Cast a careful eye on sensational Blanco

Monday, March 26

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Gregor Blanco deserves to be on the Giants’ Opening Day roster. Heck, he needs to be on the Opening Day roster. He’s a fearless, speedy baserunner (the second trait means nothing without the first) who provides versatility with his aptitude for playing all three outfield positions. Besides, Blanco’s a good guy who would cherish his opportunity. The comparisons between him and Andres Torres, another non-roster outfielder who boosted the Giants in 2009-10, are apt.

So why hasn’t Blanco established himself after 11 professional seasons, which included a year and a half with Kansas City, an organization starving for dynamic offensive talent? I asked this question of a well-respected scout shortly before I went on the disabled list with a frighteningly infected right arm. The scout’s views were unsurprising but instructive.

Mentioning that he frequently saw Blanco play over the years and respected his ability, the scout said, “Some guys get labeled.” So it was with Blanco, 28, who’s widely regarded as too good for the Minors but not quite adept enough for the Majors — a “4-A” player.

Check the numbers. Blanco owns a respectable .367 Minor League on-base percentage (all statistics courtesy of Baseball-reference.com). Though he has trimmed his strikeouts, he still has gone down on strikes 973 times in 4,924 plate appearances in the Majors and Minors — too many for a guy who ideally should be a contact hitter.

Blanco was a pacesetter in Atlanta’s minor league system from 2001-2007, leading his teams in some statistical category or another. He spent the entire 2008 season with Atlanta, started 113 games and compiled a respectable .366 on-base percentage, due largely to 74 walks. But the rest of his statistical line (.251 batting average, 52 runs, 19 extra-base hits, 99 strikeouts, 13 steals in 18 tries and a .309 slugging percentage) was unremarkable. Befitting his 4-A label, Blanco divided the next two seasons between Triple-A and the Majors — until last year, when he languished in Triple-A with the Royals and Nationals organizations.

None of Blanco’s perceived flaws has been evident this spring. That prompted the scout’s second warning: “A lot of guys get exposed.” That is, the more they play, the more their weaknesses show. They’re better off occupying the bench, playing in short bursts until their usefulness wanes. Consider Torres. He finished 2009 with a .876 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in only 170 plate appearances. Torres followed that with an admirable .823 OPS in 570 plate appearances during the magical 2010 season. But he struggled mightily last year, hitting .221 with a .643 OPS.

Another factor to keep in mind is the level of competition. This is only Spring Training. Blanco’s batting .352 with a .871 OPS; if he makes the team, merely approaching those figures during the regular season will be a monumental challenge.

Blanco won’t have to. He can provide speed, adept defense and energy off the bench late in games when he doesn’t start and flurries of competence when he does. Manager Bruce Bochy, who’s skilled at coaxing maximum production from his personnel, can be counted on to use Blanco wisely.

That’s assuming Blanco makes the 25-man active roster. The scout didn’t offer an opinion on this subject, but he weighed in on the Giants’ top decision-makers who could determine Blanco’s fate.

“Brian Sabean and Dick Tidrow are smart,” the scout said, referring to San Francisco’s general manager and his chief assistant. “They know what they’re doing.”

Chris Haft

6 Comments

Chris, I was wondering where you were on MLB.com. Yikes! I’m glad you’re back and hope you’re doing OK. Thanks for the interesting piece on Blanco.

Thanks for your kind words. I’m still on the DL, kind of, so I’m “staying loose” by blogging occasionally. I should be back to full speed by Opening Day. I appreciate your concern.

I know I’m dreaming here, but how about this lineup?

Blanco CF
Cabrera RF
Posey C
Sandoval 3B
Pill LF
Belt 1B
Crawford SS
Burriss 2B
Not Zito P

I’ll bet we see that lineup at least once in 2012!

Even with the small sample size, Blanco’s numbers look a lot better than Angel Pagan’s career stats. OBP is the ONLY stat that matters for a leadoff hitter. 74 walks and 99 K’s in 113 games tells me this guy knows how to go deep in the count, something the Giants don’t do often. (Cody Ross led the team last year with– wait for it– 49 walks.) Chances are he’d have a short shelf life, as did Torres, but frankly I expect the same from Pagan, and Blanco’s numbers are better.

Blanco might end up playing a lot more than most of us currently think. Let’s see how the season unfolds.

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