Top 50 Prospects #3 - Marcus Sanders

Marcus Sanders is one of those old fashioned, speed players. He's one of the best basestealers in the minors, hits for a good average and walks a lot for an even better on-base percentage. But with that bum shoulder of his, is he a shortstop or a second baseman? Or might he be a center fielder?

Date of Birth: 08/25/1985 Position: 2B/SS Height: 6'0 Weight: 160 Bats: R Throws: R
Acquired: Drafted in the 17th Round (#513 Overall) of the 2003 Draft
2005 Stats
Augusta - Low A .300 .407 .400 .807 420 86 126 19 4 5 40 69 90 57 9

Perhaps no Giants prospect in recent memory has elicited as much excitement as Marcus Sanders.  He’s created so much that managers across the South Atlantic League voted him the ‘Most Exciting Player’ in 2005.

The truth is that the Giants were lucky to keep him.  Sanders was one of a few top rated high school players that had top round talent but slipped because of signability issues that the Giants took in late rounds that San Francisco was able to pry into the pros and stop them from going to college (such as 2002’s 21st round pick Travis Ishikawa or 2004’s 18th round pick Jeremiah Luster).  Unlike the others, though, Sanders went to college anyway, leading Florida’s Juco players in steals before signing with the Giants in 2004 under the ‘Draft and Follow’ rules.

Sanders paid off immediately, going to the Arizona Rookie League and leading the league in runs and stolen bases while helping lead the team to the championship.

2005 was the season that Sanders solidified his top Prospect status, catapulting himself not only to the tops of most Giants prospect lists, but finding himself listed among some publications Top 100 prospects in the nation.  John Manuel of Baseball America fawned over him, calling him this past offseason the best basestealer and the best leadoff hitter in the minors. Sanders earned that by leading the minor in stolen bases much of the season until his shoulder began giving him problems again in late June.  Even so, his 57 stolen bases ended up the 4th highest total in all of minor league baseball (2nd in the SAL), and he was the only player with more than 55 steals to be caught stealing less than 10 times.

Sanders combines the game changing speed with a very good bat.  He hits well for average, and draws plenty of walks, making sure he’s on base enough to make his speed work for him.  He’s also projected to hit well for power, though he had some strength issues in 2005 stemming from his shoulder.  Some scouts have him projected at hitting 15-20 home runs a year in the majors.

Did you catch the hitch in those last couple of paragraphs?  Yup, his shoulder.  He tore his labrum in his right (throwing) shoulder in high school, and it’s given him problems ever since.  He was healthy in his pro debut in 2004, when the Giants kept him at 2nd base, so the Giants moved him back to the position he played in high school, shortstop, in Augusta.  The shoulder flared up in June, causing him to miss the All-Star Futures Game that he had been selected to, and it remained all season long.  One scout said that in the 2nd half, ‘it was like he was playing with one arm.’  Sanders, even while working through his shoulder issues, had 29 errors, though not all of it should be credited to his shoulder.  Defensively, he’s still very raw and working on his fundamentals.

And that brings us to the biggest question for Sanders right now: Just what position will he play long term?  If you read other prospect rankings, almost all of them called him a second baseman, ignoring the position he actually played in 2005, and those that did say a move is inevitable.  There’s also been some recently rumblings about Sanders moving to center field.

Well, the last thing the Giants need is another center field prospect.  With Fred Lewis, Clay Timpner, Ben Copeland, Joey Dyche and Antoan Richardson already in the system, the competition is fierce.  Each one of those players has an advantage over Sanders, even Richardson, who may actually be a faster runner.  A move to center field will kill Sanders’ momentum and value, and should be avoided at all costs.  Anyways, the Giants current 2nd base hope, Kevin Frandsen, is a versatile player who could move to either 3rd or shortstops if Sanders is forced to play 2nd because of his shoulder.  So yes, a move back to 2nd base is certainly possible and plausible.

That said, the Giants don’t see it as inevitable.  Yet.  Sanders worked out in the instructional league this fall, then had another operation on his shoulder to clear out the joint.  The Giants are committed to giving him at least one more chance at shortstop, and will make him play his way out of the position.  With Sanders now 2 years away from his labrum surgery, it’s not inconceivable that some of the strength will come back to what used to be a strong arm.  He may never have the strongest arm at shortstop, but he could get back to playable.  However, until he can put his shoulder problems behind him, both in terms of missing games and affecting his in-game performance, that injury will keep him down a little lower on this list.

For 2006, Sanders will be strutting his stuff with San Jose, and will probably be one of the best reasons for local fans to go down south to Municipal Stadium and check out the kids.  Expect Sanders to thrive with the big right center corner, and to be interesting to watch in how he handles himself defensively at short.  He may still have plenty of question, but one thing is definitely assured: This top prospect is never, ever boring.

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