of 1.1 this year (which accumulates to $4.2 million dollars according to Fangraphs).
Travis Ishikawa, first baseman, 26 years old.
Minor League stats: .261 average, .808 OPS in 707 games.
Major League stats: .264 average, .739 OPS in 204 games.
Ishikawa has been up and down in his tenure with the Giants. Like Schierholtz, he has earned his keep on the Giants roster because of his defensive value. Last year, he led all defenders on the Giants with a 10.2 UZR. Furthermore, he also pelted nine home runs, which gave him a HR/FB percentage of 10.2 in 2009.
Unfortunately, he has tended to frustrate Giants fans more often than not the past three years as a Giant. Despite having a walk percentage of 8.7 and 8.3 percent in 2008 and 2009, he only had BB/K ratios of 0.33 and 0.34, respectively. Furthermore, his wOBA in 2009 (.313) was disappointing considering the promise he showed in 2008 with the Giants (when his wOBA was .337) and in Fresno (his wOBA was .445 with the Grizzlies in 2008).
Like many Giants hitters, Ishikawa swings a lot outside the strike zone (he has a career O-swing percentage of 27.9 percent). Unlike some Giants free-swingers, Ishikawa doesn't make contact enough to justify it. His career contact rate is 73.1 percent (the league average is usually around 80 percent).
This year, Ishikawa has shown improvement. His BB/K ratio is up to 0.50 and he has showed some power (.844 OPS; .367 wOBA) in his 32 plate appearances.
But as a Giants fan you have to realize that it's only 32 plate appearances. That is way too small a sample to come to any realistic projection. And the worst part? He probably won't get many more plate appearances anytime soon.
Prediction for Ishikawa in 2011
Out of the four guys listed, the future looks the most bleak for Ishikawa. He's great defensively, but he seems to be behind a lot of guys on this Giants roster. Barring an injury to Huff and someone else, Ishikawa is regulated to backup duty because he is out of minor league options. I wouldn't be surprised to see him designated for assignment either this year or next season, which is a shame because he certainly wasn't too bad in 2009.
Emmanuel Burriss, second base/shortstop, 26 years old.
Minor League Stats: .282 average, .679 OPS in 228 games.
Major League Stats: .262 average, .629 OPS in 156 games.
Burriss is probably the biggest wild card of the four. He is very interesting because of his situation alone.
In 2008, he was pretty much rushed to the big leagues because a.) Omar Vizquel was fighting age and ineffectiveness and b.) Brian Bocock was only other shortstop in their organization. So, Burriss was called up in 2008 despite being 23 years old and only having played as high as Advanced Single-A.
Surprisingly, Burriss didn't do too badly. In 95 games in 2008, Burriss tole 13 bases and hit .283 with an OBP of .357 and a BB/K ratio of 0.96. While he didn't show much power (.046 ISO) and his average was a little deceptive of his offensive success (.316 wOBA and 91 wRC+), the start in 2008 definitely was a step in the right direction for the Giants' 2006 first round draft pick.
Unfortunately, in 2009, despite a stellar spring training that earned him the starting second baseman position over Kevin Frandsen, Burriss struggled. While he still stole a decent amount of bases (11), many of his other offensive statistics fell drastically from 2008, including average (.238), OBP (.292), BB/K ratio (0.41), wOBA (.258) and wRC+ (52). Also, Burriss was inconsistent defensively, as evidenced by his UZR numbers in 2009 (minus-3.9 UZR/150 in 2009 at second base).
Since he was demoted to Fresno in 2009, not only has Burriss struggled to regain his 2008 form, but he also struggled with injury. He injured his foot shortly after being called down to the Grizzlies and missed most of the remainder of the 2009 season. When he arrived in Spring Training, he injured his foot early and was immediately put on the disabled list to start the season.
Though he is still on the disabled list, Burriss is already back in action, playing a few rehab games in San Jose before being called up to Fresno on June 14th.
Even if Burriss is able to come back healthy, this year may be a wash for him. The infield is already crowded with Juan Uribe, Freddy Sanchez, Edgar Renteria Matt Downs, and Ryan Rohlinger all vying for spots and playing time. In all likelihood, Burriss will probably spend the remainder of the year in Fresno, which isn't necessarily a bad thing considering he's only played in 31 games above Advanced Single-A prior to this season.
That being said, can Burriss still contribute? He will certainly have an opportunity next year. Renteria and Uribe will be free agents next season, so the starting shortstop position will definitely be up for grabs if those two aren't re-signed (though Uribe could be re-signed). And, if he can have a solid season in the Pacific Coast League, he may be able to convince the Giants brass that 2009 was a sophomore slump rather than an indicator of things to come.
Burriss definitely has a lot to offer. He certainly is fast (24 stolen bases at the Major League level) and has defensive potential (he had a 15.7 UZR/150 in 2008 at second base). Furthermore, he can make contact really well at the plate, as evidenced by his career 87.5 percent contact rate.
Unfortunately, Burriss' defensive inconsistencies (his career UZR/150 at shortstop is minus-17.7) as well as his questionable plate discipline in 2009 (28.5 O-Swing percentage) and lack of power in the Majors (career 0.38 ISO) and minors (career 0.65 ISO) don't exactly make Giants fans feel confident that he can be a long-lasting solution at the Major League level. Also, with higher end infield prospects Brandon Crawford, Conor Gillaspie, Nick Noonan, and Ehire Adrianza waiting on the horizon, Burriss may not get long to show what he can offer at a starting infielder position.
Prediction for Burriss in 2011
If Burriss is healthy (and that's a big "if"), then it isn't impossible to think that he can nab the starting shortstop position if Renteria and Uribe leave town. The potential is there, and I think Burriss is enough of a fan favorite that Giants fans could rally behind. His ability to make contact is promising, and with the relative lack of speed on this roster, Burriss offers a much needed quality.
Of course, Burriss needs to polish up his game on both ends. He has the ability to be a very good defensive player, but it seems, according to UZR, that he may be a tad overrated. Also, while he has an ability to make contact consistently, swinging outside the strike zone as much as he did last season certainly isn't going to help his cause.
He could go any way, and that's what makes him so interesting, and so hard to predict. Let's hope Burriss can improve in Fresno this year, and in 2011, be the player Giants fans and management hoped he would develop into after he made a splash in 2008.
SF Giants Minor Lines, 5/26
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