Giants Top 50: #5 - Nate Schierholtz

Of the top Giants prospects in the minors, 2006 was a year of injuries and problems. Not for the young outfielder from Danville. Despite an injury, he took on the pitcher-friendly Eastern League, and did well there. Fresno awaits, but how far away is coming home to the Bay Area? #5 is Nate Schierholtz!

Date of Birth: 02/15/1984 Position: OF Height: 6'2" Weight: 215 Bats: L Throws: R
Acquired: Drafted in the 2nd Round (#63 Overall) of the 2003 Draft
2006 Stats
Connecticut - Double-A .270 .325 .443 .768 470 55 127 25 7 14 54 27 81 8 3

After the 2005 San Jose Giants won the California League Championship, a bevy of talented players were headed to Connecticut with high expectations.  But there remained an air of apprehension around Nate Schierholtz with many San Francisco Giants farm observers, due to strikeouts and disappointing power.

After 2006, perhaps no existing position prospect in the system had been able to maintain their buzz outside of Schierholtz.  And yet, a lot of apprehension remains.

Granted, Schierholtz stood out from his peers mostly by his ability to stay relatively healthy in a year where his teammates (and others in the system) all missed significant time to injuries.  But that's unfair to Schierholtz, as he went on the Disabled List himself in June with a reported hand injury.  He struggled with it in the summer, but was able to bounce back.

It's also no secret among Giants observers that Schierholtz's season was highly impacted by a white-hot August, during which Schierholtz tied a franchise-record consecutive game hitting streak at 25 games, also a league high.  Some have suggested the one hot month ‘saved' his season.  That, too, is shortchanging Schierholtz, as he was one of the team's hottest hitters in April (with a .307 batting average and an .809 OPS), and had a respectable July (.275 BA, .763 OPS) coming off of the injury.

Still, Schierholtz's overall numbers are something that give people pause, with a disappointing .270 BA, and a (slight) drop in home runs (14 to his 15 in 2005).

However, the season was a good one, considering it took place in the Eastern League.  The League has swallowed up more than one hot San Jose hitter over the years, and Schierholtz's year looks good against his peers.

For instance, Schierholtz's home run total being just one off his San Jose line is good, considering the California League is considered a hitter's league with several small parks.  Connecticut in particular is considered a hitter's nightmare, and the Giants had even petitioned to have the fences moved in because of the problems there.  (A planned park adjustment for the 2007 season was scuttled due to the filming of an ESPN movie at Dodd Stadium.)  His 14 home runs had him in the Top 30 for the league; more impressively, his well rounded extra-base hit total had him at 16th in the league in slugging (.443).

However, just as notable was a number Schierholtz shrunk: his strikeouts.  Schierholtz struck out 132 times in 2005, and it was the most damning stat in his line when people projected him.  But they didn't count on Schierholtz's work ethic or ability to adapt.  In 32 less at-bats in 2006, Schierholtz had more than 50 less strikeouts, dropping his total by more than a third.  Instead of striking out once every 3.8 at bats, he struck out once every 5.8 at bats.  That's still on the high side, but it's a huge improvement.

Schierholtz had other improvements.  His recovery from a pelvis injury from 2005 led him to improve his baserunning, stealing 8 of 11 attempts, instead of being caught 7 times out of 12 in 2005.  He also continued to adapt to playing the outfield, where he has good range for a player of his strength and has improved his routes.  His cannon of an arm is one of the better outfield arms in the system.

But when it comes to Schierholtz, the talk will always be about his power.

Schierholtz earned his reputation in Spring Training of 2006, when he hit a batting practice home run over the very high nets (nearly three times as high as the Green Monster) protecting the neighboring apartment complex from the new practice field at Scottsdale Stadium, and broke a window.  That same day, he hit a tape measure shot in Peoria over the grass berm behind right field and onto the pedestrian walkway that ringed the stadium.  That power makes Schierholtz a tantalizing prospect, despite the strikeouts.

Since being drafted, Schierholtz has answered questions about his ability to play defense, and is now a good defensive right fielder.  He has answered concerns about his plate discipline, although he could stand to walk more.  And he has answered questions about his ability to play at the higher levels.  Now, all that's left is to prove he can play consistently.

He'll get his chance, most likely in Frenso this year.  That could be enticing to watch.  Fresno is infamous in Minor League circles for being a small-ish park that plays smaller in a hot summer city.  The guy that mans the manual scoreboard in Fresno's right center field might as well get an endorsement deal from Target stores, because he'll be one for Schierholtz.  But it'll be Schierholtz's continued commitment to reducing strikeouts, and hopefully a better showing in taking walks, that'll make him a real prospect.

Don't be surprised to see Schierholtz be the first option for the Giants if they need a new outfielder.  He should make his San Francisco debut in 2007, and could be competing for a significant role in 2008.

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