Thursday, April 7, 2011

Has a World Series Championship Changed the Giants' Approach to Rookies?

A couple days ago in the San Jose Mercury news, Andrew Baggarly had an article about management sticking with Brandon Belt despite his early struggles. Here is what manager Bruce Bochy said about Belt's status with the Giants:

"It's going to happen with this kid," Bochy said. "We're going to be patient with him. He's a good hitter. He'll figure it out. In L.A. he was hitting into some hard outs. It takes a little luck, too.

While I am a fan of Belt and am glad that the management is going to stick with him a little longer, it does make you wonder a little bit: where was this kind of attitude the last few years when it came to rookies?

Buster Posey was obviously ready to take the starting job on Opening Day last season. However, Brian Sabean and Bochy opted to bring back aging veteran Bengie Molina for another un-needed year, only to trade him by mid-season when they realized he was a detriment behind the plate defensively and offensively. The Giants drudged through a couple months of replacement level starters like Todd Wellemeyer and Joe Martinez before they decided to give the end-of-the-rotation reigns to Madison Bumgarner.

And let's not forget about guys like John Bowker and Nate Schierholtz who were benched in favor of guys like Randy Winn and Dave Roberts. And remember the Kevin Frandsen debate? And how the Giants brought in Freddy Sanchez, who was technically the same player on paper but older? Yep. It's safe to say those decisions had Giants fans pulling their hair out on a day in, day out basis from April to September.

So what's the difference? Why is this the year the Giants finally decide to designate Travis Ishikawa for assignment when it was obvious he wasn't bringing much to the table last season offensively?

One word: championship.

The Giants didn't win a championship with veterans like Winn and Molina. They won a championship with Posey and Bumgarner in addition to their young guns like Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez. Would they have won a championship sooner with Bowker, Schierholtz and Frandsen? Probably not, but at the same time, you get the feeling like the Giants couldn't have done much worse with Schierholtz and Bowker in the lineup in comparison to Winn and Roberts manning right and left field (not to mention save some bucks while they're at it).

It'll be interesting to see if the success of Posey and Bumgarner will not only have an effect on Belt's tenure at the major league level this season but on other minor league players in the Giants system as well. What happens if Brandon Crawford or Thomas Neal or Henry Sosa or Ryan Rohlinger come out and have hot starts in Fresno? What if Dan Runzler continues to struggle or if Miguel Tejada fails to adequately replace Juan Uribe's production at shortstop? Last year, Giants fans figured it'd be only under the most dramatic circumstances that guys in the minors would get a shot. This year though? There is hope that the Giants brass won't hesitate as much. That is not only exciting for us as Giants fans but exciting for these young players who represent the hopes of this franchise down the road.

Then again, it's early, and maybe Bochy is just being realistic. Maybe Belt is just a prospect on his own level and Bochy isn't trying to bury his confidence this early on considering how much is riding on him in the future. You can't judge a player on one week of play. Maybe Bochy is just itching to put Aaron Rowand and Mark Derosa in the lineup, but the powers-that-be above him are telling him to hold off from his usual tendencies for the good of the franchise and the hope that Belt can replicate the success Posey and Bumgarner garnered in 2010.

After all, it seemed like a week before Bowker was regulated to the bench last year and it seemed like a couple of weeks before Schierholtz shared the same fate.

What a difference a World Series can make.

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