San Francisco Giants’ Homegrown Infield Set to Break Out in 2016

With improved starting pitching and more speed and depth in the outfield, the San Francisco Giants sure look set to re-create some of that even-year magic this season.

The Giants’ lineup and their starting pitching rotation this season seem much more formidable than last season, but one specific part of their team could end up being even more intriguing than some of their offseason additions (including Jeff Samardzija, Johnny Cueto, and Denard Span).

The Giants, potentially more so than any other team in MLB, have done a fantastic job at growing their team and finding success behind homegrown talent. They have also signed key free agents that not only address certain needs on the field but also seamlessly fit into the clubhouse and the organization because of their high character and work ethic.

The Giants can boast the fact that they have a 100 percent homegrown infield of Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, and Matt Duffy. All four of these players were drafted by the Giants, have come up through their system, and played their way into the starting lineup.

In addition, all four of these players are young, have a lot of potential, and all could have breakout seasons in 2016. Let’s start off by discussing Crawford.

Crawford had arguably the best offseason of his life. He won his first Gold Glove Award, he won a Silver Slugger Award, he signed a six-year, $75 million contract extension, and he and his wife welcomed a baby boy into their family. He is also coming off one of the best years in his career.

In 2015, he hit .256 with 21 home runs, 84 RBI, and he posted a .321 on-base percentage and a .462 slugging percentage in 143 games. He was named an All-Star for the first time in his career, and he was one of the Giants’ biggest offensive threats last season. This was a big accomplishment for him, given the fact that he’s always been labeled as purely a defensive shortstop.

Given all of this, Crawford could certainly have another breakout season in 2016 behind even more confidence, experience, and a deeper lineup.

Crawford’s double play mate, Panik, also enters 2016 with high hopes of having another breakout season. The great news for Giants fans is that he is finally 100 percent healthy after missing almost all of the second half of the 2015 season with a back injury.

Before injuring his back though, Panik was set to have a breakout season in 2015. Just like his fellow middle infielder, Crawford, Panik was named a 2015 All-Star, which was also the first All-Star selection of his career. Overall for the 2015 season, he hit .312 with eight home runs, 37 RBI, and he finished with a .378 on-base percentage and .455 slugging percentage.

Panik is already such a talented hitter, because he can impact a game offensively in so many ways. He can hit for average, he can hit to all parts of the field, he has a good two-strike approach, he works the pitch count, and he even has a little pop in his bat. Defensively, he’s just as talented too, as he could’ve won a Gold Glove Award if he had stayed healthy.

If Panik can stay healthy, look for him to have yet another breakout season.

Duffy is actually fairly similar to Panik offensively, based on the fact that he’s incredibly versatile and contributes to the offense in many ways. Last season, Duffy often hit right behind Panik in the number three slot in the Giants’ lineup (a spot usually reserved for a team’s best overall hitter), which was a big feat considering the fact that not many people predicted he would become the Giants’ everyday third baseman last season. In fact, not many people even knew who he was before 2014.

After being drafted in the 18th round in 2012 by the Giants, Duffy made his way onto the Giants’ roster in 2014 but received limited opportunities to prove himself. When he did get a chance though, he took advantage.

san francisco giants

Aug 16, 2015; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants third baseman Matt Duffy (5) and first baseman Brandon Belt (9) high five after the win against the Washington Nationals at AT&T Park. The San Francisco Giants defeated the Washington Nationals 5-0. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

He proved to be a valuable pinch hitter for the Giants, he showed off his base-running skills as a pinch runner, and he came into every game with the right approach. He tried to learn as much as he could from the veterans, he didn’t put too much pressure on himself, he approached each at-bat calmly and confidently, and he didn’t try to do too much in his opportunities.

Fast forward to 2015, and Duffy took over the starting third baseman duties once Casey McGehee fell out of the lineup after struggling mightily to begin the season. Overall in 2015, Duffy hit .295 with 12 home runs and 77 RBI with a .334 on-base percentage and a .428 slugging percentage.

Heading into 2016, Duffy is a key part of the Giants’ lineup and future, and he could quite possibly continue to be their number-three hitter. Because of his hard work during the offseason and the confidence that he built up last season, Duffy could also have another breakout season.

Lastly, Belt, even though he’s a five-year veteran for the Giants, could also have a “breakout” season for the Giants in 2016. Giants fans have been waiting a few seasons for Belt to fully break out, but he hasn’t quite reached his potential yet.

It’s hard to explain exactly why Belt hasn’t become the powerful middle-of-the-order beast that everyone expected him to become. He has either faced injuries in a season, he’s had to deal with overcoming mechanical adjustments to his swing, etc. He has had several solid seasons for the Giants over the years, including 2015, but there’s still this feeling that he hasn’t reached his ceiling yet.

In 2015, he hit .280 with 18 home runs and 68 RBI with a .356 on-base percentage and a .478 slugging percentage. These are solid statistics, but he could improve at reducing his strikeouts and breaking out of slumps more quickly.

Belt is certainly a streaky hitter so if he can become a little more consistent, he would come much closer to reaching his potential and truly breaking out. He is an elite first baseman defensively, so his focus should remain on maintaining a consistent approach at the plate. Perhaps 2016 is the year that Belt puts it all together and becomes even more of a threat than he already is.

The Giants enter the 2016 season with high expectations. They have a loaded roster with improved starting pitching and depth, especially in the outfield. The Giants also now have an elite infield that is completely homegrown and is becoming one of the top infields in all of baseball, offensively and defensively. The Giants’ infield will be one of their biggest weapons in 2016, and the infield could lead them to yet another deep postseason run.