Here is a look at Nate Schierholtz, expected to be the leading contender in right field for the Giants.
Not a Rookie: Nate Schierholtz
Nate Schierholtz was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the second round in 2003, out of Chabot Junior College in California. He didn't receive much pre-draft publicity, but he was a local kid who grew up in the Bay Area, and the Giants were very high on his offensive potential. He hit .306/.382/.460 in 35 games for Salem-Keizer in the Northwest League after signing, with a 12/15 BB/K ratio in 124 at-bats. The Giants felt he would hit for power and average, although there were doubts about his ability to stick at third base. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2004 book.
Schierholtz began 2004 with Class A Hagerstown in the Sally League, hitting .296/.353/.584 in 58 games, with an 18/52 BB/K ratio in 233 at-bats. Promoted to San Jose in the California League at mid-season, he hit .295/.338/.469 with a 15/41 BB/K in 62 games. He didn't strike out a lot, but his command of the strike zone was shaky and led to a low walk rate, granted his overall production was solid. His defense at third remained questionable and he converted to the outfield at mid-season. I gave him a Grade B in the 2005 book, though I was worried that the low walk rate would hurt him.
Assigned back to San Jose for '05, Schierholtz hit .319/.363/.514 in 128 games. He hit 37 doubles and 15 homers, but his strikeout rate (previously low for a guy with power) spiked sharply, with 132 whiffs in 502 at-bats, more than once per game. Scouts continued to praise his bat speed but were worried about his strike zone judgment. He converted to the outfield full time, so the defensive question was now answered. I kept him at a Grade B in the '06 book, though I noted that success in Double-A was not guaranteed due to the remaining plate discipline issue.
Sent to Double-A Connecticut for 2006, Schierholtz hit .268/.324/.438 with 14 homers. He got the strikeouts down, fanning 81 times in 470 at-bats, but his walk rate remained low with 27 free passes. The environment wasn't especially conducive to good hitting, at least compared to the California League, and his numbers were better than they looked on the surface, though the low walks remained worrisome for me. I dipped his rating slightly to a Grade C+.
Moved up to Triple-A Fresno, Schierholtz hit .333/.365/.560 in 109 games, then .304/.316/.402 in 39 games for the Giants. He boosted his production from +9 percent OPS in '06 to +16 percent OPS in '07, and scouts felt he was starting to tap into his power more. He fanned just 58 times in 411 at-bats, but his walk rate remained very low with 17 BBs, and just two in his major league time. I raised his grade a notch to B- in the '08 book.
I wrote "he looks like a 15-homer guy to me. . .his major league batting average should be somewhere in the .270-.280 range, closer to .300 in his prime seasons. . .the problem here is that a .275, 15-homer hitter needs to have a high on-base percentage in order to be genuinely productive, and Schierholtz doesn't draw enough walks to guarantee that. If he can hit .300+ he'll be a fine player for a long time. If he settles into the lower end of the range, he will be merely mediocre. . .hell it could go both ways, given that you can swing 30 points of batting average by just pure luck, good or bad, from season to season."
Schierholtz spent most of 2008 in Triple-A (hitting .320/.363/.594) but got into enough major league games (75 at-bats) to blow past rookie eligibility and not make the '09 book. He spent most of '09 in the majors, hitting .267/.302/.400 in 285 at-bats. His career major league numbers are now .284/.316/.415 in 472 at-bats.
What does the future hold?
His defense has turned into a positive; he's a very strong right fielder, at least according to UZR. His production has been hampered by his home park (.677 OPS in San Francisco last year, .720 on the road), but even a .720 OPS isn't what you want from a regular corner outfielder. He actually handled lefties (1.026 OPS in 58 PA) much better than right-handers (.626 OPS in 250 PA) last year, though I'd like to see a larger sample size on that. He turned 26 this week, so he's entering his prime seasons right now. I expect we will see his power production improve over the next year or two, at least slightly.
But overall, basically my diagnosis of Schierholtz remains the same as it was a couple of years ago: he's got an interesting bat, but is handicapped by his low walk rate. I think, barring some sort of dramatic boost in his OBP, he'll have seasons where he's an above average player, and he'll have seasons where he's just mediocre, and he'll have seasons where he is significantly below average.