Peguero takes lead in Giants' outfield competition

Peguero takes lead in Giants' outfield competition
March 15, 2013, 4:45 pm
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Francisco Peguero had surgery in 2011 for chondromalacia, a softening of cartilage behind his right kneecap. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Francisco Peguero probably has more bat speed than any player in the Giants organization –- and that includes the guys being sized for World Series rings. 

Peguero is plenty fast on the bases and in the outfield, too.

Now he finally looks to be back on the fast track to the big leagues. While 21 other players were sent to minor league camp on Friday, Peguero remained -– and club officials are thinking hard about having him make the club as an extra outfielder, with the opportunity to seize an even larger role if he plays well.

“He’s in the mix and he’s got all the tools to be an everyday outfielder,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “But if not, he’s a nice weapon to have off the bench. You can pinch-hit him, pinch run or double switch.

“He’s had a good spring and we’re looking for some help there, a right-handed bat. We have some ways we can go.”

Peguero, 24, made his big league debut last year as a September call-up and was on the bench (but not on the active roster) for all three rounds of the postseason. He would’ve debuted much earlier than that if not for a knee condition that’s as hard on a body as it is to pronounce.

Peguero had chondromalacia, or a softening of cartilage behind his right kneecap. Surgery in 2011 removed damaged cartilage, but it took him a full year before he finally began feeling like he could play his game, make aggressive jumps and put weight on his back leg while hitting.

Even last year at Triple-A Fresno, while he was putting up decent numbers (.272 with 20 doubles, 10 triples, five home runs and 68 RBI in 105 games), Peguero didn’t feel himself until the last month of the season.

Now, he’s opening eyes with his electric play. He has a .412 average and there aren’t many Arizona cheapies in the bunch. He’s finding the barrel more often than not.

“I feel so much more comfortable now,” said Peguero, who hit for Triple-A Fresno. “I feel I can put weight on my back leg. I couldn’t turn into the ball. I didn’t have any strength in my knee. Now I feel I’m ready for anything they need me to do.”

The Giants are light on right-handed hitters for the bench, so it’s basically a decision between Peguero and non-roster invitee Cole Gillespie at this point. (They also could go short an outfielder and keep an extra infielder, although Brett Pill’s knee surgery removes one right-handed alternative from the equation for now.)

The way Bochy talks up Peguero, though, it sure seems like a job is his to lose at this point.

“The way he’s carrying himself, he knows he’s got the talent to play here,” Bochy said. “He’s got the confidence. He’s doing all he can to make this decision hard on us.”

In the minors, scouts and coaches often told me that Peguero, when healthy, had the same effect on teams that Pablo Sandoval did. He just brought a ton of energy every day and elevated those around him.

He sure seems to be reaching that point again this spring.

“I’ll do my best and hopefully stay to the last week,” said Peguero, “and then see what happens.”

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