Fans and members of the media are lining up to kick dirt on Fred Lewis as he appears all but certain to be sent packing by the San Francisco Giants.
Wait. I was one of the people kicking dirt on Fast Freddie.
I changed my mind.
The battle for the final roster spots are being narrowed down to John Bowker, Travis Ishikawa, Eugenio Velez, Andres Torres, Buster Posey, Kevin Frandsen, and Lewis.
Lewis was the Giants best pinch-hitter on the club in 2009. He had 10 hits in 38 pinch-hit appearances—seven of the hits were doubles. The guy on the most impatient team in Major League Baseball drew five bases on balls in a pinch.
Heading into 2009, Lewis was 7 for 24 as a pinch-hitter. Forget the cast-iron glove he carries in the outfield. Lewis has 17 pinch-hits in 64 big league tries—a little over .260.
That's pretty good—especially given that Bowker, Velez, Ishikawa, and Torres combined for eight pinch-hits in 45 appearances in 2009. They teamed to hit well under .200 in a pinch.
I wrote earlier that Lewis is too young to be a pinch-hitting specialist, but he is the Giants' pinch-hitting specialist. When it comes down to Lewis and the other guys likely in the hunt for a 24th or 25th roster spot—the Giants should keep Lewis over Bowker, Frandsen, or Ishikawa.
There's another reason that the Giants should strongly consider keeping Lewis.
Just like there are situations where the Giants are going to need a guy to come off the bench cold and swing a bat, there will be plenty of times where one of the slow-footed guys reaches first base in the eighth inning, with San Francisco trailing by one run.
While Lewis has never turned his incredible speed into stolen bases, the guy goes from first to third like he's wearing a jet pack. Let's say the club keeps Bowker, Posey, Frandsen, and Ishikawa...who pinch-runs when Huff singles to start the eighth with a single, with DeRosa and Molina to follow?
My final 25-player roster includes Torres already. He's going to play a lot in the hot mess the Giants call their outfield.
The Giants need to keep Lewis on the big club to pinch-hit and pinch-run.
In fact, I can't imagine them sending Velez down either. He, like Bowker, has minor league options. Lewis is out of options. The Giants can trade him, and there's a market out there for a guy with his physical tools. (There's a market for everybody. Remember, the 49ers got a draft pick for quarterback Shaun Hill. Different sport, but you get the idea.)
Oh...Velez...the guy is mercurial. He's a switch-hitter coming off the bench and, really, it seems foolish to ignore how well he played down the stretch in a playoff race because he's not playing particularly well this spring. Velez gives the Giants more speed on the bench. He's an infielder and an outfielder on a team that needs versatility.
Who to send down then?
Ishikawa's been hurt. He has options. He's still young enough to have a breakthrough as a hitter and can make it in Triple A.
Bowker? Everybody loves him. I see an outfielder with average speed who can play some first base. I ignore his Triple A numbers and his spring stats. I see a reserve who's going to max out at .260 with 12 homers and 45 RBIs. He's not a pinch-runner or pinch-hitter of note. (My hunch is Bowker sticks, but I'd keep Lewis.)
Frandsen's done nothing to merit the number of big league opportunities he has received. The San Jose native could use a change of scenery -- but he has one option remaining. DeRosa's ability makes keeping Frandsen less a priority.
Since I've got Torres on the big league roster, that leaves three guys in the mix with backup catcher Eli Whiteside for the final spots. Posey, Velez, and Lewis, right?
The absurdity of keeping 12 pitchers is a discussion for another day. For now, if the Giants are only keeping four positions players on the bench—I'm saying they keep four guys who can do a number of different things.
If Posey can hit big league pitching—well, I've made it clear he belongs in the big leagues. After that, Lewis and Velez bring more to a sparse bench than anyone else in the hunt.