SAN FRANCISCO -- Though the Giants' organizational dearth of power hitters is perhaps their most conspicuous void, they happen to have acquired one of the offseason's most prodigious sluggers.
Infielder Mario Lisson, who signed a Minor League contract with San Francisco, has fiercely pounded Venezuelan Winter League pitching for months. After finishing third in the league with 16 home runs in 60 regular-season games for Magallanes, Lisson flexed his muscles even more dramatically in the round-robin playoffs, hitting 10 homers in 16 games. The winter teammate of Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval and right-hander Jean Machi also batted .359 (23-for-64) with 18 RBIs, a .461 on-base percentage and an .875 slugging percentage during the round-robin to help Magallanes reach the league finals against Caribes de Anzoategui.
"I don't think that we would have expected him to show this kind of power," Giants vice president and assistant general manager Bobby Evans said Wednesday. "It's like Spring Training -- you don't want to overread into winter ball, but you don't want to discount it, too."
Nothing about Lisson's career would suggest that he's capable of such production. He toiled from 2002 to 2012 in the Kansas City Royals' system and never played a single day in the Major Leagues. The right-handed batter is a .257 lifetime Minor League hitter with a single-season best of 15 home runs in 2011 at Double-A. At 29, Lisson's extensive mileage includes a right shoulder injury that forced him to miss the entire 2010 season, according to Evans. Lisson remained active last year after the Royals finally jettisoned him, playing for two teams in Mexico.
Evans said that Jose Alguacil, the Giants' roving infield instructor, and Joe Salermo, the organization's international cross-checker, saw Lisson play in early December and filed positive reports, which led to his acquisition. Evans indicated that Lisson, who has mostly played third base professionally and has extensive experience at first base and shortstop, might best be suited for a utility role at whatever level he reaches. That most likely will be Double-A Richmond or Triple-A Fresno. Lisson's wondrous winter has not persuaded the Giants into extending him a non-roster invitation to big league Spring Training.
Maybe Lisson will remain a mostly anonymous figure in Minor League camp. Or maybe he'll command enough attention to influence the Giants' thinking. This feat isn't unprecedented. In 2012, impressive winter ball performances propelled outfielder Gregor Blanco and infielder Joaquin Arias, both non-roster invitees, into valuable roles with the eventual World Series champions.
"Let Spring Training dictate where guys end up," Evans said. "Give us a chance to evaluate them and give them a chance to perform and compete. I wouldn't jump to any conclusions one way or the other. Just because you're not coming to big league camp doesn't mean you won't get involved in some games and get some at-bats in big league camp at some point. We'll just have to see how it goes."