San Francisco has had 10 rookies make their Major League debuts this season, more than any other year in the franchise's history out West except three: 1996 (13), 1958 (11) and 1975 (11). At least two of the position players, first baseman-outfielder John Bowker and shortstop Emmanuel Burriss, appear to be keepers for the future. And relievers Alex Hinshaw and Sergio Romo have shown definite promise.
Regardless of how the Giants' quixotic bid for the National League West title unfolds, the rest of the season will bear significance, if only so the rookies can continue to gain experience and prove their legitimacy as Major Leaguers.
In all, 15 rookies have appeared at one time or another for the Giants this year. This has helped the Giants' brain trust gain a better understanding of the talent in their farm system -- which cannot be understated, given the organization's renewed emphasis on player development.
"The best evaluation you can have is watching a guy play on the Major League level, how he handles himself," manager Bruce Bochy said. "It takes away a little bit of that leap of faith that you may have with guys who have never played in the Major Leagues."
Bowker and Burriss have been two of the bigger surprises. Neither made the Opening Day roster out of Spring Training and were projected to spend this season steeping their skills at Triple-A Fresno.
Bowker, who played only two games above Double-A before this year, leads the Giants in home runs. He's the first rookie to pace the team in this category at the All-Star break since Dave Kingman in 1972. Bowker's also batting respectably, reflecting his steady improvement since being recalled on April 12. He hit .193 in April, .297 in May and .325 in June.
The left-handed batter keeps his approach simple. "You just have to go to your strengths and make sure when you get a pitch, you don't miss it," he said.
Bowker, 25, has played primarily first base despite spending his previous four professional seasons in the outfield. His infield proficiency has indicated to the Giants that they can plug him into either the infield or outfield in coming seasons, depending on where they need him most.
"We're going to have to see," general manager Brian Sabean said. "He's come a long way [at first base]. "He really has a good feel for the position."
|GIANTS TOP PERFORMANCES|
5/15, HOU 8, SF 7 -- Lincecum sparkles
In six strong innings, young ace Tim Lincecum fanned 10 Houston batters.
5/25, Final score -- Vizquel long at short
Omar Vizquel took the field at shortstop for the 2,584th time, surpassing the previous record held by Luis Aparicio.
5/30, SD 7, SF 3 -- Giants turn the triple play
Jose Castillo, Ray Durham and John Bowker, completed San Francisco's first triple play since June 1999.
6/13, OAK 5, SF 1 -- Omar safe at home
Omar Vizquel became the first Giant since Max Venable in 1983 to pull off a straight steal of home.
6/24, SF 3, CLE 2 -- Vizquel's friendly welcome
Omar Vizquel enjoyed a hero's welcome at Progressive Field in his first visit there since leaving the Indians.
Burriss' emergence has been even more startling. Last year he endured a demotion from high Class A San Jose, where he batted .165, to low-A Augusta. Though he recovered to hit .321 at Augusta and .365 for Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League, he began this season at Fresno while his contemporary, Brian Bocock, replaced injured Omar Vizquel as the Giants' Opening Day shortstop.
Needing infield depth, the Giants purchased Burriss' contract on April 20 after jettisoning outfielder Rajai Davis. By July, Burriss had excelled enough to prompt Bochy to declare that the 23-year-old would receive a greater share of the playing time at shortstop.
Sabean said that the success of Burriss has broadened the Giants' perspective regarding younger players.
"I think the lesson learned is in today's game, it really doesn't matter how much you've played in the Minor Leagues, or what your highest level of experience is, as much as once you get here, how you can handle it," Sabean said. Burriss, he added, "was very unsettled in Spring Training and didn't make the Opening Day roster. [But] he's been very comfortable up here. So a lot depends on the player's makeup and how he's received in the clubhouse."
"I think I'm getting the feel for what the game is like. But at the same time, I don't have a full, all-out grip on it," said Burriss, noting that he wants to deepen his comprehension of baseball's mental aspect.
The Giants also have been impressed by Hinshaw, the left-hander who had a 2.49 ERA in his first 23 appearances and 28 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings, and Romo, the right-hander who recorded a 3.38 ERA and eight strikeouts in his first eight appearances.
More rookies could be on the way. Left-hander Geno Espineli could be a candidate for the next bullpen opening, having recorded a 2.06 ERA in his first 34 appearances with 43 strikeouts and only six walks in 52 1/3 innings at Fresno. Outfielder Nate Schierholtz (.301, 12 homers, 55 RBIs in 80 games) is also waiting at Fresno, and the Giants have repeated that they'll promote him once an opportunity arises for him to play every day.
Based on what they've seen so far, the Giants won't hesitate to rely upon their youth.
"They have a great work ethic," Bochy said. "They have a great attitude. They really have played like they belong in the Major Leagues. I can't say any of them have been in awe of their surroundings."