The SF Giants added a new and intriguing name to the infield competition on Friday. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that former Cincinnati Reds infielder Alex Blandino has agreed to a minors contract.
SF Giants sign former first round pick to minor league deal
The terms of the deal are not yet known but it likely includes a camp invite, which cannot be announced until a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is ratified. The 29-year-old infielder will compete with a pair of versatile options in Thairo Estrada and Mauricio Dubón for a utility role with San Francisco.
The Reds originally Blandino in the first round of the 2014 draft out of Stanford University where he was teammates with Giants outfielder Austin Slater from 2012 - 2014. The front office has emphasized bringing in players with a connection to the area and this continues that trend. The payoff is that the player is more likely to stay with the organization if he does not receive a promotion to the big league roster right away.
In eight minor-league seasons, Blandino slashed .254/.362/.399 with a 12 percent walk rate against a 21 percent strikeout rate. He has a selective eye and decent bat-to-ball skills but the power has not fully developed yet. With that being said, the right-handed bat has tinkered with his swing mechanics as Eric Logenhagen of Fangraphs noted back in 2018:
""It seems Blandino finally found footwork that worked for him in the batter’s box in 2017, and it not only improved his ability to make contact after an uncharacteristically strikeout-heavy 2016, but it also enabled him to tap into a bit more power than his modest frame had previously afforded him. After entering pro ball with the conservative footwork typical of Stanford hitters, Blandino tried various new stances, strides, and toe taps before settling on a simple leg kick last year""- Eric Logenhagen
As Logenhagen indicated, those tweaks have led to a modest improvement in his power output as his career has progressed. The Reds promoted the Stanford University product in 2018 where he posted a .234/.324/.289 line (67 OPS+) with one home runs, eight RBI, and 14 runs scored in 147 plate appearances in his rookie campaign.
That would be his longest look in a Reds uniform as he saw sporadic playing time in 2019 and 2021 as well. In total, he has produced a .630 OPS, which is far below-average, against major league pitching but this includes a strong 11.1 percent walk rate as well. He does grind out at-bats, but he will need to demonstrate more power to generate value on offense.
In the field, Blandino has experience all around the diamond and that includes five appearances on the mound as well. The Giants need a right-handed bat to complement the left-handed-hitting Tommy La Stella at second base, and Blandino checks off that box.
He does not have enough experience to make any kind of judgment about his platoon splits in a Reds uniform, but he has a history of some leverage, albeit inconsistent history, against left-handed pitching in the minors. That is exactly the type of role that the Giants need to fill, but he will have to compete with Estrada and Dubón for it.
Despite the CBA expiring, the Giants have been one of the more aggressive teams on the minor-league free-agent market. That trend should continue as their depth took a big hit during the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 draft. They still have a lot of work to do in the upper minors but adding a player like Blandino helps.