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Giants Quarterly Report
First Quarter - Batters
by Richard Van Zandt,
May 12, 2006

The Giants at the Near Quarter Season Mark


As the Giants begin to approach the quarter mark of the season, itís time to take a step back and look at what has been thus far.There have been many ups and downs so far but hardly a dull moment, lest anyone think that is possible when one Barry Lamar Bonds is in some way involved.The quest for 715 draws nearer with each progressively more impressive moon shot.


Despite the constant speculation and criticism regarding his possible steroid use, not to mention the obvious discomfort in his troubled right knee, Bonds is on the cusp on surpassing the legendary Babe Ruth for second place on the all-time home run list, sitting on number 713 as the arch rival Dodgers come to town on Friday night.


It promises to be a playoff-type atmosphere all weekend long as Bonds takes aim at another piece of history.Ah, but thatís the future.This is all about looking back.This week we will take a look at where the Giants stand after 35 games (17-18).How have they performed thus far and what holes need to be filled?Next week weíll look at the pitching staff, but this week we begin with the position players.


But we wonít completely confine ourselves to the past, as weíll also take a look at the Giants future by checking in briefly with whoís hot and whoís not down on the farm.We start behind the dish.




Mike Matheny, the four-time Gold Glover, despite already matching his error total of last season with 1, has been solid behind the dish, if not at it, hitting .243 with 2 HR and 10 RBI through May 11. The Giants donít expect much from Matheny offensively, so whatever they get there is a bonus.His real worth is his handling of pitchers, and that is what makes him among the best in the game at his position.


On Mathenyís days off, they turn to veteran Todd Greene.Greene, signed for his bat, is hitting .348 in limited action and slugging .522, though with only 1 RBI in 23 AB.He has been admirable in his studious nature, benefiting from the tutelage of Matheny, and he has been better than expected behind the plate.He showed his toughness when he missed just a couple of days of action after getting his clock cleaned by the 270-pound Prince Fielder in a spectacular collision at home plate.


First Base


This past off-season, the Giants took a risk and handed the everyday first base job to Lance Niekro (son of Joe, nephew of Phil).So far, despite some encouraging signs, Niekro has struggled.Through the teamís first 35 games, Lance has appeared in 28 but has hit just .229 with 2 HR and 16 RBI.


After struggling last year against right handers (.206 vs. RHP) he has continued those struggles despite some very positive at bats that included RBI hits against Jake Peavy, John Smoltz, and Roy Oswalt, as well as a game-tying 9th inning HR off Atlanta closer Chris Reitsma.This season he is hitting just .232 in 69 at bats vs. right handers.


However, unlike last season when he hit .324 against lefties with a home run every 12 at bats, Niekro is hitting only .222 with 1 HR in 27 AB.On May 10 however, Niekro may have begun to turn things around with an RBI base hit against Cub lefty Rich Hill and a 2-run home run off of former teammate Scott Eyre.He also has 5 hits in his last 12 at bats (.416) overall.


Defensively, he hasnít been J.T. Snow, but he has been pretty good and has shown a third basemanís range.If he continues to struggle and the Giants fall out of the race, the team could look to move him and give a prospect a chance to audition.


Long time role player and pinch hitter extraordinaire Mark Sweeney may see increased time at 1B, and GM Brian Sabean has confirmed that OF Steve Finley has taken ground balls at the position in BP despite never having played an inning professionally at first.


While Finley has shown himself to be in remarkable condition for a man his age (41), first base (as Mike Piazza and even Willie Mays can attest to) is not as easy to play as it can appear.The team would be wise to tread gently with the idea of Finley at first.


Sweeney has played in 13 games at first for the Giants, hitting .244 with 3 HR while in the field.He has hit .182 in 3 games as an outfielder but is 4 for 13 (.308) as a pinch hitter.He is versatile and not only provides a suitable option in a platoon with Niekro, but is a proven threat off the bench.


One thing to watch with Sweeney as he potentially sees the most playing time of his career at age 36 (last season he recorded a career high 221 AB) is whether he begins to tire as the season rolls into August and September.



