San Francisco Giants

Looking ahead: Kelby Tomlinson could play interesting role in 2016

It seems weird to write about next year, since it’s late August and the Giants are chasing the Dodgers. However, Kelby Tomlinson’s speed, plate approach and offensive results got me thinking after last night’s walk-off win over the Cardinals.

The Giants’ pitching staff needs some retooling between November and March. At the very least, they’ll need to either re-sign Mike Leake or go after another starter. Perhaps they’ll pursue someone even more expensive than Leake, like David Price, Zack Greinke, Jordan Zimmerman or Johnny Cueto. (Note: they’re totally going to re-sign Leake.) They’ll also need to decide what to do about Jeremy Affeldt — do they pay for what should be a wild ride, or do they use Spring Training as a tryout of sorts for several minor league relievers who could be ready to make the jump by then?

One thing Bobby Evans and Brian Sabean won’t have to worry about: the position players. It seems crazy with all the shuffling they’ve had to do lately just to put together daily lineups and a bench with a couple viable options, but it’s true. They’re almost 100% set, and Tomlinson could become a vital piece of the 2016 puzzle.

  • Catcher: Buster Posey
  • First base: Brandon Belt
  • Second base: Joe Panik
  • Third base: Matt Duffy
  • Shortstop: Brandon Crawford
  • Left field: Nori Aoki*
  • Center field: Angel Pagan**
  • Right field: Hunter Pence
  • Bench: Andrew Susac, Gregor Blanco, ???

There’s a question mark there for a couple of reasons.

1. Marlon Byrd could very well be on the team next year. He has an option for $8 million next season that automatically vests with 550 plate appearances. Byrd has 419 PA so far (45 more than Aoki), so he’d need to average 3.85 PA per game. That could be doable if Hunter Pence’s oblique injury keeps him out through most of September. (Byrd is averaging 4.43 PA/game since joining the Giants.) With three home runs and 10 RBIs in seven games, it’s tough to picture Bruce Bochy taking Byrd out of the lineup for any reason right now.

2. Then there’s Tomlinson, who raked from the moment he was called up from Triple-A and hasn’t really stopped since (.364/.417/.527 in 22 games). Tomlinson has had some fine moments defensively, like that double play in the ninth last night, but he’s far from the most sure-handed second baseman the Giants have had. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a role for him on this team as a super-sub. The best-case scenario for his ceiling? Perhaps a younger, cheaper, bespectacled Ben Zobrist-type with even better speed. Again, that’s best-case. Zobrist has been one of the game’s most valuable players over the last five years, and Tomlinson hasn’t been able to wipe that grin off his face since hitting his first major league grand slam.

Most of Tomlinson’s minor league experience came at shortstop. Like Duffy this year, it wouldn’t be all that crazy to see the Giants training him as an emergency third baseman next year. Henry Schulman has mentioned numerous times, both on the radio and on Twitter, that the Giants see him as a potential center fielder.

It makes perfect sense, actually. Tomlinson has the requisite speed, and it’s not like he’s going to beat out a healthy Panik at second base. And you know the Giants would prefer to have another backup center fielder in case Pagan and Blanco are both injured at the same time.

The Giants would probably like to field a 12-man pitching staff if possible next year; their ability to do so will rest on whether they can add another No. 1 or 2 pitcher to the rotation who can get through seven innings more often than once per month. If they’re able to figure out a way to do that, and keep Byrd*** either via the $8M option (which would make him an older, pricier — yet much better — version of Justin Maxwell) or on a one-year contract, perhaps Ehire Adrianza sticks around and plays the role of Lil’ Arias.

Either way, it looks like Tomlinson is slated for bigger and better things with the Giants, thanks to his ability to take advantage of a great opportunity when the Giants were desperate for healthy contributors. The Giants’ marketing department might as well start planning their Kelby Tomlinson Glasses giveaway promotion now, and the front office has to be thankful that they can focus their free agency attention on pitchers and pitchers only.

* Needs to average 5.18 PA over the last 34 games to turn his $5.5M team option into a mutual option.

** Who could be asked to move to left field next year, but with Aoki almost surely sticking around and this team’s history of how they’ve handled Pagan’s ego, that still seems unlikely.

*** If Byrd doesn’t reach 550 PA, the Giants could let him walk and bring up Mac Williamson, but they usually like to wait until a starting spot is open for at least two weeks before bringing prospects to the bigs.

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