Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fly and Be Free: Ochoa Leaves the Team, Giants SS Depth Poor Anyhow

Hank Schulman notes in his blog that Ivan Ochoa, listed as a spring-training invitee, was taken off the list. He was recently dropped off the 40 man roster, fixing a problem that some noticed (see El Lefty Malo's 40-Manny Roster Mystery Solved).

Schulman notes that Ochoa "exercised his right to refuse an outright assignment when he was taken off the 40-man roster and became a free agent."

Giants Thoughts

Not a big loss, his offense has always been a question mark and we probably will have two of Burriss, Frandsen, Velez taking the infield utility roles, who could play SS on an as-needed level. Ochoa was only going to see MLB action when we didn't have Renteria, I don't blame him for taking off now that Renteria is here, he's pretty blocked now, as he'll probably be too old by the time Renteria's contract is over to get a chance in the majors, unless, that is, he suddenly hits like a monster in AAA. But while he has improved while with the Giants, he doesn't appear to be there yet.

Meanwhile, that gives Bocock the starting role at SS in AAA. His only good offensive stats - and remember, that's only relative to his career - was his brief "outburst" in A-ball to start 2007, batting .292/.354/.379/.733; he has been horrible since. But I was very encouraged by the fact that he took a lot of walks when he was up in the majors, and now looking at his minor league stats, he has always garnered a lot of walks that boost his meager batting average in terms of on-base percentage (though only to so-so levels, not acceptable levels).

However, with strikeout rates that rival the biggest sluggers (the only explaination for that combo of walks and K's is that he just takes a lot of pitches because his bat is not fast enough to turn on most fastballs, but because there are a lot of pitchers with poor command skills in the minors, he still takes a lot of balls, garnering walks), he is not making the majors again without making some sort of breakthrough in hitting.

In addition, Jake Wald, another non-roster spring training invitee, has been playing SS and played most of his games in AAA in 2008 at SS, and thus could challenge Bocock for the starting spot in AAA, pushing Bocock to AA. That might not be the worse thing because a non-power hitter like Bocock would not be affected as much by Dodd Stadium as someone with more power, and he skipped over AA, which he should have been playing at in 2008, not at AAA or the majors. Maybe he can go there and get his bearings again offensively.

And AA might be open, as Sharlon Schoop, who played at Advanced A San Jose in 2008, didn't hit that well there, and at only 21, might repeat San Jose in 2009. He was a hot-shot prospect after signing, but appears to be another in the line of no-hit, good glove prospect. And it is not like he's being pushed by Class A Augusta's Charlie Culberson, who did not hit that well there. Culberson is probably going to repeat A-ball.

The question, then, is where do the Giants place Brandon Crawford, their fourth round draft pick, and Ehire Adrianza, their suddenly hot SS prospect who they thought enough of to put him in AAA, albeit briefly, in 2009. Crawford saw play in their rookie league, then one game at Salem-Keizer. I would expect him to be placed with Class A Augusta, the lowest full-season team and take a lot of time away from Culberson, who could even be dropped to Short-Season Salem Keizer and get instructional league training to start the season.

Adrianza should logically be placed with Salem-Keizer. He is only 19 for 2009 and hasn't even played a full-season anywhere in our farm system, though he did play a good number of games in the Dominican league in 2007. But given that the Giants saw enough in him to move him up to AAA for a couple of games, then he could end up anywhere in the system, depending on what the Giants see of him in spring training. Of course, most probably he will start off low at Salem-Keizer, but it will be interesting (and very encouraging) if he does see play up higher instead.


  1. I think you are right in your assessments at many levels but I think Manny Burriss could likely end up in AAA to start this season.

    Burriss clearly is the Giants best shot at developing a major league capable shortstop during the two seasons of Edgar Renteria's contract and unfortunately, I think they should invest the time to find out if he is the answer.

    Last season, Burriss, at least to me, showed his potential and earned himself a job for this season. Personally, I would have loved to see him go into spring training as the starter. But, his winterball play defensively, impaired Brian Sabean's view of him and the Giants in turn signed Renteria. Now that Edgar is here, Burriss is forced to play second or be the back up/utility infielder. Either way, I think it hampers his development and he may never fully reach his potential.

    I think at this point, he should start the year refining his every day SS ability in Fresno, then see how the year plays out. He can't stay therefor two years, so eventually something would have to change at the big league level.

    As for the rest, I think they should focus on the few positives left in the system, place them where they have the best chance at succeeding, and the rest will work itself out. Adrianza may have the most upside, or at least ended last year on a positive, unlike all the rest, so maybe push him alittle. Bocock clearly needs to find his bat, maybe a bump back helps or back up at AAA.You are right on in your assesments of all of them though.

  2. I've beaten this horse to death in other contexts, but it is amazing to me that one several week stretch in winter ball by Burriss would drive a $20 million dollar decision. (Think of Allen Iverson saying "we're talking about practice" but instead saying "winter ball.") I'm sure it wasn't the only factor but it may have been a large one. Or put another way, are those who are supportive of Renteria's signing concerned that if Burriss had fielded better in winter ball that Renteria would not have been signed?

    Just a thought.

  3. I am not as strident with my position. I was willing to let 2009 be another building year and see how it goes. Within that context, you have to start Burriss at SS and see what happens.

    However, I understand that management is facing further ticket sales losses relative to 2008, which already saw about 10-15% drop in total revenue, and thus wanted to spend some money to boost the team and be competitive, thus boosting ticket sales. Plus Sabean needs to show improvement in 2009 to keep his job. I feel that they have accomplished that with their free agent acquisitions.

