2014 San Jose Giants Season Preview: Corner Infield
By Joe Ritzo
The San Jose Giants season preview series continues this week with a look at the first and third base positions. The collection of players who saw action at the corner infield spots for San Jose last year will all likely begin this season in the upper levels of the Giants farm system. Among the candidates to play first and third for San Jose in 2014 include two of Augusta’s best power hitters from a year ago and one of San Francisco’s top draft picks last June.
Mitch Delfino, who joined the SJ Giants from Augusta for the playoffs last September, will likely play third base for the club this season. The former 20th round draft pick out of Cal led the GreenJackets in home runs (13), RBI’s (76) and doubles (25) in 2013 to go with a .270 batting average. After a somewhat sluggish start to the year, Delfino hit .300 after the All-Star break, including .319 in August.Delfino is a big, strong right-handed hitter (listed at 6’3″, 200 lbs.) with the potential to put up big numbers with the Giants. It would certainly not be the first time that a player sees an improvement in his power production going from Augusta’s pitcher-friendly ballpark to the hitters paradise that is the California League. Delfino, who committed 13 errors last year, is considered an average defensive player at third base. If he begins this season in San Jose, look for Delfino to establish himself in the middle of the Giants order.
Last September, Delfino played in four out of the eight Giants postseason games. He was 3-for-14 (.214) with three singles.
While it’s highly unlikely that Ryan Cavan, who played 49 games at third base for San Jose last year, would come back to the California League for a third season, it’s not an unreasonable prediction to state that Myles Schroder could return. Schroder will certainly be a strong candidate to make the Double-A Richmond roster this spring after coming on strong in the second half with the Giants last year. The versatile utility man finished the 2013 season with a .296 batting average, 20 doubles, six triples, six home runs, 33 RBI’s and 12 stolen bases in 86 games. Schroder hit .326 in the second half to eventually become the club’s everyday starter at third base down the stretch and into the playoffs (he did struggle in the postseason though going 3-for-27).
If Schroder is squeezed out of a Double-A roster spot this spring, he could once again fill a valuable role with San Jose. Last season, in addition to his time at third base, Schroder saw occasional action at first base, second base and catcher while he also has the ability to play in the outfield.
Other potential third base candidates for the San Jose Giants at the start of the season include Shayne Houck and Brandon Bednar. Houck, a former 29th round draft pick, played 96 games with Augusta last season, but hit just .235. Houck features some power as he connected for 18 doubles and five home runs a year ago while also playing some at first base and corner outfield. His pedestrian batting average may result in a repeat season in Augusta though.
Bednar was mentioned in last week’s middle infield preview as a potential San Jose Giant in 2014. A seventh round draft pick last June out of Florida Gulf Coast University, Bednar hit .272 with six home runs and 34 RBI’s in 50 games for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (Short-Season) in 2013. Bednar saw more time at the middle infield positions last summer, but has the ability to play third base and could advance through the system as a utility guy going forward.
Over at first base, look for a new face or two in San Jose this season. 2013 first basemen Angel Villalona, who ended last year in Double-A, and Ricky Oropesa are expected to begin the campaign in the upper levels of the farm system. The duo combined for 22 home runs, 32 doubles and 80 RBI’s in the California League last season.
Joey Rapp, another powerful right-handed hitter (like Delfino), garnered most of the playing time at first base in Augusta a year ago and will be looking to move up to the California League in 2014. In 91 games for the GreenJackets, Rapp posted a .267 batting average to go with 19 doubles, six home runs and 54 RBI’s. The power numbers may not impress for a first baseman, but Rapp missed five weeks during April and May due to a broken finger. The injury may have contributed to Rapp not finding his stride offensively until the second half of the season.
A 28th round pick in 2012 out of the University of Louisiana-Monroe, Rapp hit all six of his home runs with Augusta after the All-Star break. After struggling early, Rapp hit .280 in July and then an impressive .327 during the month of August. His improved production as the season progressed combined with the opening at first base in San Jose should allow Rapp the opportunity to make the roster coming out of camp. Rapp, who is listed at 6’3″ and 220 lbs., led Salem-Keizer and was third in the Northwest League with 11 home runs in 2012. Making more consistent contact will be critical for Rapp as he struck out a whopping 98 times in 344 at-bats a year ago.
Another intriguing possibility for the first base position in San Jose this season is 2013 fourth round pick Brian Ragira. A product of Stanford University, Ragira hit .263 with 12 doubles, three home runs and 36 RBI’s in 47 games with Salem-Keizer last summer after signing his professional contract. Ragira was a standout performer in college earning the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year award and batting at least .320 in all three seasons at Stanford. Ragira led the Cardinal in home runs (8) and RBI’s (42) during his final year last spring. Exclusively a first baseman in college, Ragira actually ended last summer playing more corner outfield while in Salem-Keizer. It remains to be seen whether Ragira (who will be profiled more in the outfield preview next week) can jump past Augusta to make it to the Cal League this season and if he continues to play both first base and outfield or settles on one specific position.
Ben Turner, San Jose’s likely starting catcher this season and a non-roster invitee to big league camp, can also play first base. Turner saw action in 37 games at first base with Augusta last year.
2014 San Jose Giants Corner Infield Candidates
(2013 regular season statistics are listed)
Brandon Bednar, 2B/SS/3B
– Salem-Keizer: .272 AVG, 6 HR, 34 RBI, 11 SB
Mitch Delfino, 3B
– Augusta: .270 AVG, 13 HR, 76 RBI, 4 SB
Shayne Houck, 3B/1B
– Augusta: .235 AVG, 5 HR, 43 RBI, 1 SB
Brian Ragira, 1B/OF
– Salem-Keizer: .263 AVG, 3 HR, 36 RBI, 1 SB
Joey Rapp, 1B
– Augusta: .267 AVG, 6 HR, 54 RBI, 2 SB
Myles Schroder, 3B
– San Jose: .296 AVG, 6 HR, 33 RBI, 12 SB
The 2014 San Jose Giants preview series will continue next week with a look at the outfield.