2014 San Jose Giants Season Preview: Middle Infield

By Joe Ritzo

2014-Season-PreviewThe San Jose Giants season preview series continues this week with a look at the middle infield possibilities. Some familiar faces are in the running to garner significant playing time at second base and shortstop this year for the Giants, including two of the club’s top performers during the playoffs last September.

The San Jose Giants had a revolving door of players up the middle last season. Kelby Tomlinson was the opening day starter at shortstop, but a leg injury suffered in late-April knocked him out of action for two months. Bobby Haney filled in capably for the remainder of the first half before Tomlinson returned in June. A roster shuffle in the levels above San Jose resulted in a July promotion to Double-A for Tomlinson prompting the arrival of Matt Duffy from Augusta. Duffy then excelled in a Giants uniform down the stretch and into the playoffs elevating his prospect status as the season concluded.

Meanwhile, it was Haney that opened 2013 at second base for the Giants before giving way to veterans Ryan Cavan and Brock Bond for the bulk of the season. In mid-August, Trevor Brown joined the club from Augusta and saw nearly all of the action at second base, including a sizzling week offensively during the playoffs.

Now looking ahead to 2014, it’s unlikely that Haney or Cavan would return to the California League for a third season while Bond is no longer in the organization. Spring training could determine whether it’s Tomlinson or Duffy manning the shortstop position for the Giants at the beginning of the season while Brown figures to return as the club’s starting second baseman.

Kelby Tomlinson was San Jose's opening day shortstop last year and could return this season

Kelby Tomlinson was San Jose’s opening day shortstop last year and could return this season

Despite beginning last year as San Jose’s opening day shortstop and leadoff hitter, Tomlinson actually didn’t see much time in the California League in 2013. Between a pair of injuries and a quick promotion to Double-A, Tomlinson played in just 32 games with the Giants. The former 12th round draft pick hit .276 with seven doubles, no home runs, 16 RBI’s and five stolen bases. Tomlinson is a taller shortstop at 6’3″ with solid defensive skills and tremendous speed. He thrived in Rookie-ball three years ago batting at a .357 clip before struggling to a .224 mark as Augusta’s everyday shortstop in 2012. Tomlinson did rank among the South Atlantic League leaders in stolen bases two seasons ago with 36 and would be a viable candidate to bat leadoff, second or ninth should he return to San Jose this year.

Tomlinson has Double-A experience, but managed just a .198 batting average with five doubles and four RBI’s in 33 games for Richmond late last season.

Duffy, a 20th round pick in 2012, burst onto the scene last year in his first full professional season. As Augusta’s primary shortstop, he earned midseason South Atlantic League All-Star honors and was leading the GreenJackets in hitting with a .307 batting average at the time of his late-July promotion to San Jose. He then continued to impress with the Giants posting a .292 average while contributing six doubles, a triple, five home runs and 14 RBI’s in 26 games. Between the two teams last year, Duffy produced 20 doubles, nine homers, 57 RBI’s and 25 stolen bases to go with a .303 batting average and nearly as many walks (52) as strikeouts (57).

Duffy has a similar build to Tomlinson at 6’2″ and 170 lbs., but has far more pop in his bat and could potentially hit in the third spot of the lineup for the Giants should he return. Both players run well with Tomlinson a more dangerous threat to steal a base.

Matt Duffy will likely open the season as the starting shortstop in either San Jose or Richmond

Matt Duffy will likely open the season as the starting shortstop in either San Jose or Richmond

With no other obvious candidates to start at shortstop in Double-A this April, that job would seem to be there for the taking. Will it be Tomlinson, with his previous Double-A experience, getting another crack at the Eastern League out of the gate? Or was Duffy’s breakout 2013, including an impressive showing with the bat down the stretch in San Jose, enough to warrant a promotion to Richmond? Whomever doesn’t win the Richmond job coming out of minor league camp figures to be the leading candidate to start at shortstop for the Giants this season.

A third intriguing shortstop candidate for San Jose this year is 2012 12th round draft pick Jeremy Sy. The Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year in his final collegiate season, the start of Sy’s professional career was sidetracked as Tommy John Surgery on his elbow required him to miss the entire 2012 season. He likely would have spent that entire summer in Salem-Keizer, but due to the injury and long rehab process, didn’t make his debut until last June with the Volcanoes.

Fortunately for Sy, he quickly made up for lost time. In 46 games with Salem-Keizer last season, the 5’8″ shortstop, who packs a punch offensively, hit .294. Sy led the Volcanoes in home runs (8), RBI’s (41) and slugging percentage (.518) while ranking third in doubles (12) and stolen bases (13). The only downside to his year was perhaps the 13 errors committed in 34 games at shortstop.

After a four-year collegiate career and a rookie pro season washed out due to injury, Sy is already 24 – a year older than both Tomlinson and Duffy. Given his age and good showing in the Northwest League last summer, it would not be a surprise if Sy is elevated all the way to San Jose this spring – even if Tomlinson or Duffy is also in the California League.

