San Francisco Giants: 10 Reasons Pablo Sandoval Is the Solution at Catcher
Buster Posey's injury on May 25th left an enormous hole in the Giants' offense. Since that fateful day, the biggest question surrounding the Giants has been how they hope to score enough runs without arguably their best offensive player.
Once upon a time, Pablo Sandoval, too, was considered San Francisco's best offensive talent. He will soon return from an injury of his own, and will look to make a splash on offense.
Here are 10 reasons why Pablo Sandoval should be the San Francisco Giants' starting catcher.
Minor League Experience
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Here's a blast from the past—Pablo Sandoval playing catcher and Brian Wilson without his beard.
In his minor-league career, Sandoval played 176 games behind the plate compared to 155 at first and 92 at third.
In 2008, his final year in the minors, Pablo played 83 games at catcher and just 19 at first. He never played a game at third.
The Panda made it to the big leagues primarily as a catcher, with the capacity to play a corner infield spot.
His .989 fielding percentage behind the dish attests to his defensive skill. That he made it as far as he did as a catcher shows that he can handle pitchers well.
Putting Sandoval at catcher is not a radical idea. Rather, the Panda is an accomplished backstop with a lot of experience and he could certainly hold down the fort behind the plate for the balance of 2011.
The Slimmer Panda
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If Bengie Molina could play catcher with a physique that would have shamed Babe Ruth's, then Pablo Sandoval can do it in the best shape of his life.
Sandoval's intense offseason weight-loss program has so far made him much more productive on defense, increasing the amount of balls he can track down.
Sandoval's new form would also help him at catcher, the most physically demanding position on the field.
Interestingly, Sandoval's .989 fielding percentage at catcher is nearly 100 points higher than his mark at the hot corner. The Panda could plausibly be even less of a defensive liability behind the plate than at third base.
Whiteside's Defense Hasn't Been Stellar
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Anyone who has watched the Giants in the past couple of weeks has seen that Eli Whiteside is not a starting MLB catcher. With his increased playing time, he is prone to make small mistakes.
Sandoval would likely be no better—he might have a little rust to shake off for the first couple days—but he wouldn't have made it to the big-league club as a catcher unless his defense was good.
More Playing Time for Manny Burriss
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Although Burriss is a second baseman, he can also play short and has two starts at third this year.
Assuming that Miguel Tejada would take over third base if Sandoval goes behind the plate, Manny Burriss would get some starts as a utility infielder at second, short and third, at least until Mike Fontenot returns from injury.
Still 26 years old, Burriss is a young player who could become an everyday player for the Giants if given the chance. If Tejada flags, Burriss could end up with a regular infield gig.
Chris Stewart Contributes Nothing
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With Eli Whiteside as the regular starting catcher, San Francisco had to call up Chris Stewart from Triple-A Fresno in order to have two catchers on the roster.
Stewart has an unimpressive .256/.328/.360 line from the minor leagues over 10 years of service. It is fair to say that he contributes very little offensively.
With Sandoval occupying the starting catching role, Eli Whiteside would be the backup and the team would no longer have to save a spot for Chris Stewart.
More Depth in Infield Than Catcher
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San Francisco is pencil thin at infield right now, but still has more depth there than at catcher.
Choosing whether the Giants would be better served with Sandoval at catcher or third ultimately comes down to who would play at the position Sandoval is not occupying.
Sandoval at third means Whiteside or Stewart plays every day. If he plays catcher, it allows Miguel Tejada or Manny "Don't Call me Emmanuel" Burriss to play at third.
As distasteful as I find Miguel Tejada, he could still potentially turn his season around and be productive. He at least has a better chance than Whiteside or Stewart of hitting .270 this year.
In addition, it is easier to find a serviceable third baseman than a good hitting catcher at the trade deadline.
Aubrey Huff Can Play Third Base
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I've been saying it for weeks—put Aubrey Huff at third!
Observation No. 1: Bruce Bochy likes to fiddle with his lineups to maximize production from his players. At times, he puts his players (including Huff) at positions they are less familiar with in order to get their bats in the lineup.
Observation No. 2: Aubrey Huff has played 360 career games at third base. Huff played more third base than first at the start of his career. In fact, it took until midway through last year for Huff to have played more games at first than at third.
Observation No. 3: Albert Pujols has played the hot corner some this year. Due to the injury of third baseman David Freese, St. Louis has experimented with Pujols at third, which allows Berkman to play first and Jon Jay to play in the outfield.
Similarly, because of an injury, San Francisco could switch up fielders to get the best bats in the lineup.
Brandon Belt's injury makes this plan less feasible. But when he returns, the Giants will have a legitimate reason to play Aubrey Huff at third.
In-House Options at Third
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Conor Gillaspie is currently on the major-league roster, but will presumably return to Triple-A once Pablo Sandoval is deemed ready for major-league action.
Gillaspie has accrued a .284/.350/.402 line in his three-plus years of minor-league service. Still 23, he has loads of major-league potential, and could contribute as early as this year if given the chance.
San Francisco has two (three if you include Aubrey Huff) possible replacements for Sandoval at third on the active roster: Gillaspie in Fresno and Mark DeRosa on the disabled list (hope springs eternal).
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for backstops. San Francisco's system is utterly bereft of catching talent above High Single-A San Jose.
There are legitimately zero fail-safe options for the Giants in Triple-A, or even Double-A. The team would have to pull a Brandon Crawford and call up Hector Sanchez or Tommy Joseph from San Jose if they wanted an in-house solution.
Putting Sandoval at catcher would hide how thin the Giants are behind the plate by favoring the stronger depth they have at the hot corner.
An Extra Roster Spot for Brandon Crawford
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Sandoval behind the dish makes Chris Stewart obsolete and opens up an extra roster spot.
The most likely candidate for a demotion upon Sandoval's return is third baseman Conor Gillaspie, recently called up because of Brandon Belt's injury.
After Gillaspie, Crawford appears to be the next expendable piece. Having never even played a game at Triple-A, Crawford could use some seasoning in the minors before becoming a full-fledged major-league starter.
He potentially could keep his roster spot over infielder Emmanuel Burriss, but given the Giants' treatment of veterans, that is unlikely. Burriss can play all four infield positions and the outfield, making him a valuable utility man in the absence of Mark DeRosa and Mike Fontenot.
He also is the team's best pinch-running option with Darren Ford on the DL.
In either case, Sandoval at catcher allows both players to keep their spots on the active roster.
A Hitting Catcher Is a Competitive Advantage
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Catchers spend so much time working with the pitchers that they, like the hurlers, often are poor hitters.
As a result, having a catcher that can hit for a good average with decent pop gives a team a huge competitive advantage. For years, the Indians could plug in Victor Martinez into the third spot in their order and surround him with eight other good hitters.
Now that he is older and cannot catch as well, Martinez plays first base or DH. Predictably, his value has decreased. He is a good hitter, but not truly spectacular—his real value lays in that the difference between him and the average catcher is enormous.
For the Giants, playing Sandoval at catcher takes a poor hitter in Eli Whiteside or Chris Stewart out of the lineup and replaces him with a better hitting position player, a huge difference considering San Francisco's offensive woes.