Giants executive Pat Gallagher and I were talking in the AT&T press box about his 1986 slogan, “You Gotta Love These Kids,” and whether it should be revived.
“We were desperate,” he remembered. “We were coming off a 100-loss season and nobody knew our players. Of course, one season later, everybody knew Will Clark, Matt Williams and Robby Thompson.”
Nobody has yet emerged this season who looks as good as those three, but the Giants are playing better now that they’ve moved more young players into the lineup. Of course, they’re also playing the weaker part of their schedule, but they’ve certainly been more fun to watch than the veteran-loaded lineups of early season.
Only one player, Fred Lewis, has established himself as a solid player, though it’s a stretch to call him part of the youth movement since he’ll be 28 in December.
Emmanuel Burriss, who’s out for the rest of the year with an injury, as is Lewis, has earned the right to be the starting shortstop next season. A defensive whiz at both short and second and an exceptional baserunner, Burriss hit much better than expected, and he’s only 23.
The most intriguing player is Pablo Sandoval, who had a breakout year in the minors at 22, hitting .359 and .337 with power at his two stops. He’s hit well with the Giants, too, but in Wednesday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Juan Cruz blew three high fastballs by him, only one of which would have been a strike if Sandoval hadn’t swung. If he can’t learn to lay off that pitch, he’ll see little else. If he can discipline himself, though, he could be a .280 hitter with good power. His best position is catcher, but the Giants have Bengie Molina there for 2009 and Buster Posey is being fast-tracked for 2010, so the most likely position for Sandoval would be third base, where there’s nobody else.
Sandoval can also play first, but the Giants have two possibilities there. Travis Ishikawa, who’s on the roster now, is a slick fielder. I have serious doubts that he’ll hit major-league pitching consistently, but he won’t be 25 until later this month, so he may still be improving. John Bowker, who had a spectacular debut earlier this year, is also 25. He was sent down because he was chasing bad pitches, but I still think he could be a strong major-league hitter.
Eugenio Velez? I don’t think so. Even though Velez won two games this week with his bat, he has too many holes in his swing. His usual specialty has been a ground ball to short. He has great speed but, as the saying goes, you can’t steal first base.
Ivan Ochoa, who was briefly in the shortstop competition, is out of it because he’s not a major-league hitter.
Then, there’s the forgotten man, Nate Schierholtz, who won’t get the opportunity he deserves until Randy Winn’s contract expires after 2009. In just 93 games at Fresno before heading off to the Olympics, Schierholtz hit .320 with 50 extra-base hits, including 18 home runs, and 73 RBIs.
It took the Giants too long to commit to young players, but because they have, their future is much brighter. I don’t see them competing for the postseason next year, but by 2010, they should be.