Auerbach off to hot start, showing rare versatility


SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There are few things the Giants like more than a versatile position player. In fact, Farhan Zaidi reiterated that last week when discussing the free agents still available, most of whom have since signed elsewhere.

"We're interested in adding a bat," Zaidi said. "We obviously love versatility."

It's eyebrow-raising, then, when you see a Giant play multiple positions on the early days of camp. And it's downright fascinating when he gets into a game at catcher one night and then at second base the following afternoon. 

Brett Auerbach pulled that off in the first two spring games, showing off a skillset that has taken him from undrafted free agent to big league camp. Auerbach is already making an impression. 

"You dream about having a guy who maybe turns into a utility player, but who is a real catcher," manager Gabe Kapler said. "You can then have potentially three catchers on the roster at some point and have a guy who can really move around the diamond. Those roster pieces are so valuable."

Auerbach stands out on a baseball field for a lot of reasons, including the fact that he's officially listed at just 5-foot-9. He has power, hitting 17 homers across two levels last season, and also speed, with 30 successful swipes in 37 minor league attempts. The Giants saw both in the late innings of their spring opener on Friday, when Auerbach got a steady stream of breaking balls and then lined a slider into the gap in left. He cruised into third for an RBI triple. 

In the ninth inning Saturday, Auerbach took a low-and-outside sinker the other way, and when the ball rolled into the right field corner, he again cruised into third. A pitch later, he scored when a ball shot to the backstop.

Kapler likes the approach he's seeing, and also how Auerbach handled his first night behind the plate in a Cactus League game. 

"It's so interesting to watch how calm he was behind the plate," he said. "He's really got a way about him that is confident and smooth and graceful. It's easy. There's no panic there, so that was fun to watch."

It is not unusual for a recent draftee to catcher and play other positions. What makes Auerbach unique is the fact that he is legitimately a catcher, but he is equally comfortable at second base. He started 40 games at second last year, 23 behind the plate, seven in the outfield and six at third base. Giants coaches say Auerbach is a good defender behind the plate and rave about the work ethic he is showing while trying to master multiple positions. 

"I feel really good about where I'm at," Auerbach said after Saturday's game. "I'm trying to keep the ball rolling. Any time I get a chance to play in a big league spring training game, it's a dream come true."

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The Giants alternated games for most of their prospects this weekend, but Auerbach saw time in both, and Kapler said "we're going to try and see as much of him as possible," this spring. Auerbach hasn't played a game above A-ball yet, and Kapler pointed out that he needs a lot more reps, in part because the Giants need to see what he ultimately becomes.

They're intrigued, though. 

"I don't want to pigeonhole Auerbach into, 'He's just a guy who moves around,'" Kapler said. "He could very easily turn into a regular catcher. He could turn into a guy who plays the infield but just has catching in his back pocket. He's very athletic and very capable of doing a lot of different things. We'll see how his career develops before we make any determinations."

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