Guzman must find a position in minors, but which one?

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Though it’s easy and dangerous to be seduced by Spring Training performances, Jesus Guzman appears to be a truly special hitter. Whether the Giants ever manage to capitalize on Guzman’s skills, however, could become an issue.

Guzman’s defensive shortcomings have been well-documented. Simply put, he struggles with the glove, and his footwork isn’t especially precise. In fairness to Guzman, he’s only 24 and has played only 15 games above Double-A. Since he seems to be a decent athlete, spending a season in the high Minors trying to learn and master a position could benefit him.

But, assuming Guzman goes to Triple-A Fresno, which spot should he play? Do the Grizzlies oust Scott McClain from first base or Ryan Rohlinger from third? What if third baseman Conor Gillaspie, a top prospect, lands in Fresno? Second base, where Guzman has said he feels comfortable, might be a possibility. I personally think that the outfield ultimately could be a decent spot for him. Typically, infielders find it easier to adjust to playing outfield than vice-versa.

Here’s something about Guzman that concerns me: Two American League organizations, the Mariners and A’s, gave up on him. If neither system envisioned him as a potential designated hitter, which would enable him to skirt his defensive struggles, that raises some red flags.

Here’s something about Guzman I like: If he reached the Majors with the Giants, he wouldn’t let AT&T Park affect him mentally. He’d learn to use the park’s dimensions to his benefit, spraying line drives everywhere for doubles and triples and pulling home runs to left. In this respect, Guzman could be — dare I say it? — the Giants’ next Jeff Kent.

As I write this, Guzman grounded into a double play with the bases loaded and nobody out in the first inning of Friday’s exhibition against the Chicago White Sox. But that didn’t negate his remarkable output overall (.410, four homers, a team-high 12 RBIs and a .974 slugging percentage entering the game).

Guzman demonstrated his hitting skill in subtle fashion Thursday by “spoiling” a pitch — swinging at a two-strike delivery he knew he couldn’t put in play and fouling it off. Except he didn’t just nick the ball, as even accomplished hitters do. He lined it a couple of hundred feet outside the right-field foul line. The man can flat-out hit. But part of the beauty and challenge of baseball is the prerequisite that each player must possess multiple skills. Guzman doesn’t have to learn to use his glove as well as his bat, but he had better close the gap between the two, or else he’ll never be seen at AT&T Park.

– Chris Haft

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