Brett Pill is making a case for 2012 this September
For casual Giants fans, September baseball can be enthralling (2010), intriguing (2009) or forgettable (2005-08).
For hardcore fans—not to mention front offices—every September is an opportunity to assess the performance of high-level prospects at the major league level.
Shortstop Rich Aurilia kick-started his major league career during a September 1995 call-up with the Giants, batting a gaudy .474 with five extra-base hits in 22 plate appearances. He became a mainstay in San Francisco the following season.
Will any of the current Giants' late-season call-ups be viable components of next year's major league roster?
Here's my take on six Giants auditioning for 2012 roster spots, and the likelihood of their sticking with San Francisco when next season begins.
Pill, after one of his two September HR's
Opportunity: Compete for starting spot at first base and/or run-producer off the bench.
Audition to date: A-
Brett Pill had an eye-opening season at Class Triple-A Fresno (25 HR, 107 RBI and the first hitter at any level in pro ball to reach 100 RBI in 2011) before his call-up.
Aubrey Huff's face-plant in the first year of a two-year contract cracked open a door to legitimate competition. Pill has pushed it open by blasting two homers at offensively unfriendly Petco Park and continuing to produce in five starts (.294 BA 1.000 OPS 2 HR 3 RBI).
Even if Huff rebounds in 2012, he could be moved from first base to a corner outfield spot to make room for an alternative like Pill, who isn't a candidate for another field position.
For those who think Brian Sabean must pursue free-agents-to-be like Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder (or even Carlos Beltran), here's a news flash: fuggetaboutit.
Next year the Giants must set aside $15 million for Matt Cain, untold millions in a possible contract extension for Tim Lincecum, $30 million owed to Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand, etc.
That makes an inexpensive option like Pill even more attractive.
Odds of being on the big club in 2012: 75 percent
Edlefsen would be a desirable, inexpensive bullpen option
Opportunity: Middle- or long-relief bullpen spot.
Audition to date: B-
A 16th-round 2007 draft pick by the Giants, Steve Edlefsen had decent (if slightly misleading) success in San Francisco's farm system before this month's call-up. His career numbers (27-12, 2.92 ERA) way exceed what he did at Class Triple-A Fresno in the hitter-friendly PCL (2-4, 5.66 ERA, 1.67 WHIP).
Nonetheless, the Giants are giving Edlefsen a pretty thorough look. In nine appearances the right-handed sinker specialist has a frighteningly high 1.68 WHIP, but decent 3.24 ERA.
Something tells you San Francisco would love to see this 27-year-old do enough this month to convince them to allow Ramon Ramirez or Santiago Casilla to walk this offseason (both are arbitration-eligible).
Edlefsen hasn't done enough—yet—for that to be a lock.
Odds of being on the big club in 2012: 60 percent
Surkamp's 2012 prospects are dependent on multiple factors
Opportunity: Fifth spot in starting rotation
Audition to date: B+
After the ups (few) and downs (many) of Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez in 2011, Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy were so desperate for stability that they summoned a prized lefty from their farm system with zero major league experience to pitch in a playoff race.
Eric Surkamp's minor league numbers (26-13, 2.85 ERA, 1.14 WHIP over three seasons) weren't as gaudy as Madison Bumgarner's (34-6, 2.00 ERA, 1.05 WHIP). They were good enough that he was considered untouchable as midseason trade bait.
He's made three quality starts, winning two while posting a respectable 3.24 ERA and 1.38 WHIP. That's Cy Young stuff compared to the maddening inconsistency and incompetence of Zito and Sanchez.
With four starting spots likely locked up (three if Ryan Vogelsong signs elsewhere this winter), one spot will be up for grabs in spring training. Surkamp will get a long look, but so might Sanchez and Zito—unless Brian Sabean cuts ties with one or both this offseason.
Odds of being on the big club in 2012: 50 percent
Sanchez may be part of a jumbled mix behind the plate
Opportunity: Backup catcher, pinch hitter.
Audition to date: C+
The loss of Buster Posey devastated the Giants, severely crippling their 2011 playoff hopes and destabilizing the club at a critical position.
Hector Sanchez isn't an offensive prodigy (.295 BA with 26 HRs over five minor league seasons) or defensive genius (34 percent caught-stealing rate). But he could be a serviceable backup to Buster Posey in 2012.
A switch-hitter, Sanchez could be an attractive alternative to Chris Stewart (who is decent defensively, but can't hit) or Eli Whiteside (who isn't great at anything, but seems to be a favorite of Bruce Bochy).
Two factors complicate any assessment of San Francisco's catcher prospects: 1) Buster Posey's health and 2) the presence of 2011 draftee Andrew Susac, widely regarded as a legitimate pro prospect. (Susac has been tabbed to join the Giants' fall instructional league team even though he signed late—a sign of how highly they value him.)
Under virtually any scenario, the Giants need to strengthen their catching depth next year. Sanchez needs to hit more than he has thus far, but he's likely to be in the mix.
Odds of being on the big club in 2012: 40 percent
Ford's stock hasn't risen this month
Opportunity: Fourth or fifth outfielder, late-inning speed weapon.
Audition to date: D
Darren Ford's madcap dash around the bases last September cementing a critical late-season win over Colorado energized the clubhouse and etched Ford's name permanently in Giants lore.
Recalled a couple of weeks ago to provide the same energy and effervescence, Ford has been as flat as stale soda. He's been thrown out five times in 11 stolen base attempts, and was picked off at first base in the eighth inning of Tuesday's 3-2 12-inning win over the Padres.
Considering that his singular strength as a minor leaguer has been an ability to steal bases (306, while being thrown out 78 times), that's not going to endear Ford to his manager or motivate his general manager to keep him on next year's 40-man roster.
Odds of being on the big club in 2012: 10 percent
Christian is a would-be feel-good story....if only
Opportunity: Compete for open center field spot
Audition to date: F
Justin Christian's story, like Andres Torres' and Ryan Vogelsong's, is right out of Hollywood central casting.
He was signed by the Yankees at age 24 after spending his first year in professional ball with the independent River City Rascals of O'Fallon, Missouri.
After ping-ponging his way around the Yankees farm system for five years (Staten Island, Charleston, Tampa, Columbus, Trenton, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre) Christian earned a 2008 September call-up. He posted decent numbers—.250 BA, six RBI, seven SB in 43 plate appearances.
Christian was released, signed by Baltimore, released again, signed by New York, then released again.
Signed last offseason to a minor league deal by the Giants at age 31, Christian scuffled for 73 games at Double-A Richmond before a midseason promotion to Class Triple-A Fresno.
There, Christian inexplicably took off. Here's what he did in 64 games: .338 BA, .428 OBP, 1.002 OPS, 33 extra-base hits, 41 RBI, 36 SB.
That earned him another September call-up, this time with the Giants. Christian had an opportunity to fill voids at the leadoff spot and in center field, both filled last year by Andres Torres.
In Hollywood, Christian bats .323, steals 17 bases and makes a diving catch to preserve a victory that vaults the Giants into the 2011 playoffs.
In the real world, Christian is batting .118, has stolen one base and very likely will depart San Francisco in late September for a very uncertain future.
Odds of being on the big club in 2012: Zero percent