Around the Horn: Corner infielders
Ortmeier front-runner at first; Feliz a possibility to return
The following is the second in a series of weekly stories on MLB.com examining each Major League club, position by position. Each Wednesday until Spring Training camps open, we'll preview a different position. Today: Corner infielders.
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants have become accustomed to excellence at first base, but this year they'll settle for mere competence.At third base, they'll settle for almost anything or anybody at the current rate. The Giants should feel more secure about their infield corner positions once the regular season begins. Before that, they have some questions to answer. Dan Ortmeier, primarily an outfielder throughout his six-year professional career, approaches Spring Training as the top candidate to man first base. However, Giants management hasn't ruled out obtaining a veteran to complement the 26-year-old. Third base, which has belonged to Pedro Feliz in recent years, is less defined. Feliz appeared destined to flee as a free agent, but he hasn't found the three-year contract he's said to be seeking, raising the possibility that he could return to San Francisco on a shorter-term deal. The Giants have considered other options through trade and free agency -- Miguel Cabrera, Miguel Tejada, Brandon Inge -- but haven't found a fit. For much of their 50-year tenure in San Francisco, the Giants never had to worry about first base. Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Will Clark and J.T. Snow turned the spot into prime real estate. Last year, it became landfill. Giants first basemen ranked 14th in the National League in batting average (.262), 15th in on-base percentage (.324) and last in home runs (13), RBIs (62) and slugging percentage (.410). The league averages, respectively, were .284, .365, 27, 98 and .481. At least the Giants have a potential contributor in Ortmeier, a switch-hitter who batted .287 in 62 games with the Giants last season. At 6-foot-4, he possesses a first baseman's stature, and he has hastened his education by receiving tutelage from Snow, a six-time Gold Glove winner. "He's a quick study," Giants general manager Brian Sabean said of Ortmeier. "That's encouraging." Another encouraging development was Ortmeier's improvement batting left-handed. Though that was considered his weaker side, he hit .310 left-handed, compared to .257 right-handed. However, he remained more powerful swinging right-handed (four home runs in 70 at-bats, compared to two homers in 87 at-bats left-handed).
San Francisco Giants
Barring further roster moves, Rich Aurilia will be the leading alternative to Ortmeier. Capable of playing every infield position, Aurilia spent most of his time in 2007 at first base, where he started 42 games.This year could be different for Aurilia, who hit a subpar .252 while being bothered by neck and hamstring injuries last season. If the Giants don't make a significant acquisition at third base, Aurilia, 36, will likely receive a chance to establish himself there. He started 21 games at third last year and 39 there in 2006 with Cincinnati, so he knows his way around the position. So does utilityman Kevin Frandsen, who'll compete with Ray Durham to start at second base. Frandsen, named the Western Athletic Conference's best defensive third baseman in 2003 at San Jose State, started four games at third last season and could emerge as a factor there if both he and Durham prove worthy of starting. Frandsen, who hit .269 overall, made his case to play somewhere in 2008 by hitting .370 last September. Immediate reinforcements from the Minor Leagues aren't forthcoming. Angel Villalona, the 17-year-old Dominican signed to a club-record $2.1 million bonus in 2006, projects as either a third or first baseman, but probably will need at least two or three more years of Minor League experience. First baseman Travis Ishikawa, who sparkled in a 2005 cameo appearance with the Giants (.292), batted only .214 at Double-A Connecticut last year. Lance Niekro, the Giants' Opening Day first baseman in 2006 who was designated for assignment last May, became a Minor League free agent after hitting .301 in 47 games at Triple-A Fresno.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.