Nate Schierholtz is one of many players who got stuck behind a stack of outfielders the Giants had the past few seasons. He did not get much playing time in 2010 with Cody Ross in the mix but started a career-high 77 games in 2011 after Pat Burrell fell into a slump. He was producing before a fractured right foot derailed his progress.
Schierholtz will get his shot this year as he is the expected to start in right field. Since the Carlos Beltran experiment didn't pan out, expect to see Schierholtz as the everyday right fielder for the orange and black.
Schierholtz was a second-round draft pick in 2003 and excelled through the minor leagues until his call up in 2007. He proved to be an athletic and reliable defensive player long ago and continues to improve every year.
"Nate the Great" will break out this season. Here's why:
He Proved Himself Early On
For some reason, people continue to say that he has to prove himself season after season during spring training. He did that a long time ago. He did great in his season debut with the Giants, hitting a game-winning single in the 13th inning in a game against the Yankees. He hit .325 in just 40 at-bats in 2007. Yet, he was sent down to the minors in July of that year. Not only did he prove to be effective, but more importantly, he was consistent.
Accuracy and Strength in his Arm
Just ask Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Schierholtz caught the two Phillies All-Stars trying to stretch around the bags and threw them both out by a few feet. He had a great play against the Reds, throwing Joey Votto out at the plate to escape an extra-inning, bases-loaded jam. He gets the ball out of his glove quickly and reads hits well. He has played the tricky right field at AT&T Park better than anyone so far.
The departed Andres Torres was undoubtedly the quickest and fastest outfielder the Giants had. With Torres moving on to Flushing, Schierholtz now holds that title. In my opinion, Schierholtz does not get enough credit for his quickness as a defensive player. He is seen more as a speedy base runner, and he is. His quickness and ability to go to either side and get under the ball is what makes him a great defensive player. Even more so, he can do it in AT&T Park.
Nate Schierholtz proved to be a much more patient hitter the past few seasons. He hit .278 in 115 games in 2011 while averaging 4.09 pitches per plate appearance (compared to 3.30 as a rookie in 2007, 3.54 in 2010 and 3.41 in 2008-09). Schierholtz, who is just 27 years old, also continues to stay fit. His chiseled body and great athleticism make him an overall threat.
He Can Hit Under Pressure
The Giants' lack of run production in 2011 is also paired with their inability to hit in the clutch (Aubrey Huff, Aaron Rowand and Cody Ross being prime examples). Schierholtz batted .295 with runners in scoring position last year while the Giants averaged just .219 in the category as a team. Cody Ross hit .250 with runners in scoring position and .135 with runners on and two outs. So, why wasn't Nate starting last season?
He is Humble
Schierholtz is a classy player. He did not call out Bruce Bochy when he lost the starting right field job to John Bowker. Many argued that Bowker was better offensively, but he really just had a hot spring season. Much like Aldon Smith of the 49ers, Schierholtz isn't one for celebration after a great play. He hustles back to the dug out, takes off his helmet and lets the game go on. At most, he high-fives his teammates, even after an inside-the-park home run.
Schierholtz says he expects more from himself this year even after reaching a career-high 22 doubles, nine home runs and 41 RBI. So long as the Giants give Schierholtz his playing time, he should exceed his expectations and bring a spark to the lineup in 2012.