Most of the position previews that I’ve done for this year’s San Francisco Giants team have been a little unclear. There have been question marks. There’s been confusion. There’s been any other number of synonyms for not knowing. But second base is a little more simple.
Here are the other position previews so far:
Players who played second base for the Giants in 2022
Thairo Estrada — 102 games
Wilmer Flores — 61 games
Donovan Walton — 14 games
Ford Proctor — 6 games
David Villar — 6 games
Tommy La Stella — 3 games
Mauricio Dubón — 1 game
Jason Vosler — 1 game
Roster locks for 2023
Other second basemen on the 40-man roster
J.D. Davis, in the technical sense
Players in the system who might factor into the position
In theory, the Giants approach to second base will be simple. Thairo Estrada will play there almost every day. The only time he’ll leave his post will be when he shuffles over a few dozen feet to his right when Brandon Crawford needs a day off, and then Wilmer Flores will play second base.
Simple as that.
In reality, the Giants theories rarely go according to plan these days. It’s just as easy to see seven different players spending double-digit days at second as it is to see Estrada holding down the fort for 140 games.
Anything could happen, but it starts with Estrada. Or, perhaps more importantly, it starts with Estrada and how the coaches and front office view him.
He was one of the brightest spots on a semi-depressing 2022 Giants team. He comfortably led the team’s position players in fWAR, in part because he finished third on the team in plate appearances. To highlight just how much he played on a team that values only playing people part time, Estrada had 83 more plate appearances than Crawford, and 108 more than Joc Pederson.
Estrada performed well in his first go around as an everyday player. If you want to make a list of the players responsible for the team’s highly mediocre season, you have to run through dozens of names — many of which you’ve already forgotten about — before you arrive at Estrada.
Yet there are warning signs for a team that has visions of being significantly better than 81-81 again. The advanced metrics paint Estrada as a below-average defensive player at second, and oddly favor him at shortstop. If I close one eye, I’m willing to overlook that and assume he’ll be a bit better with a year of daily seasoning under his belt.
The real concern is that Estrada is a right-handed hitter who, despite playing in most games, has rather sizable platoon splits. He sported a 135 wRC+ against left-handed pitching a year ago, compared to just 93 against right-handed pitching. Compare that to Flores (102 vs. LHP, 101 vs. RHP), J.D. Davis (120 vs. LHP, 119 vs. RHP), and David Villar (194 vs. LHP, 127 vs. RHP in his final MLB stint of the year, no platoon splits in the Minors) and you can make a pretty firm case that Estrada is the worst of the Giants four right-handed infield options against righties, which made up 72.6% of plate appearances in the Majors last year.
He’s also pretty firmly the best defensive option among that quartet, and it remains to be seen how the Giants will weigh those two things. Their actions have made it abundantly clear that they favor offense over defense, but you still get the vibe that Estrada is viewed as the everyday second baseman. In all likelihood, he won’t be platooned to start ... but he might have a shorter leash than the average everyday player. A failure to improve with the glove or against righties could see his playing time take a hit.
Performance from other players could certainly force the issue. Davis is a registered clankster with the mitt, but perhaps a full Spring Training with the Giants coaching staff can reverse some of his troubling leather trends. Gabe Kapler has already publicly stated that Isan Díaz and Brett Wisely — who both hit left-handed — will be a part of the roster this year, and it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that one of them even makes the Opening Day roster. If one of Will Wilson or Tyler Fitzgerald — admittedly both righties — takes a leap in the first few months of the season, they would be poised for an MLB debut. And if Gold Glove third base prospect Casey Schmitt knocks on the door as soon as some people are expecting (and others are hoping), it could quickly displace Villar to second (or first).
Either way, Estrada will play a huge role. I’d be very surprised if he’s not the de facto second baseman any time a lefty is on the mound this year. He’ll get more reps at shortstop than anyone not named Crawford. And he might even play a bit in the outfield.
He’ll be a vital part of the team. But while I’m reasonably confident that he’ll open the season as an everyday second baseman, I’m a lot less confident that he’ll end it as such.