Countdown to Spring Training: No. 4, Battle for Left Field

The Giants enter 2011 with a rotation that is set, a roster that is almost set, and a lineup that is almost set.

The one daily lineup position that remains in question is the starting job in left field.

Pat Burrell, who handled most of the left-field starts in the latter half of 2010, returned with a one-year, $1 million deal. But that doesn’t guarantee Burrell will win the LF job, particularly if he struggles like he did in the postseason last fall. Mark DeRosa, Aaron Rowand and Nate Schierholtz also are in the mix.

So let’s look at the candidates:

Pat Burrell: If Burrell can recapture the production he had after joining the Giants in June (.266, 18 HR, 51 BI in 289 ABs), the job is his, even with his defensive limitations. But if he struggles like he did in the postseason (.146, 1 HR, 4 BI, 22 Ks in 41 ABs), there could be an opening for someone else.

Mark DeRosa: DeRosa opened 2010 as the starting left fielder, until his wrist wouldn’t allow him to continue. But even DeRosa said the injury was a blessing in disguise, as it made the Giants go out and get Burrell, who could do things that DeRosa could not. Not exactly a rousing endorsement for DeRosa. MoreSplashHits sees DeRosa fillling a more utility role, providing a day off for Freddy Sanchez at 2B, starting at 3B against particularly tough lefties and making an occasional start in left.

Aaron Rowand: With Andres Torres all but set to start in center, Rowand would be the most likely candidate to take the LF job — or play center with Andres Torres moving to left — if Burrell falters. Since joining the Giants, Rowand has been miscast in the lineup, first batting in the No. 5 hole and later at leadoff. But hitting in the No. 7 hole, Rowand could prove to be a productive hitter again. At the very least, we can see Rowand filling the late-inning defensive replacement role for Burrell.

Nate Schierholtz: Schierholtz enters this spring fighting for a spot on the roster. But he does possess assets that the other candidates do not. He’s the best fielder among the four — yes, even better than Rowand. And he’s left-handed. But there are liabilities, too. He doesn’t have power, and he’s failed to hit better than .267 since moving the bigs on a substantial basis in 2009. Out of options, this spring may be his last chance to produce. And, unlike the others, he doesn’t have a  guaranteed contract.

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