In the 2011 season, the San Francisco Giants had two young shortstops in their system who they believed could be Gold Glove-quality defenders, but who both struggled in the batter’s box. One was a college shortstop who was viewed as having a lower ceiling, while the other was a younger international prospect who was thought to have better upside.
The college shortstop, Brandon Crawford, was pressed into major-league duty later that season and went on to be a starter on the 2012 World Series champion Giants squad, while Ehire Adrianza never figured out how to hit effectively and has spent two years in both Class A and Double-A.
One issue with the 23-year-old Adrianza’s development is that scouts projected him with the idea that he would be able to add some weight and possibly become a power-hitting threat. Instead, the shortstop has stayed tall and lanky, listed this season at 6-foot-1 and just 165 pounds.
His biggest problem, however, is that he’s never really been able to develop an effective hitting approach. Things looked most promising for him, statistically at least, during the 2010 season. Over 124 games with High-A San Jose, he hit .256 with three homers and 35 RBIs; but more impressively, he racked up a .333 OBP, taking 47 walks and stealing 33 bases. He has not been as much of an on-base force since that season.
The biggest roadblock for Adrianza came in the 2011 season, in which he probably would have moved up to Double-A but got hurt during Spring Training.
When he returned, he was blocked in Double-A by fellow prospect Nick Noonan, who had been moved to short, as well as Crawford rehabbing at San Jose. He didn’t even get another shot in High-A until Crawford was called straight to the big-league team in late May. He did, however, make the most out of that second opportunity, hitting .300 with a .375 OBP over 56 games, though his walks and steals both dropped off.
He finally did make the jump to Double-A Richmond in 2012, but he did not succeed in the transition.
In the league which is viewed as the biggest obstacle to a hitter reaching the majors, Adrianza hit only .220 with three homers and 32 RBIs, 16 steals and a .289 OBP in 127 games. Due to these struggles, the shortstop was put back at Richmond to begin the 2013 season, where he hit .240 with two home runs, 23 RBIs and 11 steals over his first 73 games before being promoted to Triple-A last week.
Though his power numbers look better this year, this seems to be a “sympathy promotion” similar to what Noonan and third baseman Chris Dominguez have received in recent years.
Due to the current nature of baseball where a shortstop can succeed without being a great hitter, Adrianza’s most important asset is his defense. He looks to be on track for success as a fielder, complementing rave scouting reviews with .969 and .979 fielding percentages over the past two seasons. He could be similar to a player like the Miami Marlins‘ Adeiny Hechavarria, who possesses roughly the same size and is a plus defender who struggles as a hitter.
Despite his offensive struggles, Adrianza still looks to have a great shot at a major league career. He’s been on the Giants’ 40-man roster for three years now. With his recent promotion to Triple-A and the decision Saturday to designate pitching prospect Chris Heston for assignment while sparing Adrianza, it looks like the organization still has faith in him.
If Adrianza, the Giants’ 14th-best prospect as ranked by MLB.com, can continue playing shortstop at a high level, he should be able to find a spot on some team’s bench as a backup infielder.
Presumably, the Giants will find out by bringing Adrianza up when rosters expand in September. Next season, they will have to keep him on their major league roster all season if they don’t want to expose him to waivers, so it may be wise for the Giants to start looking for trade suitors unless they feel that keeping a no-hit, all-field backup shortstop is in their best interest.