If anyone around San Francisco Giants camp had been asked in March who the left fielder sparking the team’s offense with a .400 average would be in the second week of July, surely not a single one of them would have guessed that it would be Kensuke Tanaka.
First of all, Tanaka was a second baseman back then, attempting to learn shortstop and third base so he would have a chance at making the Opening Day roster. His defense looked so bad that that hope became a total impossibility, and many fans and media members were advocating for his outright release from the organization.
But the 32-year-old Japanese import didn’t back down, going down to Triple-A Fresno and playing with plenty teammates who were seven and eight years younger than him, chasing the same dream as he was.
After it became apparent that it wasn’t going to work out if he continued playing second base, where he’d won a Gold Glove in Japan, he started working in left field. And he produced steady results at the plate, posting a .330 batting average, good for fifth in the Pacific Coast League.
With his fantastic work ethic, Tanaka was able to achieve that major-league dream after a half season of minor league play. Though expectations were not exceptionally high for Tanaka, who spent 13 years playing professionally in Japan before signing a minor-league deal with the Giants this spring, he has definitely lit a fire for the Giants’ offense since his arrival for Tuesday’s game.
Tanaka has hit safely in every game he’s started and also has two walks and a steal, important contributions to two categories that the Giants had been severely lacking in recently.
Though it is unrealistic to expect Tanaka to keep up the torrid pace he has been on since his call-up, it would be a great fix for the Giants if he could continue to be an offensive force. The Giants’ immediate plan is to platoon Tanaka in left field with the newly-signed Jeff Francoeur, who will likely get his first start on Sunday when the Giants face San Diego Padres lefty Eric Stults.
If the Giants can even come close to using the Tanaka/Francoeur platoon to replicate the offense they would have received from Angel Pagan in center field, it will be a major victory for general manager Brian Sabean. But with the progress Tanaka has already made through his first season in the states, no one should be surprised if that ends up being the case.