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Travis Ishikawa has given the Giants bench a big lift.
The bench has been a weakness for manager Bruce Bochy all season. When injuries cost Marco Scutaro, Brandon Belt and Angel Pagan a ton of games, the Giants bench has been unable to pick up the slack.
Several reserves have had a chance in San Francisco, but the results have been mediocre to poor. These players include Gregor Blanco, Juan Perez, Brandon Hicks, Ehire Adrianza, Adam Duvall, Matt Duffy, Hector Sanchez, Tyler Colvin and Joaquin Arias.
Only Joe Panik has stepped to the forefront, and he now looks like he could be the Giants starting second baseman in 2015. In 151 at-bats, Panik is currently batting .298, with an OBP of .346 and OPS of .707. Panik has also shown very good plate discipline and a good approach to making solid contact.
Outside of Panik, catcher Andrew Susac has shown promise. He could win the backup catcher job over Sanchez next spring.
The Giants typically carry 12 pitchers, so that leaves five reserve spots. Susac and Sanchez will likely compete for the backup catcher role and the other four spots will be up for grabs.
Veteran Travis Ishikawa, who was released by the Pittsburgh Pirates, was signed and has added some punch off the bench. He can play both first base and left field. Ishikawa has a lot of experience as a pinch hitter, an area where the Giants have been lacking all season.
If Giants GM Brian Sabean can acquire two solid outfielders to go along with Hunter Pence and Angel Pagan, that will go a long way to solidifying the bench. If one of those players is Michael Morse, the fourth outfielder must also be able to play center field.
Given Angel Pagan's injury history, the Giants cannot go into the 2015 season with Gregor Blanco as their fourth outfielder. When Pagan goes out, which invariably happens, Blanco is unable to assume an everyday starting role. He simply does not hit well enough.
Blanco is fine as a fifth outfielder, but nothing more. He has good speed and is an excellent late-inning defensive replacement. However, his lack of offensive production is an issue. In 293 at-bats, he is hitting .249, with an OBP of .323 and OPS of .661. He has minimal power, with only three home runs and 26 RBI.
A player with good speed, Blanco was tried in the lead-off spot when Pagan went down with an injury but quickly proved that he could not produce enough. He has only 32 runs scored and 13 stolen bases, numbers that are too low for a player who frequently hit at the top of the order.
Joaquin Arias, who had two very good seasons in San Francisco, has fallen upon hard times this year. He is hitting only .219, with an OBP of .247 and OPS of .507. Those numbers are far below expectations.
Arias is under contract for 2015 at $1.45 million. He will have a chance to prove himself again in spring training. As a true utility infielder, Arias will compete with Matt Duffy and Ehire Adrianza for the job, plus anyone else the Giants bring in this winter.
A stronger bench will give the Giants a better chance to withstand the injuries that invariably happen over the course of a long season. We have seen how the Giants floundered when injuries hit some of the key starters.
An improved bench is essential for the Giants to compete successfully in 2015.