The Giants entered the 2009/2010 offseason with a familiar goal: Bolster a putrid offense.
On the brink of serious contention, however, this year appears to have increased stakes: If the Giants don't get the bat they so desperately crave, they probably won't have the offense necessary to make the playoffs (for the seventh year in a row).
As the offseason wears on, it looks pretty certain that the Giants won't get the tier one bat that they need (Jason Bay or Matt Holliday) and will have to settle for tier two. But with Nick Johnson signed, even the best second level players look pretty uninspiring.
Barring something really crazy (Adrian Gonzalez?!), it appears that once again Giants fans will be left praying that the big bat will suddenly sprout out of their own backyard.
As far as looking in our own measly backyard goes, I'm staring right at three players. Sure, Velez or Posey could have a breakout year (the latter probably will), or a veteran could step it up (I'm looking right at you, Rowand). Who knows, maybe Renteria will actually be worth something.
Still, most of my October fantasies involve announcers and journalists lavishly lauding a man named Travis, Nate, or John as the saving grace of the 2010 Giants (along with Pablo Sandoval). Even my most modest fantasies involve some key performances out of one or more of these players, which would be much appreciated by San Francisco fans.
In his 2009 rookie year, Ishikawa was the Giants primary first baseman and starter for the 51st annual Topps Major League Rookie All-Star team. He maintained his spot in the lineup because of his spectacular Gold Glove defense, which is well illustrated by his UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) of 10.4 that led all first basemen in 2009.
As far as his bat is concerned, he showed a little power by belting out nine home runs and hitting with an ISO (SLG-BA) of .126 in 2009. I know that doesn't look too impressive, but a lot of analysts and other experts expect a good amount power to develop. His 27 total home runs across AA, AAA, and the majors in 2008 show some good power promise.
His rookie season saw him hit .261, which is poor for a first baseman, but I would expect him to hit around the .280 range this season.
The worst part of his game (and the rest of the Giants as well) was his limited number of walks. He only walked 8.4 percent of the time, and thus had a relatively low OBP of .329. I would expect that to increase a little, but still don't expect more than 45-50 walks.
I'm not going to beat around the bush; Ishikawa isn't expected to be a magician with the bat. He could definitely develop some power though, and with defense like his, that's all he'll need.
The biggest reason I'm interested in him is because unless Sabean gets another first baseman during the offseason, he'll be our starter for 2010. He'll get the chance to perform. He turns 26 next season, which means that if he can become an offensive threat, now is the time to show it.
Truth be told, I'm not a big Schierholtz fan, but a lot of Giants fans (especially the ones on this site) are. Because of that, I'll try to keep my personal feelings out of this.
In 2009, Schierholtz finally got his chance at the show, but was still only a backup outfielder. Schierholtz is similar to Ishikawa in that they both are spectacular defenders, but don't raise any eyebrows at the dish.
Schierholtz, however, could easily end up being a high average hitter; he hit .267 in 2009, which was surprisingly better than average. More comforting is his .284 career batting average in the majors and his .305 career average in the minors (entering Monday he's batting .324 in the winter league this year). He's also going to be 26 for all of the 2010 season, so expect some improvement.
Power wise, it seems that he should be better than he is, and maybe we'll start seeing some of that power in 2010.
As reporter Chris Haft said, "Schierholtz also possesses the strength to go deep regularly but hasn't, having homered six times in 472 Major League at-bats."
His career ISO is .131 in the majors, but a very respectable .219 ISO in the minors.
Again, walks and plate discipline are the biggest problem for Schierholtz. In 2009, he walked 5.3 percent of the time; with the extremely limited amount of walks, Schierholtz had a dismal .302 OBP.
Still it seems quite likely that Schierholtz will reach at least some of his high average potential. Combine that with a good attitude and some top-notch defense, and the Giants have a package that deserves a lot of attention.
Bowker is the only one of our trio who didn't spend much time in the majors last year. In the time he did spend, he didn't impress anyone (although he showed some good defense). In 73 plate appearances, he had a .194 batting average, .247 on-base percentage, and a .373 slugging percentage. Ouch!
Now I know what you're thinking: "Greg, you dumb ass! Why would we be interested in a guy who didn't even initially make the team and when he finally did, he completely sucked." For the same reason he got called up at all: He tore up AAA in 2009.
He was the best player in the Cal League last season despite missing a good portion playing with the Giants. He hit .342, .451, and .596 (BA, OBP, SLG) over 450 plate appearances in AAA with a eye popping wOBA of .447 (if you don't know what wOBA is, click here: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/the-joy-of-woba/). In comparison, Albert Pujols had a MLB best wOBA of .449 last year.
The most interesting thing about his award-winning 2009 minor league season was his tendency to walk (16.8 percent of at-bats). It is a little troubling though that this came out of nowhere; his previous walk percentages never exceeded 7.4 percent.
Even after he learned how to draw walks (or was just getting pitched to more carefully), he went back to 5.6 percent in the majors. One can blame small sample size or even nerves to explain the drastic fall. It's also reassuring to see that even with his sub-par performance in the majors in 2009, he still swung at far less pitches outside the zone than in 2008.
Bowker has the potential to be a walk and power threat, a combination that would have Giants fans drooling. Along with the higher reward is the higher risk though, due to his lack of recent playing time at this level. I definitely would like to see the Giants take a long look at him due to his potential, and the fact that he can decently play outfield and first base.
None of these players are top prospects, and odds are that none of them will be anything more than average. But hey, we're talking about the Giants offense, an offense that was among the worst offenses in the major leagues last year by most traditional statistics, and it only gets worse when sabermetrics are involved (we were dead last in wOBA). With that in mind, suddenly average doesn't sound so bad.
This is baseball though and although none of these three men are top prospects, there's always that chance that they could be the surprise player of the year. All of them are entering next season at an age when boys often become men and prospects often become solid players, and so my eyes will be watching them.