San Francisco Giants: Who's at First?

Andy BenschSenior Writer IFebruary 22, 2009

With the Giants' off-season dominated by free-agent signings of Randy Johnson, Edgar Renteria, Jeremy Affeldt and Bob Howry, as well as questions regarding the second base position, nobody seems to be paying much attention to "who's at first." 

Now notice that the phrase used is "who's at first" and not "who's on first" as I'm borrowing a snippet of the popular "Hu's on first" baseball joke.

The reason this question is being posed is because in an off-season dominated by the aforementioned free-agent signings, competition at second base, and the emergence of Pablo Sandoval, the Giants' need at first base is being overlooked.

Currently, with free agent Joe Crede inking a deal with the Minnesota Twins, the Giants' first-base options have dwindled. Crede, a solid third baseman, would have given the Giants the ability to play Sandoval at first, where he has played the majority of his career.

Instead, the Giants are currently looking at Travis Ishikawa as their everyday first base-man.

However, Ishikawa at first base doesn't sit well with many Giants fans. Ishikawa has yet to play a full season at the Major League level and hasn't exactly put up great offensive numbers in his stints with the big club over the last couple of years.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound 25-year-old has put up a .277 average in only 119 career at-bats.

Ishikawa hit .292 (7-24) when called up in 2006 for the Giants but failed to be brought up at all in 2007. Last year he hit .274 (26-for-95), with 3 homers and 15 RBI, not terrible numbers but nothing that jumps out as spectacular.

However, Ishikawa struck out in 28 percent of his at-bats, which shows he still hasn't figured out big-league pitching. Then why is it presumed that the 25-year-old will be the starting first baseman for the Giants this season?

Well, as of right now, San Francisco doesn't have many other options. Outfielder/First-Baseman John Bowker made a quick splash last season when he was called up in mid-May but was sent down later in the season when big-league pitchers started exploiting numerous weaknesses in his swing.

Both Bowker and Ishikawa are below-average, left-handed hitting prospects. Neither player would be starting for any other Major League team. Which brings me to the title of my article, "Who's at First?"

Well at this point in time, nobody knows for certain who will be the everyday first-baseman, but who should be at first is none other than long-time fan-favorite here in San Francisco, Rich Aurilia.

Aurilia finished the 2008 season with a solid .283 average with 10 hrs, 21 doubles and 52 RBI. However, even though Aurilia is clearly the best all-around first-baseman on the Giants, he is not currently on the active roster. The 37-year-old Brooklyn native is currently a "non-roster invitee," as he was recently re-signed to a minor-league contract.

A former All-Star, Aurilia has spent 11 of his 14 seasons in San Francisco and has always been one of the most beloved Giants in his time in the Bay Area.

Now, since none of the marquee first-base prospects for the Giants are ready to play in the Majors, the options are down to Ishikawa, Bowker and Aurilia.

In my opinion, the only choice to start at first-base on opening day is Rich Aurilia. The long-time Giants' shortstop can now play all infield positions. In his time with the Padres, Mariners and Reds, Aurilia spent time at all four infield positions.

And since returning to the Giants in 2007, Aurilia has spent most of his time at third and first base. His ability to play multiple positions is one of the many reasons he should make the Giants roster.

Bowker can play the outfield but the Giants already have a crowded outfield as it is with the likes of Aaron Rowand, Randy Winn, Fred Lewis, Dave Roberts and Nate Schierholtz.

Ishikawa, on the other hand, is strictly a first-baseman. That being the case, even keeping Ishikawa on the roster seems questionable. But Aurilia's veteran bat and ability to play four defensive positions is extremely valuable to the Giants.

Lastly, Aurilia should earn the job because of where the Giants' first-baseman is slotted to hit in manager Bruce Bochy's lineup.

Similar to the argument used to show why Giants' infielder Kevin Frandsen should start at second base, Rich Aurilia should start at first base. The Giants' first baseman is most likely going to be hitting in the seventh spot of the lineup.

Ishikawa and Bowker are predominantly swing-and-drive or swing-and-miss type hitters. However, more often than not they both swing and miss, which is not what the Giants need at the bottom of their order.

Aurilia is a veteran bat, and for a guy with only average speed, can actually drag-bunt better than the majority of players in the major leagues.

He has an excellent sense of the strike zone and has made a living of coming up with huge two-out, RBI hits in his career with the Giants.

I cannot speak for the rest of the Giants fan-base because I'm not quite sure how they feel on the first-base issue, but to me, it is quite clear that Aurilia should be the opening day starter.

He is a flat-out gamer and is a solid contact hitter who will provide major dividends hitting in the seventh spot driving in Sandoval and Rowand, who will most likely be hitting fifth and sixth, respectively.