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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The Giants knew that Ehire Adrianza had a major league-ready glove as a teenager. They’ve spent the past seven years waiting and hoping for his bat to catch up.
So when Adrianza mashed a home run on the first live pitch he saw this spring … well, it didn’t win him a place on the roster. But it was a pretty good opening salvo.
“A lot. I feel a lot of confidence at the plate right now,” said Adrianza, who is battling Tony Abreu and Nick Noonan for a backup infield job – one of perhaps three roster spots in true contention this spring.
“I had a very, very good experience in the big leagues (last September) and now I’m working to be there from the first day to the playoffs, and why not? The World Series, too.”
You might remember that Adrianza, a switch hitter, helped to ruin Andy Pettitte’s final home start as a Yankee by clocking a home run off him. That came from the right side. Adrianza was batting left-handed when he tagged Yusmeiro Petit’s first pitch at Scottsdale Stadium.
It’s taken him awhile to become a competent hitter. There were times when, as a younger player, he’d get the bat knocked out of his hands. Every year, the Giants hoped his body would get stronger and more mature.
He appeared to be turning a corner in 2011, when he hit .300 with a .375 on-base percentage for Single-A San Jose. But he struggled to a .220 average in Double-A Richmond the following year. He was sent back to Richmond to begin last season and hit just .240, but significantly cut down his strikeouts. It wasn’t until he arrived at Triple-A Fresno last year that he began to realize how close he was to being able to compete against big league pitching.
“This is the moment,” Adrianza recalled telling himself at Fresno, where he hit .310/.409/.441. “I feel I can play in the big leagues now.”
It’s not surprising that Adrianza didn’t cower in the shadow of Yankee Stadium as a call-up last September. Years earlier, when he was 18 and playing in the Arizona Rookie League, the Giants had a spate of injuries at Triple-A and needed some coverage while Fresno played at Tucson. They told Adrianza to hop on the freeway. Nervous but not intimidated in the least, he went 3 for 6 in two games.
Adrianza isn’t intimidated at the thought of being in the big leagues, either. The top defensive shortstop in the system, Adrianza will have to show his proficiency at second and third as well. He hoped to get innings at both positions in the Venezuelan winter league but didn’t end up starting many games. He’ll get plenty of work at second, short and third base this spring.
“I started playing baseball as a second baseman,” Adrianza said. “That’s my natural position. I didn’t really start growing till I as 15 years old. Then I was big enough to play shortstop.”
He got a bit bigger this winter, putting on 10 pounds. The jersey no longer hangs off him.
There’s no question Adrianza (pronounced AIR-ay Ah-dree-AHN-za) is the best defender among the candidates to join Joaquin Arias in a backup infield role. Abreu, also a switch hitter, has more to offer with the bat and could be a favorite for that reason. After all, the Giants don’t project to have a lot of weapons off the bench. So if Adrianza has a nice offensive spring, it’ll work to his advantage.
One more factor: Both Abreu and Adrianza are out of minor league options, meaning they’d be exposed to waivers if they didn’t make the opening-day roster. So it’s possible the club could trade one of them away rather than lose them for nothing.
It’d be hard for the Giants to let that happen with Adrianza. They’ve been waiting a long time for him to arrive.