Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Callup Profile: Darren Ford, Outfielder

With Andres Torres hitting the DL on April 10th, the Giants called up Darren Ford, the speedy outfielder who spent the last season in the Eastern League with Richmond and started off the year in the Pacific Coast League with Fresno. Ford had gotten off to a good start with the Grizzlies, as he was batting .323 with a .848 OPS in 33 plate appearances to start off the year. Additionally, he had scored six runs, had two doubles, a home run and seven stolen bases on seven attempts in his seven game start in Triple-A, so it's safe to say he was deserving of the callup.

In all reality though, Ford is mostly likely due for a cup of coffee callup with the Giants until Torres returns off the Disabled List. Though Ford offers a nice speed skill set for the Giants and can cover some ground in the outfield (he had a 2.44 RF/G last year with the Flying Squirrels), the Giants outfield is crowded already with Aaron Rowand, Nate Schierholtz, Pat Burrell, Mark Derosa and Cody Ross (who was just activated off the DL today with Brandon Belt being optioned to Fresno...more on this later). Furthermore, Ford probably needs a year of Triple-A under his belt before he can get some serious consideration for playing time in the Giants outfield. After a solid season in San Jose in 2009 where he hit .300, posted an .843 OPS and stole 35 bases (albeit he was old for the level at 23), he kind of cooled off in the Eastern League, as his average and OPS fell to .251 and .680, respectively. While he still showcased some base-stealing ability (he swiped 37 bases), Ford really wasn't considered a factor for the 25-man roster going into Spring Training this year.

  • Ford can steal bases, though he probably could be more efficient at it (he was caught stealing 27 times in 2009 and 2010). With Torres really the only base stealing threat, Ford offers a much-needed skill set to this Giants roster.
  • Ford showcases decent plate patience. From 2007-2009, he posted walker percentages over 10 at every level he played at and in Richmond, his walk percentage was 7.6 percent. While his BB/K ratio dipped a bit (0.37) from his impressive 2009 (0.51), Ford always has shown a decent difference between his batting average and OBP at every level he's played at.
  • With outfielders like Burrell and perhaps Huff (though he's probably going back to first when Brandon Belt eventually gets sent down to Fresno), there is definitely a need on the corners to cover ground, especially when Torres isn't in the lineup. While he's not on Torres' level, Ford has earned good reports as a solid outfielder who can cover ground at any outfield position. Considering AT&T's dimensions, his defensive ability and athleticism is definitely a plus.

  • While his walk numbers have been solid, he does strike out a lot for a leadoff guy. He struck out a 106 times in 2010 and 97 times in 2009. In 2008, in a combined stint in San Jose and Brevard County (he was in the Brewers' system before he was acquired by the Giants in the Ray Durham deal), he whiffed a 130 times. Yes, Ford is patient at the plate, but he needs to neutralize his strikeouts a bit, especially considering how his walk percentage dipped in the jump from A-plus ball to Double-A.
  • Much like any leadoff hitter, Ford doesn't showcase much power. However, he doesn't get many extra base hits either, as his slugging percentage has only been over .400 once at any level he's played at in the minors (that was in 2009 when he slugged .465 in a hitter's park in San Jose). While his slap-hitting style isn't necessarily a bad thing, with his speed set, you wish he could total more bags with his hits.

Outlook for 2011

Ford is still a raw talent in the Fred Lewis-mold (And I liked Lewis). He has a lot of athleticism, but he doesn't exactly have a lot of power and his athleticism seems to carry him to success more often than not. That may work at lower levels such as A-ball, but when you get to higher levels of play, that doesn't seem to work quite as often. While his campaign in Richmond was a bit disappointing considering how well he hit in San Jose, it wasn't surprising or all that discouraging considering the jump to Double-A (and the Eastern League) has always been unkind to hitters (case in point, his BABIP dipped to .314 after he had a .379 BABIP in San Jose the year before).

Ford's ceiling as a prospect may not be very high, and not just this year (I don't expect him to play very much unless Torres' injury really persists), but in the long-run as well (but that's understandable considering he was an 18th round pick). That being said, considering speed is definitely a need for this Giants roster, Ford could be an interesting prospect who could make a run for some playing time in the outfield in the future, especially when the roster clears up after Ross, Burrell, Rowand and Derosa's contracts expire in the next couple of years.

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