By now we've covered most of the important parts of the 2011 San Francisco Giants. For those of you who didn't read the first two parts of this preview, here are the Cliffs Notes...
Pitching = good
Aaron Rowand = bad
…And that's pretty much it. Give or take about 4000 words..
Not included in my previous articles were two of the 2011 Giants potentially most important pieces; Buster Posey and Brandon Belt.These young Giants represent not only the team's most significant offensive developments since the mid 1980's, but also an end to the Sahara-like drought that was the SF farm system until 2003.
For most of my life, the Giants could not produce legitimate offensive players.
Part of this was their "need to win now before Bud Selig discovers that Barry Bonds is in fact, half machine" attitude that led to the eventual trading of nearly every promising young prospect in the farm system–just ask any fan who remembers A.J. Pierzynski's brief-yet-unbelievably-costly run in the city by the bay.
Giants fans suffered through years of call-ups and demotions for their top prospects. We were frustrated as the minimal talents of the Lance Niekro's and Damon Minor's of the world rose to the top of the barren SF farm system. We waited and waited for players like Ben Copeland and Eddy Martinez-Esteve to live up to their potential, to no avail.
Who is the NL's Best Young Offensive Player?
For these reasons, I was skeptical when I heard of the Giants selecting a young catcher out of Florida State fifth overall in the 2008 draft.
Sure I had heard the legends about Buster Posey.
He was a former Golden Spikes winner.
He once played all nine positions in a college game.
He was ready to hit pro pitching now.
He may or may not be the real-life Roy Hobbs from The Natural.
I heard these tales and I was still skeptical. Call it visions of Todd Linden dancing in my head. I had seen too many big time college hitters with all the credentials in the world join the Giants organization only to discover that they couldn't hit breaking balls, or make contact against lefties.
But after a few months in the minors, the whispers about Posey persisted.
This guy is a legitimate big league hitter.
The Giants had selected Posey with the fifth pick in the draft and after only a brief stint in the minors, it was generally agreed that he had been a steal. The fan base, desperate for a league-average offense, called for his promotion.
Meanwhile, the 2010 Giants were in a state of flux. They were in contention in the NL West, but lost too many games due to lack of offense, and were in need, it seemed, of an offensive roster overhaul. While San Francisco's pitching staff kept them competitive, they awaited the arrival of the man who would ultimately prove to be a one-man offensive overhaul, Buster Posey.
Blocking Posey's path to the majors, both literally and figuratively, was Bengie Molina.
Molina had somehow, through no fault of his own, been designated as the team's best hitter and was tasked with hitting cleanup and carrying the offense.
Anyone who has ever watched Bengie Molina hit knows this was a massive lapse in judgement.
While Molina was doing his best with the heavy responsibility heaped upon him by Giants management, Posey toiled between the minor leagues and in brief major league stints, where his chief responsibilities included warming up relievers, taking occasional pinch hit at bats, and making sure that Tim Lincecum's post-game bong rip was ready to go.
He was underused or not used at all for the entirety of 2010's first half.
What kind of impact will Brandon Belt have on the Giants in 2011?
Perhaps, Giants fans thought, the front office was so confused by the presence of a legitimate hitting prospect within the organization that their seeming uncertainty of what to do with Posey could be attributed simply to unfamiliarity with his extremely high level of awesomeness.
But Posey was undaunted by his organization's yo-yo like handling of his young career. When they sent him back to AAA, he went about his business, and devoured minor league pitching like Tim Lincecum devours In-N-Out burgers. When they brought him up to the Majors, he developed his relationships with more established players, said the right things, and waited for his time to come.
And a little after midseason, a funny thing happened. The Giants front office decided that their best home-grown prospect since Will Clark in 1985, may, despite his youth and lack of experience behind the plate, be better than Bengie Molina.
So they brought him up, stuck him in the lineup (eventually trading Molina to the Texas Rangers) and watched the magic happen.
By now, Posey's incredible rookie season has become the stuff of legends in San Francisco and for Giants fans everywhere.
Offensively, he lived up to the baseball savant status that had followed him since his days at Florida State. He batted .305, with an OPS of .862, impressive for anyone in a Giants uniform, let alone a rookie.
Management's concerns about Posey's lack of defensive experience quickly proved themselves to be largely unfounded. He was excellent behind the dish, displaying a calm and poise far beyond his young age. He even filled in occasionally at first base, displaying a level of comfort that was more J.T. Snow than Jason Giambi.
But more important that statistical yardsticks, his impact on the Giants club was immediate and dramatic. The team instantly became a group that, like Posey, were not supposed to succeed–yet they were. Every day, and with every Padres loss (thanks for the collapse, San Diego! Don't worry about it, everyone saw it coming), the Giants took to their new identity more and more.
In 2011, expectations for Posey are understandably high.
However, for once I am not worried about high expectations crushing the career of a young Giant. He's already considerably better than Dan Ortmeier, so that's a win.
And thus far, the rumors surrounding Posey have all turned out to be true.
The guy is a natural.
His swing is pure, his mechanics are solid, and he is unafraid in big moments.
He just looks like a pro baseball player.
