With the Giants looking to find consistency at second base in 2012, all eyes are on Freddy Sanchez. The soon-to-be 34-year-old will need to stay healthy, something he's had trouble doing as a Giant. The last time he notched 500 at-bats in a season was with the Pirates in 2008. Still, his rehab from shoulder surgery is reportedly on track and the position is his to lose.
Sanchez was playing well before he injured his shoulder diving for a ball in June. He was playing excellent defense and hitting .289 over his first 239 at-bats. What made Sanchez special was his knack for situational hitting and his ability to consistently produce out of the two hole. His 2010 numbers were almost identical to his truncated 2011 numbers -- which is exactly what the Giants were looking for out of the former batting champion. That's again what the Giants will be looking for from a healthy Sanchez in 2012.
After the Sanchez injury in June, a July trade for Keppinger brought a solid infielder the Giants could plug in during Sanchez's absence. After non-tendering Keppinger last month, it's unlikely he'll return to the Giants. Now it looks like the versatile Mike Fontenot and the unproven Emmanuel Burriss will serve as primary backups.
Fontenot was actually his most productive offensively while playing second last year. He posted a fatty .937 OPS in the 64 at-bats he got out of the position. While it's a far cry from Fontenot's season OPS of .681 -- he only hit .227 in 85 games -- it does show that he has potential to swing the bat from the fielding position he's most comfortable at.
Behind Fontenot is Burriss, who flirted with the Mendoza line during his 59-game stay in San Francisco last year. The D.C. native who's seen time with the big club (albeit sparingly) since 2008, hit just .204 for the Giants in 2011 -- although he did post solid numbers for triple-A Fresno. Burriss is expected to serve as a versatile infielder in 2012, likely also finding time backing up his junior, Brandon Crawford, at shortstop.
In short: Second base is Sanchez's going into 2012. The team will have an adequate backup in Mike Fontenot. In the minor league ranks, second base is shallow. But there are a few options.
Coming down the pike
There are two names that stand out from an otherwise lackluster group in the farm system. The first is Charlie Culberson. The Georgia native played his age 22 season at double-A Richmond the last year, his fifth season inside the organization. Making the transition from San Jose to Richmond was tough for Culberson, however. He lost over 100 points of OPS from his previous year in San Jose. Culberson has the tools, but he'll need to prove himself at the double-A level -- and quick -- to regain his shine.
The name suddenly climbing the ranks is Giants 2011 first-rounder Joe Panik. Panik is a natural shortstop -- the position he played at both St. John's and with short-season Salem-Keizer. Panik put up solid all-around numbers for the Volcanoes in 2011, enough to earn the shortstop the Northwest League's MVP award. But the Giants shifted him to second base during this year's Arizona Fall League, perhaps to give the top draft pick an easier path to the majors. In the AFL, Panik hit a hearty .323 in 93 at-bats. Panik's AFL started slowly, but by season's end the New Yorker had nine extra base hits and an .867 OPS.
While Panik and Culberson are projected to be at least a year away (maybe two) from reaching the bigs, the Giants do still have passable depth on the major league roster with Sanchez, Fontenot and Burriss. The Giants are again in the position of hoping that Sanchez will have a healthy, productive year. If that's the case, expect consistent production. Given the injury track record, however, that may not be the case. It's unclear what the long-term solution at second will be -- but given Panik's flashy start to his professional career, he may one day be the answer.