This site has mentioned Dan Gladden twice in a period of two days, and for that, I am very, very proud. There are moving images of him here if you need a refresher. He was famous around my house for having the crappiest signature in sports history. I treasured my Drr Skjjz signature and picture with him.
This led me down a Baseball-Reference rabbit-hole, of course. Gladden pitched two games for the Twins, you know. Appeared in a game at second and third base, too. He was traded for Bryan Hickerson, which really didn't work out, and he hit 15 dingers for the Yomiuri Giants while his former teammates were all striking in the United States.
Mostly, though, I was interested in how Gladden's career started. He was an undrafted free agent who played at DeAnza College and Fresno State, and he was never really considered a prospect. He did well enough in the minors and moved slowly, finally reaching the majors for good when he was 26. His first full season in the majors was fueled by sweet, sweeting batting average on balls in play, and he helped the Giants more than they had a right to expect. His defense was fair, if imperfect, and he could run quite a bit.
Which is all a long way of saying: Say, Gladden's career path reminds me of Kelby Tomlinson.
There are differences, and most of them go in Tomlinson's favor. Gladden was a year older, and he was strictly an outfielder. Aside from that one emergency, he was never considered for an infield role. So Tomlinson has the harder part down, and now he just needs to figure out if he can play a passable outfield for maximum zobristian effectiveness. If he remains an infielder, that's fine, but I have fancy super-utility plans for Tomlinson.
And that might be premature. This is a post asking for your opinions on the future of Kelbymania. While it's possible for him to have a short or long career that doesn't fit into a neat category, I'll wager that he fits into one of these three genres. At the end is a poll, where you'll offer your prediction. I'll forget the poll for the first half-hour, so make sure to come back and watch democracy in action.
In this scenario, Tomlinson becomes someone too good to keep on the bench. His combination of contact and speed makes him desirable to other teams in a trade, or he just keeps finding cracks in the lineup and forcing his way in, like a water leak or column of voracious ants with glasses.
Like Gladden, there will be years where he helps and years where he is just kind of there. The defense and below-average power hurt him in some seasons, as the cruel batting-average gods do not always care for your ash and maple sacrifices.
This will go on for a few years, and he never threatens to make an All-Star team or nine-figure contract, but you're glad he's on the team.
The Utility Player
This is the planned role for him next year, I'd imagine. He will get outfield innings in spring training, and after about a month, the Giants should have a pretty clear idea if it will work. Baseball history is littered with the bones of outfielders who should have been fast enough to thrive in the outfield but were absolute disasters. At the other end are creaky old-timers who should profile better at first base or anywhere off the field, but make quick reads and run solid routes. Ideally, Tomlinson would be the fast guy with the good reads.
Either way, his role in this scenario would be as a pinch-hitter and emergency injury replacement. It's good work if you can get it. And after his third year, the Giants would have to decide if he's worth an arbitration payday, or if there's a li'l Kelby waiting his turn in the minor leagues. But for several years, he's helping a team somewhere, and he doesn't have to worry about signing a minor-league deal until he's in his 30s.
Not to be a jerk, but this is the likeliest scenario. He kicks around, does odd jobs, helps a team for a season or two, but never becomes an entrenched, Willie Bloomquist-type with guaranteed contracts and cover stories on Grit. This is where Steve Scarsone went, where Mike Aldrete went, where Felipe Crespo went. It's where Joaquin Arias is probably on the bus to. Baseball is hard. Staying consistent while not having an everyday gig? Terribly, fantastically hard.
If you're cynical, this is your stop. You're impressed with Tomlinson's slappy, scrappy ways this year and his production (about a win over replacement, and counting), but the list of 25-year-olds who turn into something of predictable, annual value after a nondescript minor league career? It's a short one. The
As usual, I'm a centrist who refuses to take a bold stance. So gimme the middle. This is the Giants' chance to have a 300-at-bat kind of player who specializes in filling in where he's needed, and providing just enough doubles and stolen bases to maximize his value. Think Josh Harrison before his breakout 2014 season.
Or think Dan Gladden, but in the middle infield. Can Kelby grow a mustache and feather his hair like a bird made of golden wind? No time like the present to figure that out.