It is for this reason that I am similarly unafraid to predict big things from Posey. I see him hitting 25 HR and batting .300-.320. I see him topping 100 RBI in this new version of San Francisco offense. And I see him building on his .505 slugging percentage from 2010.
He might even turn the entirety of McCovey Cove into wine, and then walk across it to save a drowning baby.
Nothing would surprise me.
However even if my statistical projections are off, there is reason to celebrate.
Posey has a swing and an approach that are tailor-made for AT&T Park. His is an incredibly even, fluid swing that produces power even though it doesn't look like it should. And more importantly for someone playing in San Francisco, it produces doubles.
Posey consistently hits lined shots to all fields. He adapts his approach mid-at-bat. He takes what opposing pitchers give him, and manages to drive the ball to the gaps seemingly with ease.
In any other park in baseball, this is a very good trait. In San Francisco, it can make you great.
Posey will hit lots of doubles, certainly (I'm projecting 35-40 for him, which seems high until you realize that he hit 23 in only 108 games during his rookie season), but that doesn't take into account all the well-hit balls that will turn into triples in AT&T's cavernous right-center field gap. It doesn't account for all the extra bases he will take when visiting outfielders misplay balls off of the right field wall.
Posey's swing is built for a place like San Francisco, which is why I'm so optimistic that the man who may in fact be the baseball Messiah is capable of reaching his full potential with the Giants, beginning in 2011.
Following in Posey's gargantuan footsteps is young first baseman Brandon Belt, who is likely to start the season in the minors, much as Posey did in 2010.
Belt was drafted by the Giants in the fifth round of the 2009 draft, and almost immediately began to work his way up scouting reports around the league. The story is that Belt was a very good college player, but had a swing that was not conducive to major league success.
Upon drafting him, Giants minor league coaches went about altering his swing and the results were immediately positive. He hit .352 in low A ball with 112 RBI, 43 2B, 99 R, 173 H, and an obscene, Bonds-esque 1.075 OPS. His success continued in A+ and AA ball, where he produced similar numbers, despite constantly moving between leagues and having no familiarity whatsoever with opposing pitching.
Belt arrived in Giants camp this year surrounded by the same buzz that had followed Posey. Giants fans had seen what a properly developed offensive prospect could produce, and were eager for more.
However, I would like to see the front office give Belt more time to develop.
There is no doubt that his minor league numbers are impressive, but his brief stay in the Pacific Coast League did result in a dip in his statistics. In only 13 games, Belt's average was a paltry .229, although his OPS remained high at .956. His potential has clearly not dropped, but I feel like Posey has in a sense ruined the curve for developing players. Belt could be great, but he needs time to develop.
He will likely get this opportunity by starting the season in Fresno.
If Belt can continue to develop, he gives the Giants enormous flexibility and potentially their most deadly lineup. Giving Belt the reigns at first, where he is already big-league ready (although let's be honest, anyone who can hit is big-league ready to play first base) will allow Aubrey Huff to move to left.
A lineup of Torres, Sanchez, Posey, Huff, Sandoval, Belt, Tejada, and Ross would be a force to be reckoned with in the offensively deficient NL West.
The 2011 team projections that follow reflect a first year path for Belt similar to what the organization did with Posey last year–start the year in the minors, and ultimately play in about 100 games.
2011 Starting Lineup:
1. Andres Torres, RF
2. Freddy Sanchez, 2B
3. Buster Posey, C
4. Aubrey Huff, 1B
5. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
6. Pat Burrell/Mark DeRosa LF
7. Miguel Tejada, SS
8. Cody Ross, RF
9. Tim Lincecum, P
Record: 95-67 (1st in NL West)
On paper, the Giants have the talent to cruise through their division for yet another playoff appearance.
But as last year's team proved, they don't play on paper.
The chief reservation I have about 2011 concerns the losses of Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe. While their on-field production can be replaced, both Uribe and Renteria played with chips on their shoulders. They had a knack for the big moment, and were a key part of the swagger that helped the Giants win the World Series in 2010, which is not something that is easily replaced.
The 2010 Giants were a unique group of personalities, each of whom was key to the team's eventual success.
Losing two of these personalities could be loss that is bigger than anything that shows up in a box score.
It seemed at times last season that the Giants were in fact two teams; The Giants and the Gigantes.
The Giants were guys like Huff, Posey, Lincecum, Cain, Zito, and Burrell. They were laid back, relaxed, and unconcerned with doubters and naysayers.
The Gigantes were Uribe, Renteria, Romo, Wilson, Sandoval, and Sanchez. They were fiery, weren't afraid to put the team on their backs, and although their play may have been inconsistent at times, their swagger and heart never wavered.
The acquisition of Miguel Tejada could help plug any cracks in the the chemistry dam. Miggy is a well respected veteran leader, with an MVP award in his back pocket to boot.
At first glance it seems as though he will be a perfect fit in San Francisco. That being said, chemistry is a tricky thing in all sports, and although the 2011 Giants season is filled with optimism, we can't forget all the factors that led to last year's success, and hope that this group is ready to repeat in all phases of the game.