Giants Top 50: #17 - Marcus Sanders

A year ago, Marcus Sanders was one of the most exciting, intriguing and hope-inspiring position prospects in the Giants system. After his 2006 season, he'd be lucky to have been forgotten by prospect hounds. What happened? And can he bounce back?

Date of Birth: 08/25/1985 Position: SS Height: 6'0" Weight: 160 Bats: R Throws: R
Acquired: Drafted in the 17th Round (#513 Overall) in the 2003 Draft
2006 Stats
San Jose - High-A .213 .302 .265 .567 211 39 45 9 1 0 17 25 43 24 5
AZL Giants - Rookie .121 .275 .152 .427 33 7 4 1 0 0 3 7 11 4 0

Before the 2006 season, noted minor league sportswriter John Manuel said he considered Marcus Sanders ‘the best leadoff hitter in the minors.'

Boy, what a difference a year can make for a player.

Sanders had a horrific, injury-filled 2006 season, and suddenly the player with savvy baserunning and game-changing speed has become the forgotten man of the Giants system.

The most important moment for Sanders in the season was the sixth inning of April 10th, the fifth game of the season.  Sanders was hit on the hand by a pitch, and though he tried to stay in the game, he left an inning later.  The next two games were postponed, and he missed a double header three days after the injury, but he tried to come back.  It didn't work.

This isn't to say that Sanders was off to the hottest start, since he was batting .143 at the time of the injury, but that was just 4 games.  And though Sanders didn't talk about it, it's hard to imagine the injury didn't have an affect on this top hitter.  He didn't sniff .200 again until the end of the month, and then dipped back under it again for a couple of months.  Although he played through the pain, he was hit again on June 16th and finally put on the DL, returning for a late season rehab stint back in rookie ball, where he once again struggled.

The injuries have gone on mostly unmentioned, and many think the injuries were Sanders' shoulder, but there was never any indication that his infamous shoulder problems were a part of things (not that they were ever given the chance).  It appeared to be a hand injury.

In football, players play through hand injuries all the time, but in baseball, it's nearly impossible for a player to get through one.  Especially batters, where every time the ball contacts the bat, it can send a shock through the hand like an electric shock.  Just like how injured pitchers can cause worse injuries by unconsciously changing their mechanics to avoid pain, only to hurt other parts of themselves, a hitter can soon not swing as hard, or be so willing to make good contact, even if it's just an unconscious thought.

This is definitely alien to the way Sanders plays baseball.  On the field, at least, Sanders has always played with brash savvy, and used his incredible speed intelligently to help his team.  His 2005 campaign in Augusta, where he turned just 20 in August, had him stealing 57 bases and being caught just 9 times.  He maintained that in San Jose, stealing 24 of 29 bases despite just a .302 OBP.  And Sanders knows was his best tool is, and came into the season with a plan to concentrate on getting on base and lower his strikeouts.

The big question is the most obvious one, can Sanders come back?  His hand injury did not appear to be serious, as the Giants did clear him to play after a month out, so his hand's health shouldn't be an issue.  Nor should it count against a seemingly-common perception that Sanders is a glass player, since an injury occurring from an HBP is clearly not the result of a chronic issue (like Sanders' shoulder).

That said, hand injuries are serious business, and Sanders may have picked up some poor mechanics as a result (they appeared to be affecting him in his return to Arizona).

If the hand injury is not an ongoing problem, Sanders continues to have an amazing amount of talent to flaunt.  His speed is obvious, but he has a better swing than other speed prospects, many of whom have to have their swings ‘fixed'.  Sanders won't ever slug home runs at an amazing rate, but he has a swing that can produce line drives and get the ball out of the infield, and produce doubles and triples with his speed.

The other problem aside from his health (and to a degree, because of it) is his defense.  He has been much maligned at shortstop, and many expect him to move to second base.  It was even written in a mid-season interview that he had been moved to second base in San Jose and was ‘perfecting the position,' when he didn't play a single game at second the entire season at any level.  But he still had 19 errors in San Jose, 3rd most on the team despite playing just 54 games.  Again, the general consensus is that his shoulder inhibits his play and throwing ability, but more than half of his errors (10) were fielding mishaps, and not shoulder issues.  True to form, he often seemed to have problems squeezing the ball in his glove hand, another sign of impact from the injury.

So where do things go from here?  Don't be surprised to see Sanders repeat San Jose.  He might even get moved to second as finally anticipated, if only because he could be joined by fellow speedster Burriss at shortstop in San Jose (then again, Burriss may move, as he also has had defensive problems at short).  But despite a huge drop in the rankings, don't think that Sanders is done.  A great injury bounceback puts Sanders back in the Top 10 prospects, and one of the better ones in baseball.

But first, he'll have to prove that this latest injury setback won't hold him back.

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