Kelby Tomlinson’s Brightest Future Could Be as Super Utility Player


When the San Francisco Giants lost their All-Star second baseman Joe Panik to a back injury shortly after the All-Star break, there was a big void left. In just about a year’s time at the big league level, Panik quickly established himself as one of the best young hitters in the game, as well as a premier defensive second baseman. His replacement, Kelby Tomlinson, has done his best to replicate Panik’s production, and while he isn’t exactly Panik, he has proven himself to be a very good young ballplayer.

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Tomlinson forced his way into the lineup soon after his initial call-up in early August, becoming the everyday second baseman in Panik’s stead. But with Panik’s return very near on the horizon, that leaves Tomlinson’s role in a state of flux.

Panik began a rehab assignment with the Sacramento River Cats on Thursday, and after the game, reported that he was “definitely happy” with how his back felt, even after making a gorgeous sliding barehanded play in the field. If that remains the case over the next few days, Panik is expected to be activated on Monday before the Giants’ series in Arizona, and take back his rightful place at second base.

As Tomlinson moves forward, not just through the rest of this season, but into 2016 as well, his best path may be as a utility player for the Giants. For the rest of this year, Tomlinson can play the role of backup infielder, as he can play second base, shortstop, and third base. But for next year, he may be able to expand his role ever further.

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Tomlinson has played the outfield just once in his professional career, when he took left field in the Arizona Fall League in 2014 for six innings, but he seems to have the tools to be able to play the outfield as well. He definitely has the speed to cover some ground in the outfield, and because he was drafted as a shortstop, he would likely have an arm strong enough to translate to at least being suitable as an outfielder.

Baseball’s best current version of the super utility player is Ben Zobrist. Since his early days with the Tampa Bay Rays, Zobrist has continually proven himself to be a wildly valuable player. Not only can he hit, but he can comfortably play every position in the infield and outfield.

In the offseason, the Oakland Athletics traded for Zobrist with the idea of making him their everyday second baseman. However, injuries to outfielders changed those plans early in the season, as Zobrist played a lot of left field through the first couple of months this year.

When the Athletics fell out of contention, they dealt Zobrist to the Kansas City Royals near the trade deadline for a fairly hefty profit in a pair of highly-regarded pitching prospects, Sean Manaea and Aaron Brooks. Even in departure, he was extremely valuable to the Athletics.

In his short time in the big leagues, Tomlinson has shown the kind of bat that would be a welcome addition to a team, whether as a starter or a pinch-hitter off the bench. Before his callup, between Double-A and Triple-A, Tomlinson hit .321, drove in 43 runs, scored 64 times, and stole 21 bags. He hasn’t cooled off much in the big leagues, as he’s hitting .315 with two doubles, two triples, a grand slam, and 13 total RBI in 27 games.

The upcoming offseason could be a big one for Tomlinson. If he, and the team, decides that it would be beneficial for Tomlinson to start working as an outfielder, it could be a big step for Tomlinson. Having one player who is able to play six or seven positions allows a team to keep a more flexible bench, and when they are good hitters, it makes it a little easier to give everyday players a rest every now and again.

Tomlinson has earned his spot on the Giants’ roster thus far, but in the future, he could secure an even larger role as one of the league’s top super utility players.

Next: A Tribute to Tim Lincecum