PHOENIX – The Giants considered it a coup when they plucked Tony Abreu off waivers a week before spring training, and they planned for him to play a key role as a reserve infielder.
It took longer than anyone expected, but the former top prospect is finally part of the picture.
With his 20-day rehab assignment coming to an end at Triple-A Fresno, the Giants activated Abreu and added him to the big league roster. Reserve infielder Nick Noonan, who has struggled to maintain his swing in a bench role, was optioned to Fresno.
The Giants transferred right-hander Ryan Vogelsong from the 15-day to the 60-day disabled list to create room for Abreu on the 40-man roster.
Abreu is out of minor league options, so the Giants had to promote Abreu on Saturday or risk losing him on waivers.
Abreu had recurring inflammation in his left knee that limited him to one game all spring, but said it’s finally calmed down. He has played mostly second base but Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he would use the 28-year-old switch hitter at shortstop or third base as well.
“The last couple games he’s been moving well,” Bochy said. “It’s why we got him, to be on this club, and he’s ready. We’ll let Nick go down and get his at-bats and continue his development.”
Noonan got off to a great start, hitting .333 in April and coming up clutch on the bench several times. But he had just a .114 average in 22 games since then, including six starts.
“He wasn’t expected to make this club (but) he earned it,” Bochy said. “At the same time, you don’t want him not playing the whole year. It’s a tough role for a young player who isn’t accustomed to it.”
Abreu was a former top prospect with the Dodgers. He got the most major league exposure in 2010 with Arizona, where he hit .233/.244/.316 in 201 plate appearances. He appeared in 22 games for Kansas City last year, hitting .257.
His career splits show he’s slightly better from the right side, but Bochy said Abreu has good balance at the plate.
“He’s got some nice tools,” Bochy said.
Abreu, through translator Angel Pagan, said he “felt really bad” he wasn’t able to play in the spring, because he knew he had a great opportunity to make the club. He got a second opinion on his knee when the inflammation kept recurring but never got close to having surgery.
“It was a frustrating moment,” Abreu said with Pagan’s help. “I felt defenseless.”
Abreu isn’t the only player who could make his Giants debut off the bench. Outfielder/infielder Juan Perez arrived before the first pitch Friday and is looking forward to making his big league debut.
He said he got the call from Fresno manager Bob Mariano after he’d just finished lunch at P.F. Chang’s in Salt Lake City (no, sorry Brandon Belt, it wasn’t Olive Garden). He immediately called his mother, Maria Francisco, and his father, Juan Sr.
“She was going crazy,” Perez said. “I said, `Mom, take it easy. Don’t get too excited.’ She was crying. It was a cool moment.”
Perez wasn’t drafted out of high school and worked for three months as a plumber’s apprentice in his father’s business. Did he enjoy it?
“Not really,” he said with a smile.
Before Perez went to junior college and excelled to get on the Giants’ radar, he played in La Caribe, the mens’ rec league in the Bronx. He was a 16-year-old playing with guys in their 20s and 30s and older, many of whom had pro baseball experience.
They enjoyed intimidating the kid.
“I got hit by pitches a lot,” he said.
Eric Surkamp will make his second rehab start Sunday for Single-A San Jose and he’ll remain for a few weeks before the Giants move him up.
“Could he be up here this year?” Bochy said. “Sure he could. If he gets stretched out, he could be ready in a month if all goes well.”
Bochy saw Surkamp throw a side session at AT&T Park last month and was impressed.
As we’ve discussed many times, the Giants don’t enjoy a ton of starting pitching depth in the system. So getting an effective Surkamp back might be important down the road.