Second Base


Veteran Ray Durham struggled at the plate as the year began, opening up 6 for 41 (.156) before going 7 for his next 23 (.304), then once again going down with a leg injury.Despite avoiding the DL last year and playing in 142 games, the Sugar Man, now in his fourth year with the team, has battled leg problems consistently while in San Francisco.Nevertheless, despite his legs plaguing him, Durham has been errorless through his first 16 games.


Rookie Kevin Frandsen was recalled on April 28 to fill Durhamís spot. After hitting .333 with a .409 OBP at Fresno, the rook has filled in admirably, batting .250 in his first 13 games while committing 1 error in the field.He is playing with a youthful exuberance that this aging team could use, yet he likely will return to Fresno when Durham returns, possibly as soon as Friday night.††


Short Stop


Just as he did last year, veteran defensive wiz Omar Vizquel is off to a great start, batting .316 with a .411 OBP, and as expected, he has been money in the field, making just 1 error in his first 145 total chances (.993 F %).While itís true that he may not have the range or arm that he once did, he is still among the top SS defensively in the game, always making the routine plays and often making the spectacular plays look routine.Vizquel should garner legitimate consideration for this yearís All-Star game.


Third Base


Now in his first full season as the Giantsí everyday 3B, Pedro Feliz has played with an All-Star caliber glove.The only Giant to have started every game this season, all at 3B, he has shown great range and soft hands while committing just 3 errors in the Giants first 35 games (.971). His 2.99 range factor is fourth in the NL. Thatís the good news.The bad news has been his bat.


After getting just 6 at bats in the World Baseball Classic, Feliz got off to a slow start, hitting just .207 with 2 HR in 92 at bats for the Giants in April.So far through May, however, he has hit .341 with 3 HR in 44 AB.


Nevertheless, he has walked just 5 times all season, and has been terribly inconsistent at the plate.He tends to have a few big games followed by long stretches of backward steps, as evidenced by the fact that 10 of his 21 RBI were collected in just 3 games. ††His tendency to ďswing at slop nightlyĒ does not preclude him from productive games, such as on May 8, when he had two hits, including a HR, and 3 RBI, but was still retired later in the game after once again lunging across the plate at a slider low and away.††


His May numbers give some reason for hope, but he must start to exhibit better patience at the plate or his struggles are unlikely to cease.


Utility Infield


The best thing that can be said of Jose Vizcaino is that he has caught most everything near him.Having seen time at all four infield spots so far, he has a combined .984 fielding mark (1 error in 65 total chances).Unfortunately, heís also shown the range of a 38-year old infielder.Worse than that, though, has been his bat.He is hitting and slugging just .146 without an extra base hit in 41 AB.His OBP is .271, far below even his already low career mark of .318.The Giants like him for his versatility and veteran experience.His lack of range and terrible bat should make the Giants think about keeping Frandsen as the backup infielder.Last season in the minors, Frandsen played 108 games at 2B, 20 at shortstop and 1 game at third.The veteran Vizcaino is 38; Frandsen turns 24 on May 24.




Bonds, after going homerless with just 1 RBI and 6 hits in his first 30 AB (.200), has rebounded to hit .266 with 5 HR and 11 RBI (.644 SLG) since then, pushing him to the brink of passing Babe Ruth.Moreover, his swing, which had looked timid and ginger at best, has been looking better and better with each trip to the plate, leading his agent to suggest on May 9 that Bonds may yet play in 2007.He even has begun to look better while running.However, he slumped against Chicago after hitting number 713 against Philadelphia on May 7, going 1 for 10 in the 3-game series.††


Overall, Bonds is hitting .240 with a .491 OBP and a .507 slugging percentage.He has drawn 34 walks while striking out just 10 times.More surprisingly, Bonds has played in 29 of the teamís first 35 games, including 26 starts.They are however, just 1-4 in games he has homered.


He has weathered criticism and verbal abuse, not to mention ďtoyĒ syringes tossed from the stands, as well as the specter of a possible perjury trial. Bonds now stands poised to pass one of Baseballís most hallowed marks before the adoration of the always-supportive home crowd at AT&T Park this weekend against the rival Dodgers.


