The Importance of Gregor Blanco

Every spring, the Giants go out and sign a bunch of players to minor-league deals. It’s baseball’s bargain bin, and history would suggest the Giants are particularly adept at this dumpster diving. Most teams are happy to come across the occasional Joaquin Arias, a useful yet seriously flawed player that is capable of serving a functional purpose at the major-league level. In past years though, the Giants have struck gold: last year, it was Ryan Vogelsong, who now has a 2.50 ERA in 309.1 innings with San Francisco. In 2010, it was Santiago Casilla, who has pitched to a 160 ERA+ in 145.2 innings here. A couple years before, it was Andres Torres, who ended up playing an integral role in bringing the Giants their championship in 2010. This year’s hidden gem: Gregor Blanco.

Blanco has appeared in 91 games with the Giants, providing value in just about every possible way: at the plate, in the outfield, and on the basepaths. His season line currently stands at .238/.333/.352 (98 wRC+), and his defense has unquestionably saved many runs. Just the other day, he had another one of those otherworldly diving catches to rob Jordany Valdespin of an extra-base hit.

With Hunter Pence now donning the orange and black, the other outfielders — specifically Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco — will likely see their roles diminished. My initial guess was that Pagan would remain the regular centerfielder, given that he’s the established major-leaguer. But Pagan has been struggling for months now, and he’s really burned through his leash. Yesterday, after another couple poor at-bats from Pagan in the six-spot of the batting order, Bochy subbed in Gregor Blanco in the fifth inning. Blanco himself hasn’t exactly been hitting well since his blistering hot May, but he’s still surpassed Pagan in terms of overall hitting production, and his defense has been much better.

As Pagan continues to get mowed down at the plate, Blanco becomes more important — and not just for the stretch run. I’m talking 2013 as well. Back when Pagan was raking and Gary Brown had hit a roadblock in his development, there was discussion of Pagan’s future role with the team. He’s precisely the kind of player that could sign a relatively cheap one-year committment in the offseason, and then make way for Brown when the time came. But in the wake of his extended struggles, this would no longer appear to be a desirable route.

Enter Gregor Blanco, who could very well seize the everyday job from Pagan in center. Blanco enters his first year of arbitration eligibility this offseason, and given that it’s his first go-around, he’ll come pretty cheap. Gary Brown has finally hit his stride in Richmond, and he’s boosted his numbers from “disappointing” to “respectable.” But it’s still highly possible — probable, even — that the Giants won’t feel he’s developmentally ready by the start of 2013. In this case, why not rely on Blanco to start in centerfield, then eventually hand the job to Brown and put Blanco back in the roaming fourth outfielder role? Given that the Giants will already be focused on investing in the corner outfield (welcome back, Melky?) and middle infield markets this offseason, it would make a lot of sense for them to go with Blanco as the short-term solution in center — assuming, of course, that he continues to perform well over the rest of the season — and just worry about the other stuff.

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