Over at second base, minor league camp opens with Brown figuring to be the most likely candidate to begin the year as San Jose’s starter at the position. Drafted as a catcher two years ago out of UCLA (10th round), Brown saw considerably more time as a second baseman last season. The 6’2″ Southern California native hit .250 with 18 doubles, three home runs, 40 RBI’s and 10 stolen bases in 97 games with Augusta. With three weeks remaining in the regular season, he was promoted to San Jose where he continued to play almost exclusively second base. The numbers weren’t impressive with the Giants as Brown hit just .172 in 14 games, but he managed to end the year on a positive note. Brown had multi-hits in three out of his last five regular season games (helping to overcome a 1-for-28 start) and then led San Jose with a .345 batting average (10-for-29) during the playoffs.

Brown isn’t a big power guy, but he’s proven he can handle the bat well and doesn’t strikeout often. He hit fifth in the order for the Giants in the postseason after batting mainly second or sixth while in Augusta. If Brown does return to San Jose for the start of the 2014 campaign, he’ll look to pick-up right where he left off last September.

Other Giants middle infield candidates include a pair of players who were in Augusta for most, if not all, of last year. Alberto Robles, a native of Venezuela, quietly had a very good season with the GreenJackets. A part-time player early in the year, Robles grew into more of an everyday role in the second half, especially after the promotions of Duffy and Brown to San Jose. In 194 at-bats, Robles hit .304 with nine doubles, two triples, a home run and 21 RBI’s. He also contributed 13 stolen bases. Robles is a versatile player as he basically split time between second base and shortstop last year in Augusta. Given his .300+ batting average in the South Atlantic League, he’ll probably be considered for a spot on San Jose’s roster this spring.

Travious Relaford spent three weeks last July with the Giants and could return to the California League in 2014. Relaford was just 7-for-45 (.156 AVG) in a San Jose uniform and failed to gain much traction anywhere last season after bouncing around between Augusta, San Jose and Richmond. A former 44th round pick, Relaford started and finished the year with the GreenJackets where he posted an overall batting average of .221 and hit two home runs in 48 games. Relaford has played both shortstop and second throughout his pro career with sparse time at third base as well.

Two more middle infield possibilities include a pair players who could make the jump from Salem-Keizer to San Jose. 2012 13th round pick Ryan Jones has been Salem’s primary second baseman the last two seasons. He hit just .227 as a rookie, but improved dramatically last summer when he led the Volcanoes with a .336 batting average. Jones has little power (one HR in two years), but can draw a walk (.429 OBP last season) and committed just four errors in all of 2013. He may just move up one level to Augusta this season, but a jump to San Jose isn’t out of the question.

2013 draftee Brandon Bednar, a utility infielder, may also be considered for a promotion to the California League this spring. Bednar bounced around the infield last summer with Salem-Keizer playing second base (20 games), shortstop (17 games) and third (nine games). He posted a .272 batting average while contributing nine doubles, six home runs, 34 RBI’s and 11 stolen bases. Bednar was a seventh round pick last June out of Florida Gulf Coast University, making him the first collegiate middle infielder taken by San Francisco in the 2013 draft. Bednar’s versatility (he played seven positions in college), relatively high draft status and solid production in Salem-Keizer could result in a jump to San Jose.

Finally, 2013 first round draft pick Christian Arroyo is considered a long shot to open this season in San Jose. The shortstop was the Arizona Rookie League MVP last summer after batting .326 with a .511 slugging percentage in 45 games. Only 18 years old (he’ll turn 19 in May), Arroyo will probably begin the year in Augusta as San Jose fans wait patiently for the opportunity to watch this former top draft pick in action.

2014 San Jose Giants Middle Infield Candidates
(2013 regular season statistics are listed)

Brandon Bednar, 2B/SS/3B
– Salem-Keizer: .272 AVG, 6 HR, 34 RBI, 11 SB

Trevor Brown, 2B
– San Jose: .172 AVG, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 0 SB
– Augusta: .250 AVG, 3 HR, 40 RBI, 10 SB

Matt Duffy, SS
– San Jose: .292 AVG, 5 HR, 14 RBI, 3 SB
– Augusta: .307 AVG, 4 HR, 43 RBI, 22 SB

Ryan Jones, 2B
– Salem-Keizer: .336 AVG, 0 HR, 23 RBI, 9 SB

Travious Relaford, SS/2B
– Augusta: .221 AVG, 2 HR, 18 RBI, 10 SB
– San Jose: .156 AVG, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 0 SB
– Richmond: .188 AVG, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 0 SB

Alberto Robles, SS/2B

– Augusta: .304 AVG, 1 HR, 21 RBI, 13 SB

Jeremy Sy, SS
– Salem-Keizer: .294 AVG, 8 HR, 41 RBI, 13 SB

Kelby Tomlinson, SS
– San Jose: .276 AVG, 0 HR, 16 RBI, 5 SB
– Richmond: .198 AVG, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 3 SB

The 2014 San Jose Giants preview series will continue next week with a look at the corner infield.

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