Randy Winn has seen time at all three OF positions, playing 15 games in center, 15 in right and 11 in left.He has not committed an error.At the plate, the switch hitter has been fantastic from the left side, batting .343 and slugging .500 in 102 AB but he is just 4-for-31 (.129) from the right side of the plate.He did, however, collect three hits, including a HR on May 9 against Chicago. Winn is hitting .293 overall with 12 extra base hits.


Before turning his ankle and going on the DL May 6, Moises Alou was leading the NL in hitting with a .378 mark.He had homered 7 times and driven in 25 runs hitting mostly 5th behind Barry Bonds.More importantly for the Giants, after hitting just .248 with 4 HR and 42 RBI w/RISP (109 AB) in 2005, he has blistered pitchers in such situations this year to the tune of .455/4/22 in 33 AB.Alou, who turns 40 in July, is expected to be out four to six weeks.


Finley has shown very positive signs of reverting to his pre-2005 form, starting the season hitting .325/.408/.542 while leading the Majors with 7 triples.He has homered only once in 83 AB, but is known to be streaky in that department, and will get more consistent playing time with Alou disabled.He has played in 28 games (21 starts) all in center, without making an error though his range is not what it used to be.


A notorious critic of Finley, I have been forced to admit that (hopefully) I may have been wrong about his ability at 41 years of age.He is in tremendous shape and his bat has not looked slow.He will be tested though as he will likely see a lot of time in the 5 hole in Alouís absence.


Jason Ellison has played sparingly as the teams fifth outfielder, making 18 appearances (0 starts) in the OF and pinch running several times for Bonds.He has 4 hits in 12 at bats.


Dan Ortmeier was recalled on May 8 from Fresno to fill in as a backup OF in Alouís absence.In his first 30 games with the Grizzlies Ortmeier was hitting .294 with 3 HR and 23 RBI in 119 AB.Ortmeier was 1 for 2 with a double May 10 in his season debut.


On The Farm


Down in the minors for the Giants, Adam Shabala is tearing it up at Triple-A Fresno (.337/.431/.490, 1 HR and 18 RBI) while teammate Fred Lewis is hitting .326 with a .437 OBP and a .500 SLG.He has 3 HR and 11 RBI. OF Abraham Nunez, who lit it up in spring training, is hitting just .217 but does have 19 RBI.1B Chad Santos is hitting just .238, although he also leads the team with 7 HR and 25 RBI.


At Double-A Connecticut, top OF prospects Nate Schierholtz and Eddy Martinez-Esteve are hitting .275 and .272 respectively while both have 2 HR and 11 RBI.1B prospect Travis Ishikawa, who spent three days with the big league club and went 1 for 2 while Lance Niekro was on a bereavement leave, is hitting just .258 with 1 HR and 8 RBI while another top 1B prospect, Tyler Von Schell, has hit 4 HR, but is batting just .202.The middle infield combo of Derin McMains and Jake Wald are hitting just .191 and .185 apiece.


At Class-A San Jose, OF Brian Horwitz, hitting .343 with a .423 OBP has drawn 15 walks while striking out just 6 times in 105 AB.Horwitz entered this season a .348 hitter after two years as a pro.He hit .347 in 268 AB at short season Salem-Kaizer in í04 and hit .349 in 470 AB with 88 RBI last year at low Class-A Augusta.He could likely see a promotion to Connecticut very soon and is rising quickly to future star status.




The Giants offense has struggled at times but a steady defense has kept them in games.Weíll examine the pitching staff next week but though the offense has had its share of problems, itís helped at times to keep them afloat and within range of the division-leading Rockies.Bonds has played more than expected and though the results have not been what we are all used to seeing from him.His presence in the lineup alone may be the difference between a record of 17-18 and one of 12-23.


They will need to get more offense from the corners, though, and more stability at second base from Durham as well as a continued return to form from Finley are required if they are to compete past June.Health, of course, will also remain a constant concern for a team that earlier this season started the oldest outfield in major league history.

Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Richard lives in San Francisco, California, and can be reached by emailing Baseball Evolution.

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