Gregor Blanco Has Earned His Spot In Center Field


Gregor Blanco has certainly changed some things in the Bay Area. We never would have thought the day would arrive, when center field and Angel Pagan were being discussed in a negative way.

Center field had not been flashy, or all that solid really, since the greatest center fielder in history — Willie Mays — wore the orange and black.

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Fred Lewis was a waste whose potential never fit the mold, and Andres Torres was wishy-washy at best. Solidifying center field was difficult to achieve after Kenny Lofton held down the position during a missed chance of a World Series in 2002.

After 2007, the San Francisco Giants dealt with mediocrity in center field — and with their outfield in general. Randy Winn and Steve Finley were interesting fits, but they were players who performed relatively well without ever being anything close to spectacular.

Giants fans know that center field was a hot mess until two guys joined SanFrancisco in 2012 — Pagan and Blanco.

In 2012, the Giants brought them both into the fold in two different acquisitions. The New York Mets sent Pagan over to San Francisco in a trade before the 2012 season, and Blanco earned his spot — in Spring Training.

San Francisco Giants
San Francisco Giants /

San Francisco Giants

In 2012, the Giants went on to bring their second World Championship in three years home, and Pagan was a key component of that title win, putting up MVP-like numbers. While that postseason run certainly was certainly a highlight of his career — in terms of winning a World Championship and MVP caliber statistics — it essentially marked the beginning of the downfall for Pagan.

Playing with emphasis and emotion, every hit was always a chance to take a risk and stretch it another base — or just sliding into first base on singles. For all his hustle and daring, fans thought they were seeing the second coming of Pete Rose.

Going that extra mile though, has led to wear and tear on his body — to the point that Pagan has landed on the 15-day DL for knee tendinitis and may find himself jumped for the starting role because of it.

While Pagan has been a fan favorite — and the heart and soul of this team — for a little while now, the heart part of that role has been passed on to Hunter Pence. In 2014 after season ending injuries to Matt Cain and Pagan, Pence stepped up to motivate the boys in orange and black. They played in a way that showed the lineup never seemed to have lost a beat.

Battling to make a team in years past, Blanco found himself in the Giants organization on a minor league deal. Nothing was promised to him and Spring Training was his audition. Putting up numbers, Blanco wowed the team during their time in Arizona and he found himself locked in as San Francisco’s fourth outfielder. He’s held that role since and Blanco’s development has been capped because of it, as Bochy prefers to play his veterans.

Aug 14, 2015; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants left fielder Gregor Blanco (7) high fives catcher Buster Posey (28) after scoring against the Washington Nationals during the sixth inning at AT&T Park. The San Francisco Giants defeated the Washington Nationals 8-5. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Stepping in for the injured Pagan in 2014 though, Blanco took the lead off duties and provided run-saving defense. Proving he could man the job, Blanco was making it harder for Bochy to get him playing time in the outfield.

Michael Morse was a cheap power source that earned his paycheck in free agency this past offseason. Morse was there for his bat, and Blanco or Juan Perez would come in to relieve Morse for their defense.

He labored in Pagan’s shadow, but he has finally stepped into the light on his own and Blanco is proving that he should be the every day starter in center.

Given that both arrived in 2012, fans have enjoyed the ride of seeing them both contribute to the team, whether it’s providing top ten plays or saving no hitters — not to mention a perfect game. The fact that they’ve both contributed so much to the team’s success, it is hard to shove one of them out the door

Known for loyalty and trusting his players to get themselves out of a funk, Bochy waited too long this season, waiting to pull the plug on Pagan who surely needed to go on the DL. Battling a back injury last season and knee problems this year, the end of Pagan seems to be near.

Arguably having one of the worst defensive performances in MLB history, Pagan has been battling his health and it has shown. Career lows in batting average and defensive runs saved, it is hard to trust the veteran to rediscover what he once had. But it is unfair of Giants’ fans to expect that form to return in the 34 year old.

Blanco’s journey has been quite remarkable. He has showed patience and discipline as he has battled Spring Training and the seemingly constant roster hopping. He has also endured the long-anticipated wait to be an everyday outfielder with class and professionalism.

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  • Watching Pagan hold up rather than charge in on a challenging play or seeing him grimace at the plate when batting, it seems clear that injuries may finally be his undoing. In 2013, it was a torn hamstring suffered while running the bases for a walk-off inside the park home run. It was his back injury in 2014. And in 2015, the knee tendinitis.

    Now that Pagan is no longer fit to play every day, Blanco is experiencing a career year, as he added to his totals in a recent  big win over the Washington Nationals. Blanco was responsible for three hits — two of them being doubles — a bunt single, and a key stolen base. Not to mention the defensive diving grab of a hit to shallow center field.

    After a tumultuous end to a ten game road trip, the Giants needed some sort of spark and Blanco showed that he just might be the guy that can give them that.

    Pagan is not a lost cause, but he certainly has earned himself a spot on the bench and time to rest those troubled knees. The outfield has been efficient after returning from the road trip, and Blanco has gotten that team going. His presence on defense and his base running abilities at the top of the order will create more opportunities for the Giants rather than relying on the team trading for another asset.

    When Pagan is eligible to return from the DL, it will be interesting to see how Bochy responds to the news and how he will get the air flowing back into the lineup.

    At this point, of the two center fielders, Blanco offers the Giants the best chance of getting into the postseason and enhancing lineup — with Pagan watching from the dugout in his hoodie.

    Will Pagan finish his career in San Francisco? No clue, as nothing has been hinted at just yet. But 2015 is his last under contract to the organization. They have the tough decision of letting him walk in the offseason or bringing in younger guys via a trade or from the farm system.

    At the end of the season — whenever that end may be — it may mark the end of the reign of an Angel in the the outfield, and begin the era of the White Shark in center.

    Next: Madison Bumgarner Did What Aces Do