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The SS Shortage Conundrum, or “Give The Professor time to learn”.

March 26, 2011
Miguel Tejada’s recent spotty performance, coupled with his move to the eight spot in the order, has spurred a lot of talk about his future with the team, and understandably.  The Giants farm system hasn’t had a good track record of producing position players, despite the resounding success with producing pitchers and our very own baseball messiah one Gerald Dempsey Posey III.  The preemptive rush to find mid-season replacements from outside the organization for Miguel Tejada, however, could turn out to do more damage than good, especially in the case of one of our favorite prospects, Brandon Crawford.  

Tejada was designed from the outset (or perhaps I should say we deeply hope he was) to be a temporary replacement; a stop-gap until Crawford (or even Ehire Adrianza) was ready to join the big club.  I don’t think anyone expected him to tear it up, but he is a serviceable replacement and a good veteran clubhouse presence (and we know how much stock that has with this organization).  A mid-season replacement would be exceedingly doubtful to be any better than Tejada or some sort of Fontenot/DeRosa platoon, and if by some miraculous maneuvering the Giants were to manage to get a hold of a quality established short stop, we’d undoubtedly be paying a pretty penny for whoever it was and, more importantly, we’d inevitably be giving up someone (potentially several someones) valuable, most likely in the form of someone like Zack Wheeler at minimum.  Why would we do that when there’s a potentially very successful short stop waiting in our farm system?

Brandon Crawford has, in the opinion of more than one analyst or beat writer and in the much less meaningful opinion of yours truly, been defensively ready for the bigs for some time now.  He has a slick glove, good range, and good defensive instincts and put up a solid Spring Training this year.  The looming question and the sword over Crawford’s head, unfortunately, is his offense.  He hit .371/.445/.600 in 25 games with San Jose in 2009 and while that’s an admittedly extremely small sample size, it’s proof that he’s got the raw stuff to be able to put it together.  My prediction is that advancing from the Cal League put more pressure on his ability to make adjustments to pitchers on the fly, and that’s something that time and confidence can improve.  Putting up .266/.330/.399 in three years in the minors, without any time at AAA yet, is admittedly less than ideal, but how much does it matter?  How far above the Mendoza line can we reasonably expect a solid defensive short stop to be?  J.J. Hardy, for reference, hit .271/.332/.403 in his time in the minors, and I would hardly question the O’s decision to give him his $5.85M this year.  Brendan Ryan isn’t far ahead of Crawford, in fact putting up an ever so slightly lower OPS (.724 vs. .729), with Hardy just a tick ahead at .735.

What becomes more difficult to quantify is defensive ability.  I’m skeptical of defensive stats in general, and there’s no good reference point for minor league defensive stats anyway, so we’re left with essentially scouting reports and gut instinct.  Much as my defensive bias would be perfectly happy to see him up now, I’m capable of being rational enough to say that he needs a year in Fresno.  He needs a year against PCL pitching, he needs a year to get his confidence entirely back after missing several months last year with a broken hand, and he needs a year to have a starting spot available for him to come into rather than being stuck on the bench as a late inning defensive replacement.  He deserves more than being an infield Nate Schierholtz (with absolutely all respect and love to Nate).  If that means we deal with Tejada this season or some other configuration of people we have at our disposal (too bad Kevin Frandsen’s not available anymore), then so be it.  Long term, there’s every possibility that Crawford could be our answer to the short stop shortage, and we’re not in the “must win now!” position we were so used to for years.  We’ve proven we can do it, we’ve got that big shiny trophy and those gold embroidered jerseys to show for it, and part of what’s going to earn another one of those is thinking past the next game or the next series or the next immediate crisis.  We have options in house, imperfect as they may be at the moment, and there’s no need to damage our chances of a quality home grown position player by either rushing Crawford or bringing someone in who would effectively push him out when he was ready in roughly another season.

In the end, I like the kid and I think he could be something special, and I’m not totally alone on that.

We all know how good his defense is. It’s been said his glove could play at the major league level now. But he’s also capable of being a guy who drives in runs and gets on base.  So much of the game is confidence. Just get the repetition you need and have some success to make you believe.

– Buster Posey

And really, I’ll take a lot on the word of Mr. Rookie of the Year.

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