    Shortstop was one area of great offensive weakness. The upgrade to Renteria, just from the Renteria of 2008, would result in adding 0.1 to 0.2 runs per game, more if he recovers to career norms. That coupled with further gains in pitching plus OK seasons from Sandoval and Lewis would return us to .500 and contention in the weak NL Worst.

    Burriss may or may not do that, if given the chance. As good an indicator strikeout rate is, it is not a guarantee that he will figure things out. So which is the fluke, early 2008 Burriss or late 2008 Burriss? Burriss is a nice prospect, but there are enough question marks that he could be a poor option to bet on.

    Adding to that, even from the day he was drafted, the scouts have said that his best and eventual position is 2B. Thus, meanwhile, you look for signs that he might not be able to handle SS. Sure, he only played 24 games in winter ball, but he made 10 (yes, ten) errors in those games. That is almost one error every two games, roughly four in every ten games. That is a significant number of errors no matter how you slice it. I've seen someone excuse it due to some injury he was battling, but then he probably should have sat down instead of doing so poorly. Plus his hitting wasn't that good either, below the league average OPS.

    Add to that, he's only 23 years old. Signing Renteria buys the team time to either let him get comfortable playing 2B and batting in the MLB in 2008, or if he loses to Fradsen, he can go back down to AAA and further work on his SS defensive skills. Maybe he has a great year in 2009 and appears ready for 2010 for a starting role, at which time the Giants could trade Renteria for prospects and open up SS for him. Or if he falters in some way, we keep Renteria for 2010, and hopefully either Burriss, Crawford, Bocock, or Adrianza is ready the next year. He would only be 26 years old that season; not that he's Utley, but Utley didn't get a full-time starting gig until he was 26, and his OPS wasn't even particularly great the two previous seasons, OPS+ of 87 and 93.

    So I would have been OK had Burriss done well in the winter and the Giants decided to go with him at SS, it would be a bigger question mark, but I am willing to focus on 2010 for return to competitiveness.

    But I think that anybody who was concerned that a good winter showing by Burriss would preclude signing a free agent would have been complaining about Burriss even before the poor winter showing anyway, and worried about having Burriss start as per Sabean's pronouncement that he was now the incumbent SS.

  4. I'm kind of leaning towards the Burriss in AAA camp now. I was for giving him a shot, but now that the Giants have made the move to Renteria, they can afford to let Manny develop in a less pressure situation. As you point out, he's still young and they can afford to let him develop a little.

    At this point, it looks like Orlando Hudson isn't going to get much more than a 1 year deal from some team. I wouldn't be against the Giants being that long as it isn't more than a 1 year deal.

  5. I can see that signing happening, but I would be disappointed. We have three guys who could be major league starters in Burriss, Frandsen, and Velez - not as good as Hudson, true - but good enough and the differential between them and Hudson isn't worth the $6-8M they would probably have to pay him. Plus wasn't Hudson having injury problems the past two years?

    Plus, more importantly, his away numbers are pretty bad for a 2B, only .277/.336/.411/.746 for his career,.288/.337/.381/.718 for 2008. And for a player with a good defensive reputation, much like Rowand, his UZR/150 with the D-backs is negative by around 5 runs.

    I would bet that Frandsen and Burriss should be able to match those OPS pretty easily.

    Just say NO to Hudson, Giants.

  6. With Renteria potentially being the worst defensive SS in the NL next season, I don't think SF can afford to sign another substandard guy to play 2B. So, I'm in the no thanks to Hudson camp now that we have Renteria. (I'd argue that the same logic used to defend against that signing could have some applicability to the Renteria signing but that milk is already spilt.)

    And I'm also fine with Burriss going to AAA. The problem with his and other middle infielders being able to develop in the past has been the inability to keep the creaky old men we had at 2B and SS on the field on a consistent basis. So, assuming that Renteria makes it onto the field and stays there, I'd love to see if Burriss can field the position every day in AAA.

  7. Renteria, according to Fangraph's UZR data, has been about average defensively for the past 5 seasons, so I don't see how you can say that he is potentially the worse defensive SS in the NL.

    We didn't really have any middle infielders with enough talent to develop previously, until Frandsen came along. So I'm not sure who are you talking about, Neifi was the beneficiary of Durham's creakiness, and Vizquel played in an average of 150 games per season for us from 2005-2007, which was OK because we didn't have a SS capable of playing for us anyhow.

  8. Quite right actually quite right. What I should have said is that we're about to step down a bit from 2007 and 2008 defensively in this slot. And saying that Renteria has been average (I'd say below avergae but will concede that it's close) ignores the trend. Average or below average, Renteria has steadily been trending downward in any event as he ages. If that trend continues, let's just say that we want some capable guys bracketing him in the field.

    Saying we didn't have any middle infielders to develop previously is puzzling. What about Frandsen in 2007? Velez in 2008? Burriss in 2008? Heck, Cody Ransom back in the day was once a prospect in the eyes of the organization (although not in the eyes of anyone who saw his stats). None of them panned out for sure but that's not necessarily because the Giants actually let that scenario play out. The point is that some apparently feel like we have that talent now. Signing guys like Renteria or Hudson has, in the past, been the Giants M.O. I'm happy to see that it apparently is not continuing.

    I'll give you this. Looking at what the rest of the division is doing and not doing, I feel a heck of a lot better about the Giants chances than I did on the last day of the season.



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