As the San Francisco Giants try to determine whether they are going to buy or sell at the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, right fielder Nate Schierholtz is beginning to prove that he is a legitimate major leaguer.
We always heard that Schierholtz could play, but because of a variety of things—reliance on older players or the lack of regular playing time in the majors—he hasn't seen any real opportunity to show he could hang with the big boys.
In two cameos in 2007 and 2008, he had only played 58 games in the major leagues, not even close to the number of games needed to get a read on a highly touted prospect like Schierholtz. It was hard to figure out where he fit into the Giants' plans, especially with Aaron Rowand being brought in before the 2008 season began.
He spent almost all of 2008 at Triple-A Fresno for the second straight year—not because he didn't deserve a shot to play in the majors, but because the Giants wanted him to get regular playing time. He hit for average (.320), power (18 homers, 22 doubles, 10 triples), and played his usual stellar defense—but he was still stuck in the minors.
That's all beginning to change.
With the Fred Lewis experiment as a regular in left field with the Giants pretty much dead and gone, Schierholtz is finally getting his chance to shine...and making the most of it.
He hit just .175 in the month of May, and Schierholtz was still waiting for a legitimate chunk of playing time in the Giants' outfield rotation. He only started seven of the Giants' 21 games in May, in 10 games his only at-bat came as a pinch hitter, and in the others he was a defensive replacement, sometimes getting an at-bat, sometimes not batting at all.
Tell me how you're supposed to maintain a consistent swing with that kind of inconsistent playing time.
But then June arrived, and with Lewis' average continuing to fall, strikeouts mounting up higher as the days passed, and the defensive frustrations in left field getting worse, it was time manager Bruce Bochy changed things up a bit.
And boy oh boy, has Nate the Great caught fire.
In 24 games last month, Schierholtz hit .375, and that was in 33 fewer at-bats than the other scalding hot Giants hitter, Pablo Sandoval, had. He clubbed all three of his home runs last month and saw his place in the everyday lineup rise as the days passed.
Now Schierholtz has turned himself into a middle-of-the-order guy with his sweet swing from the left side and great approach at the plate. He can take a pitch to left field just as often as he can hit a rocket to right, something that a lot of young hitters don't really have a grasp of while they're too busy trying to jack every pitch out of the ballpark.
He doesn't record many walks—only five in 135 plate appearances—but he also doesn't strike out very much either—just 24 this season.
He hit at every level in the minors since he was drafted in 2003, and now Schierholtz is showing that consistent playing time in the majors won't slow him down one bit.
Combine the great hitting with a very solid set of defensive skills, and those who didn't know much about Schierholtz before should now fully love him.
Schierholtz never complained about a lack of playing time. He just went about his business in a professional fashion, and once he got his chance to play, he forced Bochy to keep playing him.
He’s got everything and can do anything that the Giants staff should ask of him, and it’s no coincidence that they got on a hot streak once he became the regular right fielder.
Well, the fantastic starting pitching almost every night didn’t hurt.
With Schierholtz in the lineup, there is now a new element to the offense. The Giants don’t have to rely on Sandoval and Bengie Molina to be the only ones to provide power in the middle of the order.
When Sandoval caught fire and was moved to third in the order, Bochy had to mix and match depending on matchups and hot streaks to decide who he would have hitting behind Molina.
That doesn’t happen anymore.
Now Bochy can walk into the clubhouse and basically pencil in Schierholtz in the No. 5 hole every game. For a lineup that doesn’t average many runs on a nightly basis, having stability and consistency is quite important.
A local kid playing for a team he watched growing up and succeeding at the same time—you can't get much better than that.
If the Giants want to seriously consider themselves a contender, it will have to be with Schierholtz in right field every game.