Juan Perez Should Win Giants’ Fifth Outfielder Spot

This past Saturday, thousands of fans flocked to AT&T Park to take part in the annual Giants FanFest. The event featured the usual collection of players, coaches, and front office-types offering their thoughts on the upcoming season. Among the quirkier highlights were Michael Morse singing A-ha, Matt Cain and Hunter Pence discussing salad, and Brandon Belt sporting a new beard.

Giants general manager Brian Sabean riffed for a while about the various offseason moves the team made (i.e. signing Tim Hudson and Morse, and re-signing Tim Lincecum). At one point during his talk, Sabean mentioned that the team was going to head into the season with five outfielders, including one to act as a late-inning defensive replacement. The reason being, of course, because the newly-signed Michael Morse generally plays the outfield as if he’s trying to avoid tripping over his own feet. He’s just not very good out there.

Sabean surely wants a defense-minded backup to replace Morse in the late innings when the Giants have a lead. Envision a scenario much like the Giants had in 2010, where iron gloved left fielder Pat Burrell was replaced after about six or seven innings by Cody Ross and Nate Schierholtz. It’s an offense/defense trade off that has worked well for Giants teams of the past.

The most obvious candidate to serve in this role would be Juan Perez, the 27-year-old outfielder who played in 34 games with the Giants last year and started a handful of games in center field after Angel Pagan went down in June. Perez immediately impressed fans with his glove, wowing everybody with a series of highlight-reel catches. Like this one. And this one. Oh, and lest we forget this catch in Arizona, which was pretty much the very first thing he did as a major leaguer.

So from a glove standpoint, Perez passes the eyeball test with flying colors. His defensive numbers, in a very small sample size, are very good, too. In all honesty, Perez is probably the best defensive outfielder on the roster, including Pagan. He doesn’t project to hit enough to be a regular, though (he owns a lowly .318 career minor league OBP), so fifth outfielder is a role that he’s suited for. Four of the Giants’ five projected starters are fly ball pitchers, so Perez could likely contribute a lot of value even in a backup role.

Sabean also discussed the possibility of Roger Kieschnick making the team. Kieschnick made his major league debut last year as one of a slew of outfielders tried out by the Giants when Pagan got hurt. Like the rest of them, Kieschnick failed to do much, hitting just .202/.295/.226 in 95 plate appearances. At age 27, Kieschnick is fighting tooth and nail to avoid the dreaded “organizational soldier” tag. Since being drafted by the Giants in the third round in 2008, Kieschnick has hit .275/.331/.485 in his years in the minors.

While some fans might yawn and simply see Kieschnick as the second coming of Tony Torcato, Sabean noted that he was intrigued after Kieschnick spent all offseason working out with Baltimore Orioles slugger Chris Davis. Davis himself was at one point in danger of washing out of the majors due to severe problems making contact, but a lot of hard work got him back on track, culminating in a 2013 season where he hit a league-leading 53 home runs.

Perhaps Sabean is hoping for a similar kind of breakout from Kieschnick. In the event that Kieschnick does start scalding the ball, it’s difficult to see where he’d fit into the team’s plans. Hunter Pence and Angel Pagan are cemented in right and center field, respectively, and Sabean made it clear left field is all Morse. If Kieschnick does hit well enough, the best case scenario is likely a righty/lefty outfield platoon with Morse. There doesn’t appear to be too much upside in his bat, but there’s some chance Kieschnick could make a contribution as a pinch hitter, kind of like Travis Ishikawa in 2010.