San Francisco Giants Riding the Pine: Ehire Adrianza

Sep 21, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants shortstop Ehire Adrianza (1) looks up after hitting a solo home run during the second inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 21, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants shortstop Ehire Adrianza (1) looks up after hitting a solo home run during the second inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports /

Ehire Adrianza has played in each of the last four seasons for the San Francisco Giants, debuting in 2013, winning a World Series ring in 2014, and earning a spot on last season’s Opening Day roster, but as he heads into spring training, his competition up the middle will challenge the likelihood of the infielder cracking the roster, much less seeing consistent playing time.

The San Francisco Giants have overlooked Adrianza’s underwhelming career .220 batting average because of thin depth at the middle infield positions, but the 27-year-old can no longer rely on a lack of options up the middle as San Francisco’s front office has concentrated its efforts this offseason on stockpiling infielders on cheap minor-league contracts.

Amassing middle infielders isn’t a ludicrous concept for the Giants, especially considering Joe Panik has fallen victim to the injury bug multiple times in the past two seasons. Along with Kelby Tomlinson, who made the Opening Day roster as the other backup middle-infielder last season, Adrianza must outcompete Jimmy Rollins, Orlando Calixte, Conor Gillaspie, if he re-signs, Ramiro Peña, and possibly Christian Arroyo. Dark horse candidates may enter the picture between now and February should the front office sign affordable options without breaking the bank as well.

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While Rollins and Tomlinson are frontrunners to occupy the vacancies on Bruce Bochy’s bench, the possibility of the slender infielder suiting up for the San Francisco Giants remains an option. Adrianza’s calling card is undoubtedly his defensive prowess. The slick-fielding infielder’s skill with the glove far outweighs his contemporaries, combining excellent hands, range, and speed with a strong shortstop’s arm. Adrianza has only played 307 career innings at shortstop but possesses a UZR/150 of 19.8, a Gold Glove caliber level if sustainable over a full season. In 2015, Adrianza’s UZR/150 over 151.2 innings was a mind-boggling 28.1, and even with the incredibly small sample size.

Bochy hasn’t restricted Adrianza to shortstop, playing him at second and third base, more with the former than the latter. Adrianza’s career UZR/150 of 3.8 over 304.2 innings at second base isn’t too impressive, but this is mainly due to a horrid 2015. The middle infielder started a full game at first base in 2015 as well and held his ground, lasting a full nine innings without committing an error, although a bad hop on a hard hit grounder smacked him clean in the face. Adrianza’s footwork at first base requires more work, but refining his ability to play first along with second and third would give Adrianza an advantage over his contemporaries should Bochy decide the transition is worthwhile.

Complementing an elite glove is above-average speed, which is always a plus for a utility infielder. Adrianza has only four steals to his name on eight attempts, but in the minors, he racked up 114 on 158 attempts, including 33 in one year.

While Adrianza’s glove and speed give him value, his inconsistencies with the bat continue to hinder his case as a serviceable backup. In 331 career plate appearances, Adrianza has a weighted on-base average .271 and wRC+ of 73, far below the league average. Adrianza isn’t drawing walks at a rate high enough to compensate for his light bat, as his career walk percentage of 6.9% walk percentage leaves much to be desired as well.

Despite entering 2016 with a career .211 batting average, Adrianza flashed signs of improvement with the bat last season in very limited plate appearances. Before fracturing his left foot with a foul ball in April, Adrianza totaled a walk and three hits in twelve plate appearances, one of which was a solo shot against the undisputed best pitcher in the world, Clayton Kershaw. Adrianza almost homered in the at-bat prior, pulling the ball too far to the left of the left-field foul pole.

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Before returning to the bigs in early August, Adrianza tore apart minor league pitching in 17 combined games for the San Jose Giants and Sacramento River Cats, batting .294 with six home runs and 14 RBIs. Five of Adrianza’s six home runs came in only nine games for San Jose. Adrianza picked up right where he left off upon his return to the San Francisco Giants, totaling a walk and eight hits over 25 plate appearances, good for an average of .333 and an on-base percentage of .360. The infielder’s bat fell cold in September, batting .172 in 34 plate appearances, but Adrianza ended the season having proved he was better equipped to handle major league pitching. 

A fair amount of curiosity looms around Adrianza going forward. The middle infielder continues to grow more and more comfortable at the plate with each passing season, and his stellar defensive ability makes him a valuable commodity. The question of whether he could have sustained his hot start last season will forever remain unanswered, but Adrianza’s overall performance last season has earned him the right to stay in the discussion for a spot on the bench in 2017.

Next: Riding the Pine: Jimmy Rollins

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