The San Jose Giants season preview series continues this week with a look at the middle infield possibilities. A familiar face may return to Municipal Stadium this year to anchor a spot up the middle while a number of players who saw action with Augusta last season figure to be competing throughout the spring for an infield role in San Jose.
The two middle spots in San Jose last year were filled primarily by three players: Joe Panik at shortstop, Carter Jurica at second base and Bobby Haney in a utility role at both positions. Panik is headed for the upper levels of the Giants farm system this season, most likely Double-A Richmond, after a solid campaign in the California League that earned the former first round pick co-team MVP honors. Jurica and Haney also put forth quality efforts in San Jose last season, in particular at the plate, but there's a strong chance that one of them will find himself back with the Giants in 2013.
On paper, Jurica would seem to be the most likely of the duo to earn a promotion to Richmond. After missing over two months of the 2011 season due to injury, Jurica returned to San Jose last year and hit an impressive .300 in 108 games. The former third round draft pick also produced 19 doubles, six home runs and 56 RBI's while primarily batting out of the first or ninth position in the lineup.
Meanwhile, Haney also performed well when given the opportunity to play. While he only received roughly half of the at-bats that Jurica garnered, Haney did post a .310 batting average in San Jose. A former 22nd round pick, Haney added 16 doubles and 22 RBI's, but went the entire year without connecting for a home run. He saw most of his action at second base (42 games), but also played some at shortstop (12 games) and third (12 games).
Given his draft pedigree, his over 1 1/2 years of experience in the California League and solid batting average with the Giants last season, a promotion to Richmond would figure to be a slam dunk for Jurica. Haney also could make a strong case for a call-up to Double-A as he's a product of one of the elite college baseball programs in the country (University of South Carolina), he hit over .300 last season and has shown he can capably play multiple positions on the infield. But a potential logjam in the Richmond middle infield at the start of the year and the lack of top middle infield prospects coming up from the lower levels of the system will probably result in one of these players returning to San Jose, despite their 2012 success.
Last year in Richmond, former SJ Giants Ehire Adrianza and Ryan Cavan manned the shortstop and second base positions respectively. While both were major contributors on San Jose's 2011 squad, they each struggled with their first taste of Double-A (Adrianza hit .220, Cavan .228). Despite his difficult season at the plate, Adrianza, who is on the 40-man roster, could still be pushed to Triple-A Fresno at the start of the year. However, even if that comes to fruition, with Panik now thrown into the Richmond mix, there likely wouldn't be space for all of these middle infielders to continue their development in Double-A. As a result, look for one of Jurica (at second base) or Haney (at either second or shortstop) to return to San Jose, where they could play everyday and provide a veteran presence up the middle.
As for potential newcomers, Kelby Tomlinson will compete this spring for the starting shortstop position in San Jose. Tomlinson was a 12th round pick of the San Francisco Giants two years ago out of Texas Tech University. He burst onto the scene in 2011 at the Rookie-level when he batted .357 in 37 games, but often struggled last year in Augusta. Tomlinson led the GreenJackets in games played (123) and at-bats (450) while also scoring the second-most runs on the club (57), but a .224 batting average may give the organization pause as to whether he's ready for a promotion to the California League.
Tomlinson doesn't possess much power (nine doubles and one home run last year), but he can take a walk and runs very well as evident by his 36 stolen bases a season ago. With the shortstop position vacated in San Jose after Panik's big year, it would seem to be Tomlinson's for the taking provided he can show enough this spring. If he does in fact make the jump to San Jose, Tomlinson, a right-handed batter, would figure to hit near the bottom of the lineup, perhaps in the ninth spot where with his speed he could act as a second leadoff man.
Carlos Willoughby and Jose Cuevas were the primary second basemen last season in Augusta, but both disappointed offensively with identical .212 batting averages. Each has enjoyed significant past success, but it remains to be seen if that will be enough for either to get the call to San Jose this April.
Willoughby, another speedster, was the Dominican Summer League MVP as a 20-year old in 2009. He followed that up by hitting .295 in Rookie-ball the next season and then got off to a fast start in 2011 with Augusta to claim midseason South Atlantic League All-Star honors. A second half slump though with the GreenJackets lowered his final batting average two seasons ago to .240 (he did steal 33 bases) before a forgetful 2012 in which he batted just .212 with no homers and 10 stolen bases over 71 games.
Cuevas was the Arizona Rookie League MVP as a 23-year old in 2011 after batting .337 with league-high totals of nine home runs and 46 RBI's in 46 games. However, it didn't translate to much success in Augusta last season as he also batted just .212 while contributing 20 doubles and six homers in 99 games. Cuevas, a former 29th round draft pick, has also seen substantial playing time at third base throughout his career.
San Francisco didn't draft a middle infielder last June until the 12th round when they selected shortstop Jeremy Sy out of Louisiana-Monroe University. Sy will make his professional debut this season. He was the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year last spring after batting .330 in his final collegiate season. Ryan Jones (13th round, Michigan State University) and Matt Duffy (18th round, Long Beach State University) were also 2012 middle infield draftees of the Giants. Jones hit just .227 with eight doubles and one homer as the primary second baseman for Salem-Keizer (Short-Season) last summer and is an unlikely candidate to bypass Augusta and jump to San Jose for the start of this season. Duffy could potentially force his way to the California League this year, but it would probably take an enormous spring training to be given a serious look. As Salem-Keizer's shortstop last season, Duffy hit .247 in 47 games. He showed almost no power (just four doubles and one home run), but did walk more than he struck out and also led the Volcanoes with 10 stolen bases.
2013 San Jose Giants Middle Infield Candidates
(2012 regular season statistics are listed)
* Jose Cuevas, 2B/3B
Augusta: .212, 6 HR, 33 RBI, 18 SB
* Matt Duffy, SS
Salem-Keizer: .247, 1 HR, 16 RBI, 10 SB
* Bobby Haney, 2B/SS
San Jose: .310, 0 HR, 22 RBI, 3 SB
* Carter Jurica, 2B
San Jose: .300, 6 HR, 56 RBI, 6 SB
* Kelby Tomlinson, SS
Augusta: .224, 1 HR, 36 RBI, 36 SB
* Carlos Willoughby, 2B
Augusta: .212, 0 HR, 18 RBI, 10 SB
2013 San Jose Giants previews will continue next week with a look at the corner infield positions.
San Jose Giants Season Preview: Starting Pitchers
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.