The Giants Infield: Even Without Panda, No Need to Panik by Karl de Vries March 3, 2015 This post continues our Depth Chart Discussions. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, rotation, and bullpen) and will continue to break them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find the Depth Chart Discussion posts gathered here. The world champs might be without their longtime hot-cornerman, but they have enough impact players to keep them competitive in real life and relevant so far as fantasy owners are concerned. Up the middle the team flashes the game’s best catcher and an emerging double-play duo, while first base belongs to a solid sleeper candidate. Buster Posey / 28 / catcher If you’re reading this with the expectation that I’m simply going to say Posey is the best catcher in fantasy, well, guess what? You’re right. Because he’s just that — a fantasy production machine. Last year, he was far and away the most valuable fantasy asset behind the dish, though with 35 games at first base last year, he’ll be eligible there in 2015 in plenty of formats as well. Let’s review the reasons why Posey is excellent: since that awful leg injury in 2011, he’s averaged 147 games, making the all-star team twice and capturing an MVP award. He can be counted on for at least 20 home runs, at least a .300 average, as well as plenty of runs and RBIs. Sure, the likes of Yan Gomes, Devin Mesoraco and Jonathan Lucroy could outdo him in a few departments, but part of Posey’s price tag is the consistency and all-around production, and for that, he’s worth a pick as the top catcher in all formats. Brandon Belt / 27 / first base It’s become silly to talk about Belt as a potential breakout guy, because, well, we’ve heard this song before. But this being March, that time of year when baseball hope, er, springs eternal, we might as well be optimistic. First things first: Belt’s 2014 was a disaster, but it wasn’t really his fault. He dealt with a broken thumb in May and then, in a nominee for the Freak Injury Hall of Fame, a concussion when he was struck by a ball in the face during batting practice. Forget the disappointing final line, however: when he got hurt in early May, he was slashing .264/.317/.504 with nine home runs, and the arguments for him entering last year — the spike in his 2013 home run output compared to the year before, ditto for his ISO and batted ball distance — remain just as valid. For a guy with so much talent who won’t turn 27 until late April and who has a chance to bat third for the Giants, it’s almost criminal for him to be valued 28th among first basemen. Joe Panik / 24 / second base Panik emerged late last year as a credible middle infield option in deeper mixed leagues, finishing with a .305 average in 73 games. There’s nothing in his minor league track record to suggest that a power breakout or a surge in stolen bases is on the way, but the average, backed by a solid contact rate, low strikeout percentage and plenty of line drives, should hold up. Perhaps the best reason to invest in Panik, however, is his likely role as the team’s No. 2 hitter; he began hitting in that spot at the end of August and never let go, hitting .303 and serving at the top of the order throughout the team’s World Series run. Assuming his ability to draw walks picks up to the pace he showed in the minors, Panik should have plenty of opportunities to score runs in the Giants lineup. He might not be an ideal keystone option in standard leagues, but Panik does enough well to have use outside of just NL-only formats. Brandon Crawford / 28 / shortstop For a guy who put up just a .246 average, Crawford was plenty productive for fantasy owners last year, finishing 13th in Zach Sanders’ rankings and earning positive auction value. Part of the reason was his pop: he was one of only 10 shortstops to bash 10 or more homers, and his 69 RBIs ranked fifth among qualifiers at the position. How legit is the home run power? Crawford has increased his dingers each season since breaking into the majors in 2011, and his average batted ball distance of 278.2 feet last year suggests that, if anything, he was cheated on his 6.5% HR/FB rate, which actually declined from 2013. On the downside, the strikeouts are too high (his 12.2% whiff rate is especially concerning), so a good batting average likely isn’t on the horizon, and he’ll likely hit at the bottom of the Giants’ order. But he walks enough to keep his OBP respectably afloat, and if he can maintain the power, he could be a starting option in 14-team mixed leagues. Casey McGehee / 32 / third base McGehee snagged the NL Comeback Player of the Year award after returning from a year-long hiatus in Japan, but that won’t earn him any extra love from fantasy owners on draft day. His .287/.355/.357 slash line translated to just a 102 wRC+, and he was just the fourth player since 1950 to notch 76 RBIs while smacking less than five homers. The RBIs were mostly the byproduct of him hitting cleanup (behind Giancarlo Stanton, no less) and a .358 BABIP with runners in scoring position, two events that he’s unlikely to see happen again in 2015. A slight bounce in his HR/FB rate would give him a few more home runs, though we’re talking about a guy who posted a GB% north of 50% for his third straight MLB season, and he hasn’t reached double digits in long balls since 2011. With neither Steamer, ZiPS or the fans forecasting McGehee to produce league average offense or a batting average above .264, he’s best left for deeper mixed leagues as a corner infielder. *** • Travis Ishikawa might not ever have to open his wallet at a Bay Area-bar ever again thanks to his 2014 postseason heroics, but he’s not a lock to have a job on the 2015 Giants. His cause is helped by the fact he can play left field and has a career .735 OPS against right-handers, but the 31-year-old doesn’t hit for a high average and owns a career .138 ISO. • Adam Duvall mashed in the minors, but he was overmatched against big league pitching in 77 plate appearances last year, though he did smack three homers. Out of the gate, he doesn’t seem to have a place in the starting lineup for the Giants — and he’s a 26-year-old prospect — though it’s worth mentioning that he did play a great deal of third base in the minors, and if McGehee were to falter, Duvall would become an intriguing potential source of power at the hot corner were he to earn some playing time. • Middle infielder Ehire Adrianza is a slick fielder but also the owner of a .249 minor league career batting average. His glove aside, the fact that he’s out of minor league options could help his case in making the team, and although he won’t help fantasy owners with the bat were he to fall into a starting gig, he flashed some stolen base ability down on the farm.