Shortly into the 2013 season, any San Francisco Giants fan who doubted rookie infielder Nick Noonan‘s ability would have been called crazy. After a spring where he hit .400 following his return to major league camp, the 2007 sandwich pick started off his season on a great note. Noonan provided an early spark as a pinch hitter, and in his first start on Apr. 11, he went three-for-five and helped lead the team to victory. He continued to surge and was up to a .538 average through his first 13 major league at-bats on Apr. 16. However, his average has been slipping at an alarmingly steady rate since then which has many believing that it is time for Noonan to receive a tune-up at AAA Fresno, following the philosophy that regular playing time makes a player more likely to resolve their issues.
There is not any player in the Giants’ system who seems to be completely capable of replacing Noonan, who coming into Wednesday’s game had an average of .207 with three RBI and a .258 OBP. While Noonan has most definitely struggled of late — he’s only four for his last 34– the other options do not seem very intriguing. Tony Abreu, a former prospect whom the Giants claimed off waivers in January, would be the most logical option. Abreu was the favorite to earn the team’s open backup infielder spot but lost out after he suffered a quad injury in February that ended up nagging him for the next few months. He is only hitting .212 with a home run over 33 at-bats since he began his minor league rehab assignment, and he still has not started two consecutive games in the field. While he is capable of playing third base, second base, and shortstop, Abreu is considered an inferior defensive player to Noonan. It is worth noting that a decision will need to be made on Abreu, a .252 career major-league hitter, in the coming days since his rehab is expiring. He is out of minor league options, and while he is a part of the 40-man major league roster, he was recently placed on the 60-day disabled list. The team does not have a vacancy to add Abreu back onto the roster at the moment and would need to put Ryan Vogelsong on the 60-day DL or designate someone for assignment.
Should the Giants decide to promote a player other than Abreu, only a few other realistic options exist like utilityman Juan Perez or infielders Kensuke Tanaka and Brock Bond. Perez, who is on the 40-man roster, would be the easiest to call up; he is capable of playing almost every position and is hitting .294 with eight home runs at Fresno. He has slumped a bit of late and is not an option to play second base at the major league level, which would slide Joaquin Arias into the backup second baseman’s role. This would be risky considering Pablo Sandoval‘s recent health struggles and Marco Scutaro‘s regression at second.
Bond and Tanaka are both natural second basemen who have struggled defensively. Tanaka has been serviceable in his first season in America but provides no upgrade over Noonan. Bond is still making his way back from an injury and has not yet found his hitting stroke at Class A San Jose. Neither player is on the 40-man roster.
While Noonan has had trouble in adjusting to the role of a bench player, it is probably best to let him stick it out at the major-league level, since this is the role he will likely be filling for the rest of his career with Joe Panik projected to be the team’s future second baseman. Noonan needs to learn how to find an effective rhythm as a bench player, and that is not going to happen with him playing every day at Fresno. Ultimately, a utility infielder’s first responsibility is to provide good defense at a number of positions. If he can provide quality offense it’s a bonus. If Noonan can become a player similar to St. Louis Cardinals super-sub Daniel Descalso he figures to be able to carve out a long career as a major leaguer. There is no superior alternative to Noonan, and he projects as a career bench player, so it would be best to let him work out his issues at the major league level.