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A lifelong dream was fulfilled on Friday night, as Kevin Frandsen made his major league debut in the major leagues on the team he rooted for as a kid, and playing the same position as one of his idols, second baseman Robby Thompson. And the dream couldn’t have gone better for his debut. But Frandsen has a good chance to become more than just a popular rookie.
As you’ve probably heard several times before, Kevin Frandsen is a bay area native, and grew up watching baseball games with his family at both Candlestick Park and at Municpal Stadium, where he watched the Single-A San Jose Giants.
Little did he know how big a part of his life that stadium would become.
Frandsen went to high school at Bellarmine in San Jose, where he not only played baseball but was also a two-way player on the football team, playing both wide receiver and cornerback. After graduating, he went on to play baseball with the San Jose State Spartans, who shared Municipal Stadium with the Giants. Frandsen stayed at SJSU through his Senior year and had a solid career there. He would become the school’s all-time hits leader, and was named the Western Athletic Conference’s best defensive third baseman by Baseball America in 2003.
That led to the Giants making him a 12th round pick in the 2004 draft, and he went on to play with several 2004 draftees at Salem-Keizer in the Giants’ short-season A-ball affliate, the Volcanoes. He was drafted at second base, and Frandsen had a solid pro debut going, with a .296 batting average through 25 games along with 5 doubles and 3 home runs, but his season came to a sudden end when he collided with a runner while fielding a ball, breaking his collarbone and sending him home early.
In 2005, Frandsen was a non-roster invite to Giants Spring Training, where he got only a few chances to show his stuff but impressed enough to skip Low-A Augusta and get moved to his hometown San Jose Giants in High-A. Playing on the field where he watched games as a child and played in college, Frandsen took off. Through 75 games in San Jose, he hit .351 with 22 doubles, 3 triples and 2 home runs with 26 walks against 22 strikeouts. He became the second player in San Jose Giants history to hit for the cycle, and when Augusta shortstop Marcus Sanders was injured, Frandsen was named to the 2005 All-Star Futures game in Detroit as his replacement.
That was only the halfway point of his season, though. He quickly was promoted to AA Norwich, where he started slow but then came on to bat .287 with 8 doubles and 2 home runs in 33 games, and then Frandsen got moved to AAA Fresno in August after Brian Dallimore was injured. Frandsen took to the Pacific Coast League, and in 20 games had a .351 average with 10 doubles, a triple, and 2 home runs.
Fresno finished the season out of the playoffs, and Frandsen was disappointed to learn that despite being named a Co-MVP of the Giants in the 2005 season (along with Eddy Martinez-Esteve), he was not going to join them in the playoffs. Still, he came home and asked the San Jose manager Lenn Sakata if he could work out with the team anyway. He was happily granted permission.
A day before the playoffs began, the Giants discovered that Martinez-Esteve had injured his foot badly enough that he needed surgery, and would miss the playoffs, so they called up Frandsen at 7 PM asking him if he was available to play. Frandsen responded by matching a single game hits record with 4 in the first game of the playoffs, and helping to lead the Giants to a first round sweep of Modesto, and then help a comeback from being down 2 games in a 5 game series against the Lake Elsinore Storm to win the 2005 California League Championship.
Frandsen went down to the Arizona Fall League, where he started off slowly but came on strong in the final week before the season ended.
In the Spring of 2006, Frandsen was once again in big league camp, and partially due to several Giants going to the World Baseball Classic, Frandsen appeared in a game every day a game was played until the Giants came back from Arizona. Manager Felipe Alou joked that he didn’t appear in some games because they were playing 2 games at once and they didn’t have time to bus him across the valley to the other game. Frandsen led the Giants in Spring AB’s with 67, and hit .358/.397/.597. He made his AT&T Park debut in Spring exhibition, breaking the ice for what everyone knew was coming. Not yet, but soon.
How soon was a surprise, though. Frandsen, as expected, went to Fresno to start 2006, and played in 19 games for the Grizzlies. He hit .333/.409/.500 and led the league in doubles with 11, though he had no home runs to start the season when he finally got the fateful call from the Giants.
