01/23/08 10:00 AM ET
Around the Horn: Outfielders
Trio of youngsters out to compete with established veterans
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- Don't fall into the trap of assuming that the Giants outfield for 2008 is set.
It's safe to guess that Dave Roberts, Aaron Rowand and Randy Winn will occupy the outfield, left to right. Rowand, San Francisco's top offseason acquisition, is certainly a fixture in center, and Winn, who's also assured of being a regular, should spend most of his time in right, lending stability to an outfield that will function without Barry Bonds for the first time since 1992.
But other possibilities exist, since the Giants appear serious about giving younger outfielders Rajai Davis, Fred Lewis and Nate Schierholtz a chance to excel:
Davis, a right-handed batter, could platoon with the left-handed-hitting Roberts in left, or win the job outright.
If Schierholtz proves worthy of a starting spot, he likely would settle in right field, with Winn shifting to left.
Should Lewis harness his considerable talent, he'd force the Giants to think hard about what to do with Roberts, since they possess similar attributes.
Regardless of what happens, somebody among the trio of Davis, Lewis and Schierholtz probably won't be standing on the first-base line to participate in pregame introductions for the March 31 season opener at Los Angeles. Which means that Spring Training will serve as a cauldron of competition as Roberts strives to remain a regular and Davis, Lewis and Schierholtz bid to open the season in the Majors for the first time in their careers.
Even where there's no competition, there's fire. Rowand, who signed a five-year, $60 million contract as a free agent, will bring intensity to the clubhouse and the field -- the "warrior spirit" that manager Bruce Bochy said was lacking last season. Motivation comes naturally for Rowand, who said, "It's more of my personality. I'm kind of an aggressive person."
San Francisco Giants
Bochy has said that Rowand, who hit .309 with a career-high 27 home runs and 89 RBIs last season with Philadelphia, will bat fifth. Two spots ahead of Rowand is likely to be Winn, who rebounded from a subpar 2006 season to hit a club-high .300. Winn remains the Giants' handiest outfielder, capable of playing left (where he started 14 games last year), center (31 starts) or right (98). Winn was the team's projected center fielder before Rowand's signing.
Bone spurs in Roberts' left elbow, which required surgery last May 11, prevented him from being the offensive dynamo at the top of the order that the Giants hoped for. Roberts' .260 average represented a 33-point decline from the previous season, but his 31 steals in 36 tries and the .296 average he posted in the final three months indicated that he could still contribute.
Roberts was briefly supplanted in the lineup last season by Davis, 27, who hit .282, stole 17 bases in 21 tries and provided breathtaking defense after being acquired from Pittsburgh in the July 31 Matt Morris trade. Davis, who compiled a .363 on-base percentage but only a .380 slugging percentage in 142 at-bats with the Giants, must improve his ability to handle hard-throwing right-handers if he's to gain more playing time.
Lewis, who batted .287, demonstrated his flair for the spectacular last season by hitting for the cycle on May 13 at Colorado and belting a pair of grand slams. A strained right oblique and a sprained big toe limited him to 100 games, including 58 with the Giants.
Neither Davis nor Lewis has Minor League options remaining, meaning that they cannot be sent to Triple-A Fresno without being made available to other teams through the waiver process. This could work against Schierholtz, who still has options left. However, Schierholtz has little to prove at Triple-A, where he hit .333 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs in 109 games last year. Schierholtz also batted .304 in 39 games with the Giants, and although he failed to homer in 112 Major League at-bats, he showed some power in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .348 with four homers in 89 at-bats for Scottsdale.
Dan Ortmeier, originally an outfielder, is projected to play first base but could return to his original spot if needed. Left-handed-hitting prospect John Bowker, who hit .307 with 22 homers and 90 RBIs at Double-A Connecticut, will receive a look in Spring Training, as will Clay Timpner (.301 at Fresno) and non-roster invitees Ben Copeland (.280 at Class A San Jose), Brian Horwitz (.320 at Connecticut and Fresno) and Mike McBryde (.276 at Class A Augusta).
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.