The bench is the most malleable aspect of a major league roster. While the lineup, rotation, and bullpen is for the most part set in stone before the beginning of spring training, the annual fight just to crack the major league roster by auditioning for the part of role player remains a consistent narrative. A blend of young up-and-comers, diamonds in the rough, and aging veterans on career life support, the competition for the 25th spot on a roster is, needless to say, an entertaining fiasco.
For the San Francisco Giants, however, the question of who will be the team’s primary backup outfielder is hardly a question worth asking. While the front office has stockpiled intriguing talents on minor-league contracts, the overwhelming favorite is the only ball player of the bunch who suited up for the team last season — Gorkys Hernández.
I discussed the outfielder already in my mini-series “Riding the Pine,” but to reiterate some of the key points, Hernández is cut from the same cloth as Gregor Blanco. Combining the versatility to play all three spots in the outfield with a solid glove, an above-average arm, and decent speed, Hernández is the prototypical backup outfielder.
Hernández, 29, lacks the ideal major league experience of a backup option with only 104 games and 235 career plate appearances under his belt, but he has finally found an ideal situation in San Francisco.
Over 57 plate appearances towards the backend of the regular season, Hernández had modest success at the plate, hitting .259/.298/.463 with a wOBA of .324, a wRC+ of 105, and two homers. Incredibly aggressive with a bat in his hands, Hernández will entice pitchers to throw him junk outside the zone knowing he’ll take the bait, a weakness which has followed the outfielder throughout his professional career.
Due to the constraints of the luxury tax, Evans could not afford to try his hand at some of the pricier role players on the market and will instead try his luck with the plethora of outfielders he signed to minor-league contracts, as well as organizational prospects.
Among those with an opportunity to make the team are Michael Morse, Justin Ruggiano, Kyle Blanks, Chris Marrero, Wynton Bernard, Austin Slater, and Steven Duggar, all of whom have a case as to why they should begin the season with the San Francisco Giants, some more than others, but only one or two of the bunch have a realistic chance.
Like Hernández, I have covered Morse, Ruggiano, Blanks, and Slater during my “Riding the Pine” series, all of which will provide more specifics regarding each player. Of the bunch, if the Giants decide not to platoon Parker and Williamson, Ruggiano is San Francisco’s best option.
Plain and simple, Ruggiano knows how to hit left-handed pitching. With a career slash line of .275/.338/.527 and 27 home runs in 555 career plate appearances against southpaws, Ruggiano is a valuable gem, especially when the Giants inevitably have to face Clayton Kershaw and the rest of the lefty-happy starting rotation of the Los Angeles Dodgers.