The Giants couldn’t hit last year. At all. They couldn’t get on base, they couldn’t hit for power, they couldn’t put together rallies. Even when guys got on base they drove in runs at an anemic rate. Part of the reason for that is because they’ve been building their offense in a strange way, especially considering the park they play in and the trend away from bulky power hitters since steroid testing became part of Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement.

That’s why the Giants refusal to get faster is baffling. Melky Cabrera is a start — he’s not exactly an elite base stealer, but Cabrera isn’t a slug, either. And it’s actually quite normal to have a few slow guys at catcher, first base and even third. But the Giants have to start looking to add speed at the other positions.

The Giants haven’t had a regular shortstop who could run since Omar Vizquel, and he was 40 in his last season with the Giants. Their fastest outfielder last year was Nate Schierholtz, and he’s more of a distance runner. Give Schierholtz the chance for a triple and you’ll see him fly around second at an impressive clip, but he doesn’t force the action on the basepaths, with 17 steals in 29 career attempts (a success rate of 58.6%).

It’s not just stolen bases the Giants are missing out on; their range up the middle has been below-average for years whenever Andres Torres wasn’t in the lineup. Even without Torres next year (signs are pointing to the Giants letting him walk unless they can re-sign him at a significant discount), they could remedy that situation to a certain extent by playing Brandon Crawford regularly at shortstop, letting Jeff “luxury item” Keppinger (perhaps the slowest player on the team) walk, and:

Fast-tracking Gary Brown and making him the Giants’ starting center fielder.

After all, Brian Sabean did say this about their “younger players” during the press conference announcing he and Bruce Bochy were extended through 2013 with club options for 2014: “There’s sentiment they might be able to take over in certain spots.” So he’s saying there’s a chance…

Most of the focus on youth has centered on Crawford’s development at the plate and Brandon Belt’s personal saga. However, moving the Melkman to one of the corner OF spots and playing Brown in center would dramatically increase San Francisco’s outfield range, helping their “gold standard” pitching staff immensely.

Brown, 23, would also steal more bases than any Giant in a long time if given a full season to figure out Major League catchers. Actually, according to the ZiPS projections for 2012, Brown would be a pretty dynamic leadoff hitter if provided the opportunity:

.275/.335/.398; 156 GM; 621 AB; 114 R; 171 H; 30 2B; 11 3B; 8 HR; 64 RBI; 38 BB; 94 K; 36 SB; 18 CS; 99 OPS+

A few words from Chris Quick of Bay City Ball:

Gary Brown’s projection is really, really nice to see. If he can hit at the league average in CF with his defensive and baserunning skills, he’s probably a 3 win player.

Defensive and baserunning skills. That’s where the Giants need to focus their energies when it comes to building a lineup, since unless a bunch of great power hitters magically surge through their system their offense will consider to struggle. To think the Giants will become the 2011 Brewers via free agency is ridiculous for a few reasons.

1. Free agents with power are rare and extremely expensive.

2. The Giants are refusing to sign free agents to lengthy, expensive contracts.

3. With AT&T Park’s reputation throughout the league as a horrible place to hit, the Giants won’t be able to add a free agent power hitter unless they overpay.

So why should they keep hitting their heads against the brick wall in right field? Why not embrace the team they seem to want to be (a pitching-dominant squad that manufactures runs and plays solid defense)? Why not move away from the station-to-station thing and stack the roster with guys who’ll both get on base and make things happen once they’re there?

The Giants are loathe to rush their prospects through the system, and that’s smart. But it appears Brown is close to being ready and provides a set of skills the Giants are in dire need of. Hopefully the Giants are already considering a 2012 lineup that includes Brown, and hopefully they can resist the constant temptation to go with slower players who “put the ball in play,” possess “track records” and boast plenty of mediocre stats on the backs of their baseball cards.