Marcus Giles is short. Marcus Giles is pudgy.
Those are the two inescapable aspects of the Braves second baseman that immediately spring to mind upon seeing Giles for the first time. The first impression is not overwhelming. I won't say that he is the least intimidating batter in the major leagues. I suppose that a blind-folded Rey Ordonez would look less threatening. Maybe Jeromy Burnitz with one hand tied behind his back.
If you're feeling bad about that snap superficial judgment, don't worry: Dozens of reputable scouts share the myopia and have not been afraid to express it. Frequently. And most still can't get over the diminutive second baseman's height and physique.
Giles, generously listed at 5'8, has been combating the stereotypes his entire athletic life. In fact, Giles' entire professional career can be defined as a battle against one word: "not." He does not have a baseball "body." He does not look good in a uniform. He is not a good fielder.
Taken in a round of the draft so late that it doesn't even exist any more, nothing was expected of Marcus Giles, and as such nothing was given to him that he didn't earn. The scouts said he wouldn't be able to hit professional pitching.
So Giles hit .348/.437/.556 at Danville in 1997.
The scouts said that, in a larger sample size, a man of his size could not hit, or hit for power.
So Giles hit .329/.433/.636 at Macon in 1998, with 37 homeruns.
The scouts said that he would not be able to hit outside the friendly confines of Macon. They said his 25 errors in 98 were unacceptable for a second baseman.
So Giles hit .326/.393/.513 in the hitters hell that is Myrtle Beach in 1999. He ran Glenn Hubbard into the ground in an effort to improve his fielding. Giles made 8 errors the entire season.
The scouts said Giles would hit the AA wall and finally prove to be a bust. They said his speed was mediocre.
So Giles hit .290/.388/.472 in Greenville in 2000. He stole 25 bases.
There is a certain "Rudy" element to Marcus Giles. His scrappy, all-out, hustling play is refreshing. But do not sell the young man's talent short. For years, Giles labored as the Braves one legitimate hitting prospect, combining in his short frame power, the ability to hit for average, and most importantly, excellent plate discipline. In an organization that never preached OBP, that never told its hitters the value of working the count or drawing walks, Giles stood out as the lone paragon of patience.
But Marcus Giles is short. That is the one inescapable, undeniable fact about Giles. That is the bane of his existence, his own personal Greek Fury, perpetually hovering around Giles, anxious to tear apart the fragile threads that constitute Marcus Giles' potential career.
But eventually, the Braves were unable to ignore Giles. And so, in mid-2001, with the team struggling to continue their reign atop the NL East, Quilvio Veras hurt and Keith Lockhart suffering from a nagging hamstring injury, and the offense in the doldrums, Marcus Giles was called up for good, or so we all thought. Giles, who had never before hit leadoff, was thrust into the role of leadoff hitter on a team in the middle of a pennant race.
And you know what? Giles did nothing but lay a solid foundation for the future. He hit .262/.338/.430, giving the Braves a bit of pop, patience, and persistence at the top of the line-up. His defense, while not impeccable, got the job done. It appeared that the Marcus Giles era, long anticipated by Braves fans weaned on the exploits of Mark Lemke, Jeff Treadway, Brett Boone and Keith Lockhart at the keystone, was finally upon us.
And then came 2002. After a hot start which saw him carry the Braves offense in the month of April, the buds of May proved no darling to Giles, who scuffled offensively with a .532 OPS. Perhaps more damning in the eyes of manager Bobby Cox, Giles had struggled on the defensive side of the ball. Cox is almost universally revered by major league players as a player's manager, who treats everybody with respect, discretion, and above all, patience. Cox had little enough of the latter to offer Giles, and yanked Marcus from the starting lineup by mid-May in favor of Mark DeRosa when the Penn graduate went down with torn ligaments in his ankle.
With his starting spot back in the fold, Giles' luck turned even more sour. He severely sprained his ankle in a 5-2 win over Montreal. In fact, Giles was within millimeters of suffering the same gruesome injury which sidelined Jason Kendall in 1999. Giles was placed on the Disabled List.
While recovering from his injury, Giles suffered an even more devastating loss: His daughter, born several weeks premature, passed away after a long battle with Death. In baseball, we have statistics to measure nearly every aspect of the game. We have numbers to analyze and dissect, from radar gun readings to VORP and Win Shares. And we are better off for their existence. But we don't have, nor will we ever have, a method of measuring what type of effect the trauma of a dying child can have on a parent. There are no scales to measure the burden it must place on the shoulders of even the strongest man.
With the horrible tragedy fresh in his mind, with a severe injury to mend, with his first struggles with the bat to heal, what did Marcus Giles do? He did what he always did: He got to work. With what must have been a heavy heart and a darkened soul, Giles rehabbed vigorously, and went to AAA Richmond for his rehab assignment. Joining him was teammate Mark DeRosa, who had aggressively come back from his ankle injury. During the same time span, DeRosa hit .255. Giles, well over .300. But when the time came for the rehab assignments to end, DeRosa was called up, while Giles was left to rot in Richmond, watching the Braves dicker around with Keith Lockhart at second and Vinny Castilla at third.
What doomed Giles to Richmond were, like so much else during this season, bad luck and bad timing. About the time Giles went down with his injury, the Braves reeled off a phenomenal stretch of baseball, winning over 70% of their games in his months of absentia. No one vocalized the connection, but the implication was clear: The Braves considered themselves a better team with Giles in Richmond.
Giles could have sulked, could have brooded at the injustice of the demotion. And it would be inaccurate to claim that he didn't express his discontent. But when he was told he would not be allowed to help Atlanta try to win their division, he went full-out to help Richmond win theirs. He hit .322 during his AAA stint, while playing a substantial amount of third base for the first time in his career. He received a call up at the end of the season, and was on the post season roster, but he was not allowed anywhere near a clutch situation. He ended the season with a mediocre .230/.315/.399 line. It still would have constituted a major offensive improvement over Keith Lockhart.
The Braves have held on to Marcus Giles, and are saying all the right things about allowing him to play. Indeed, a cloud seems to have been lifted from above Giles' head, as there is no one on the Braves roster who can be seen with a smile on his face as often as Giles. His energy and passion seem contagious. We can only hope that his power and patience prove that way as well. For the Braves need Giles' bat, now more than ever. With a decimated pitching staff and a mediocre offense barely touched by General Manager John Schuerholz, it would prove a tremendous boon to Atlanta if Giles could hit like he has consistently proven he can. With some luck, or rather the lack of bad luck, and some patience on the part of Bobby Cox, we can expect a renaissance of Marcus Giles.
Doubt him? Well, what else is new?
You can email Andrew Bare at, of all places, AndrewBare29@hotmail.com. Not only does the author encourage your comments, he begs and pleads for them.
Marcus Giles: The future, or the end of the line?
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