Frandsen is a very good hitter with a quick stroke and an ability to identify pitches well. What you’re going to get with Frandsen is a hitter who can center almost any pitch, and the majority of his hits will be straight back up the middle. While Frandsen does not have a lot of home run power, he has good double power and will usually be able to take an extra base if it’s available. There is a chance that as Frandsen grows, he will develop a little more power, but he may never hit double digits in home runs for a season, and if he does, he won’t go far past 10.
One detraction from Frandsen’s game is his enjoyment of swinging the bat. That has resulted in low walk rates, something he’s mentioned he knows he needs to improve. His On-Base Percentages have stayed high thanks to his batting and other factors (See two paragraphs below), but he doesn’t draw enough walks to truly profile as ideally for a top of the batting order hitter.
Frandsen matches his hitting with good speed. He’s not the fastest guy on the field, but he has very good wheels and can turn it on. He was not the most effective base stealer in the minors, and has a lot more to learn about identifying when to run and when not to. Even so, he is a solid threat to steal a base when he’s on, and will run the bases well.
One underrated part of Frandsen’s game is his ability to take HBPs. Along with Robby Thompson, Frandsen has said his favorite player is Craig Biggio, and if Frandsen’s minor league experience is any indication, he may pass Biggio’s career record HBP total. Frandsen was hit 23 times in 128 games in 2005, and that was just the regular season. He was hit a couple of times in the 2005 playoffs, including to get on base to score the championship winning run in Game 5 against Lake Elsinore. He took 2 more in Spring Training of 2006 and had an amazing 5 in 19 games at Fresno in 2006 (including one that was part of the chain of events that set off a brawl against Tacoma). So it was only fitting that the first time Frandsen got on base in the majors was, as Frandsen puts it, he did it by ‘wearing the pitch.’
Frandsen has a good reputation for defense, though he can try to force an extraordinary play sometimes when the safe play is better, and that has forced errors in the past. One comparison is something people often say about young NFL Quarterbacks, where Frandsen needs to learn when to just hold onto the ball and not try to force an unadvisable play and make things worse. His defense has improved throughout his pro career, and he seems to have no ill aftereffects from his collision and injury in 2004, either physical or mental. Frandsen is not afraid to get dirty, ever.
While Frandsen has played second base primarily in the minors, he has also played some at third base and a scattered few games at shortstop. While, as noted, he was honored for his defense at third in college, he doesn’t yet have enough exposure in pro ball to determine how well he can play the hot corner.
One thing is for sure right now: Frandsen will quickly become a fan favorite in San Francisco. He’s a (relatively) hometown kid, plays hard, and has a great sense of humor and a nice story. But he’s also quickly become a major league prospect where few expected to find one. But most minor league observers agree, after seeing how he plays in the minors and his ability to adapt, that he will be a major league starter, and soon.
One interesting part of Frandsen’s game is his ability to adapt. In AA, the AFL, and Spring Training in 2006, he started out slowly for the first couple of weeks before really turning it on to end up with not only respectable, but very impressive stats. Giants fans should be warned that this will probably also happen in the majors, despite his hot debut. Frandsen is a smart player, however, and he will adapt to the new level of play.
One of the most intriguing questions is where Frandsen will end up in the majors. While most people assume that he is the heir apparent for Ray Durham at 2nd base (and that is a pretty likely future), he has played third base before, and the Giants have the struggling Pedro Feliz there this year. Feliz is a free agent at the end of the year and no guarantee to return, while the Giants also have no in-house options in the upper levels. The idea has been floated that Frandsen might play some at third, and might win that job, leaving the Giants to pursue a second baseman in free agency, where the market is deeper than the looming third base market. Either way, Frandsen’s flexibility gives the Giants more options than fans might realize.
The bottom line is that a lifelong Giants fan is now a Giant himself, and all Giant fans will know him soon. And now that he’s in the majors, expect him to do his best to stay there. The Giants might need a crowbar to pry him back out of the majors….and the truth is, the way Frandsen plays, the Giants won’t feel the need to resort to it.
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