The San Francisco Giants dipped into their minor league talent pool again on Tuesday, purchasing the contract of Kensuke Tanaka from the AAA Fresno Grizzlies while designating Cole Gillespie for assignment.
The addition of Tanaka will be an interesting experiment for the struggling Giants. The 32-year-old second baseman from Japan was signed by the team this past winter and he battled for a spot in spring training. He was at a bit of a disadvantage in the spring, as he was asked to work at third base and shortstop in the midst of learning how to deal with American infields. Though he was a Gold Glover in Japan, he struggled immensely on defense in spring games and made seven errors in 49 defensive chances, mainly on simple throws to first base. He was sent to minor league camp to work on his defense and has made 16 errors this season, 15 of which have come at second.
The Giants, however, have made a key change with Tanaka by beginning to use him in left field, and that is where he will play exclusively with San Francisco. He showed some good offensive potential in the spring and has continued to do so this season in Fresno, putting up a .330/.392/.394 line with 20 steals.
Based on his hitting style, approach, speed and Japanese origin, it is easy to compare Tanaka to the New York Yankees‘ Ichiro Suzuki, possibly the greatest player ever to come out of Japan. Tanaka doesn’t have quite the same ability to get extra-base hits, however. A more appropriate and Giants-related comparison may be Ryan Theriot in the prime of his career. Tanaka is a player who is capable of getting on base at a very high rate, but has virtually no power and has some difficulty stretching out his hits. He makes up for that, however, with his plus speed.
With Tanaka being moved to left field, it gives the Giants an opportunity to look at his offensive ability without compromising themselves in the field. In an area where they have not had a lot of consistent play since Angel Pagan‘s hamstring injury in late May, Tanaka provides a chance to spark the offense. While he may not be as exciting a name as former first-rounder Gary Brown, he still is an unknown quantity and conceivably could be a serious offensive threat, unlike Gillespie, the man he replaced.
Gillespie went 0-for-9 in his four-game Giants career, which in truth was probably four games longer than he expected to spend in the majors this season. He could return to Triple-A when he clears waivers, but it’s probably unlikely that he will return to the big leagues this year.
For now, it is likely that the Giants will go with Tanaka in left on a regular basis while platooning Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres. If Tanaka shows some ability in left, he will likely platoon with the newly-signed Jeff Francoeur following the All-Star break. It would seem that all the current outfielders’ jobs are safe for the moment if the Giants go back to 12 pitchers when Francoeur joins the club.