San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford is a notoriously slow starter.
He has a career .232 batting average with a .683 OPS in the months of March and April throughout his career. In addition, Crawford also just had statistically one of the worst stretches of his career this April. He was certainly ready to turn the page to May.
Meanwhile, second baseman Joe Panik is off to slow start of his own, batting .208 with a .584 OPS on the year.
Both middle infielders have contributed to the team’s offensive struggles.
With Crawford, the assumption is that he will start to heat up as the weather becomes warmer. The same cannot necessarily be said for Panik, as his below-average offensive production is a trend that has spanned several seasons.
It’s time for the Giants to begin considering how they should approach the middle infield situation if neither player comes out of his respective slump.
Crawford is under contract for $15.2 million annually through the 2021 season, and he has a full no-trade clause, so he is likely not going anywhere.
Panik is still arbitration-eligible and can be optioned to the minors, so his roster spot is a lot easier to work with as far as a potential change is concerned.
Regardless of those contract specifics, the Giants need to begin taking inventory of their middle infield depth. In fact, they have already begun the process:
Clearly, the Giants are beginning to experiment with players at second base to see who can handle the position.
In addition to Slater, the current middle infielders on the 40-man roster include Crawford, Panik, Yangervis Solarte, and Abiatal Avelino. Pablo Sandoval would probably tell you he too can play middle infield, and he did play seven innings at second base last season.
That list will change with the addition of veteran Donovan Solano, who has been called up from Triple-A to join the MLB club in Colorado. The 31-year-old was hitting .322 with an .829 OPS.
Solarte, who is hitting just .205 with a .562 OPS, could wind up being the roster casualty once Solano is officially added to the 40-man roster.
Avelino and Slater are both currently playing for Triple-A Sacramento.
Avelino has posted a .699 OPS in 106 plate appearances while serving as the everyday shortstop, so he is not ready for a promotion at the moment.
Slater has played all over the field and his bat is showing further development. So far, he’s hitting .309 with a 1.052 OPS, tallying seven doubles, five home runs and 12 RBI in 24 games.
Those numbers also include a stout 20.9 percent walk rate, compared to a 25.3 percent strikeout rate, which bodes well for Slater given Farhan Zaidi’s affinity for players with on-base ability. The most encouraging sign for Slater is his ground ball rate, which sits at 40 percent, well below his career norm.
Beyond the 40-man roster, the San Francisco Giants are a little light on middle infielders.
Breyvic Valera was recently designated for assignment after right-hander Andrew Moore was claimed off waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays. Valera had posted a .734 OPS with Sacramento that included a solid 17.4 percent walk rate.
If Valera goes unclaimed on waivers, he could remain with the Giants as useful depth given his Swiss Army knife capabilities defensively.
Miller has played primarily second base for the past several seasons, and he is off to a nice start with an .812 OPS
Howard is off to a much slower start with a .581 OPS in his second stint with the Flying Squirrels while playing shortstop, though he is still viewed as a potential long-term piece in San Francisco.
Beyond these limited options, the Giants simply do not have much in the way of middle infield depth. Right now, it doesn’t seem like any of these in-house alternatives is ready to handle an everyday role at the MLB level.
The lack of middle infield depth is a concern, and the issue is being exacerbated by the lack of production from both Panik and Crawford.
If things don’t change soon, the Giants may need to explore other options sooner rather than later at both middle infield spots.