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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hector Sanchez On the Fast Track?

You know the scene at the end of Field of Dreams where Ray Kinsella realizes the whole purpose of building the field was to bring back his Dad, then turns to Shoeless Joe Jackson and says, “It was you…” and then Shoeless Joe turns around and says, “No Ray, it was you” before he disappears into the corn and Ray realizes the answers he’d been seeking had resided within his own soul the entire time? That’s kind of what the Giants’ catching situation is like.
                   "I know you're a ghost, but I bet you're a better hitter than Whiteside."

The Giants today promoted 21-year-old catcher Hector Sanchez from Single-A San Jose to Triple-A Fresno, skipping an entire level of pro ball and putting the prospect one step from the big club (check out a scouting report on Sanchez here). It’s not unprecedented for a player to skip a level on his way up the ladder, but the fact that the Giants did it with Sanchez is interesting for more than a few reasons. It’s almost enough to make you think the team may be fast-tracking him to the big leagues.

It’s not unreasonable to think this move may be a reaction to the Giants’ search for catching help. It was reported yesterday that the Giants had moved on from their pursuit of Pudge Rodriguez likely due to Washington’s asking price. You have to figure if the Nationals are asking the moon for a 39-year-old catcher hitting a shade over .200, the price for any catcher is going to be too rich for the Giants’ blood. The Giants know they have to have better than the Whiteside/Stewart combination if they hope to win the division, but if trading for a catcher is cost prohibitive it makes sense for them to see if they have an answer internally. Sanchez has handled Single-A pitching (.301/.321/.551, 8 HR, 46 RBI) and the Giants want to see if he can do the same to the pitching two levels up. If he hits that well in Fresno, a call up to San Francisco isn’t out of the question.

Sanchez will also get the opportunity to work with Fresno manager Steve Decker, a catching guru who’s helped both Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey on their way to the Majors. The knock on Sanchez coming into this season was his defense; he wasn’t a natural catcher when the Giants signed him, and his skills behind the plate needed to be refined. He’s thrown out 42% of base stealers this year though, which shows he has a lot of natural ability in spite of being relatively new to the position. Working with Decker will go a long way in making Sanchez more comfortable behind the plate and a better all-around defensive player.

The Giants have shown a willingness to go with their homegrown players this season. Brandon Crawford, Conor Gillaspie and Brandon Belt have all been given opportunities with the big club, so it’s not out of the question to think the Giants may do the same with Sanchez. The team won’t give up a king’s ransom to get the likes of Pudge or Taylor Teagarden and looking internally may be their best shot at upgrading the position. If Sanchez hits at Fresno and shows improvement behind the plate, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in a Giants uniform by early July. If he does come up and plays well for the Giants, that’ll start a whole new round of “Posey should change positions” talk, too… oh, and it’ll give the Giants’ lineup a tremendous boost. That’s a little more important.

So maybe in late September if the Giants are celebrating another division title, Brian Sabean will look out into the mob scene on the field, see Hector Sanchez jumping around and whisper, “It was you…” only to have Sanchez look back and say, “No Brian, it was you.” Actually… wait, Sanchez doesn’t speak English. So it’d probably be, “No Brian, que eras tu." Whatever, you get the idea.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Yes, a .205 Hitter is an Upgrade

Eli Whiteside seems like a nice enough guy. He’s a solid defensive catcher, puts a charge into the ball once in a while, and has the respect and trust of his pitching staff. He’s the perfect backup catcher, a guy who can play once a week and not embarrass himself. He’s not an everyday catcher by any means; unfortunately, that’s the role he’s been thrust into with the Giants.

It’s going to be tough for the Giants to win the division again with Whiteside’s black hole of a bat in the lineup on a daily basis. He’s a liability hitting 8th, and his good games at the plate are far outweighed by bad ones. The Giants need an upgrade, and there’s one name out there that makes the most sense to me: Ivan Rodriguez.

At first glance, Pudge’s numbers aren’t very impressive: a .205/.255/.330 line with 2 HR’s and 15 RBI’s. Ok, they’re not that impressive on second glance, either. Or third. Or…alright, any glance. They’re not impressive at any glance. He’s having a lousy year.

Pudge, though, would still be an upgrade over Whiteside (and definitely over Chris Stewart). As bad as Pudge’s numbers might be, they’re still better than Whiteside’s line of .164/.266/.255 with a homer and 2 RBI’s. Think about that for a minute: a guy hitting .205 is hitting a full 41 points higher than the everyday catcher for a first place team. It might be damning Pudge with faint praise to say he’s a better hitter than Whiteside, but it’s true. Rodriguez also has had a knack for getting important hits this year in spite of his overall batting average, hitting .333 in 24 AB’s with runners in scoring position. By comparison, Whiteside has had 11 AB’s with RISP and has yet to record a hit. Pudge still has a cannon for an arm, and even at his advanced age is equal to (arguably better than) Whiteside defensively.

More importantly, the two things that make Pudge most desirable in my opinion are opportunity and cost. The Giants aren’t going to have a lot of options on the market when it comes to getting a catcher. Teams know they’re desperate to find a replacement for Buster Posey and will likely demand high returns for a guy who can play every day. Rodriguez would come relatively cheap due to his age and status with the Nationals (he’s mostly a backup these days), and he represents the best of the “cheap” options that are out there. The Giants could likely trade for a catcher with similar numbers, but none come with the pedigree of Rodriguez.

That pedigree is an important thing to consider, too. Rodriguez is a sure future Hall of Famer and is one of the top catchers in baseball history. You’d think that he’d immediately have the respect of the pitching staff, something that wouldn’t necessarily happen if the Giants trade for a younger catcher like Taylor Teagarden (a name they’ve been linked with). The main defense of Whiteside being the everyday catcher is that he knows the staff and the pitchers like throwing to him; I’d have to think the pitchers wouldn’t be too upset throwing to Ivan Rodriguez.

Pudge isn’t a difference-maker anymore, but he still has the skills necessary to be a contributor on a contending team. If the Giants were to pair him with Whiteside and employ a 70-30 playing time split, they’d get much more production out of the catcher spot in the lineup than they are now with Whiteside and Stewart. If the cost is right (a low-level prospect or two, no one worth hanging on to), the Giants should make the deal.

- I had a chance to get ex-Giants catcher Mike Sadek’s opinion on the play that ended Posey’s season. I asked him what he thought of Scott Cousins running over Posey and destroying his leg. His response?

“I think it was a horse shit play.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

- When you get the chance, head over to Stadium Journey and check out their new review of AT&T Park. You can read it by clicking here.