As the San Francisco Giants began live batting practice on Thursday morning, perhaps no player made a stronger impression than infielder Ehire Adrianza. The 24-year-old switch hitter, who is battling with Tony Abreu and a host of other candidates for a roster spot this spring, smacked the first pitch he received from Yusmeiro Petit over the right field fence for a home run.
Even though it wasn’t part of a real game, this was a strong first impression for Adrianza, who has been weak at the plate throughout most of his professional career. Ever since he joined the Giants’ system in 2006, there’s been the hope that he would be able to fill out and provide some power. After making another statement last September by homering off the New York Yankees’ Andy Pettitte in his ninth major-league at-bat, maybe Adrianza is finally ready to reach his potential at the plate.
For a long time, Adrianza had been ranked among the Giants’ top prospects for his exceptional range at short, along with the belief that he would improve at the plate. After hitting a collective .227 in 701 Double-A at-bats, however, that belief evaporated in the minds of some evaluators. But since the Giants first promoted him on a whim to Triple-A in July and then chose to give him a chance in the majors during September, he has inspired much more confidence in his ability as a hitter.
As for Adrianza’s prospects to make the team out of spring training, it is equally important for him to show defensive versatility as it is for him to show improvement as a hitter. In official professional games, he has spent all of his time at shortstop, excluding two-thirds of an inning at second in the Dominican Summer League in 2006. He has played some second base during instructional and winter league games, and he will be expected to show proficiency at the position this spring. Though he won’t have as much of an opportunity to flash his spectacular range at second, it may ultimately provide him a better opportunity, seeing as shortstop Brandon Crawford should have little issue starting 150-plus games, while 38-year-old second baseman Marco Scutaro’s back issues will keep him out of the lineup more frequently.
In addition, it would help Adrianza to show the ability to play third, as Abreu, his chief competitor, is playable at third, second, and short. Ultimately, though, his relative youth and superior range and durability are probably the factors that will most heavily contribute to Adrianza beating out Abreu for a spot.
We’ll have a much more firm idea of what Adrianza can bring to the team after seeing him in action during spring training games. But his strong first impression has at least cemented his status as one of the key players to pay attention to when games kick off next Wednesday.