Giants find an outfielder in Lofton

By Jim Callis
July 28, 2002

Injuries have scuttled the Giants outfield, as Marvin Benard, Barry Bonds, Reggie Sanders and Tsuyoshi Shinjo all missed this weekend’s series against the Dodgers. Using Shawon Dunston, Tom Goodwin, Ramon Martinez and Tony Torcato in their stead, San Francisco lost two of those three games. Before their outfield situation could harm their playoff chances any further, the Giants acquired Kenny Lofton from the White Sox Sunday evening in exchange for minor league pitchers Felix Diaz and Ryan Meaux.

How much the 35-year-old Lofton has in his tank remains in question. After batting .261-14-66 with 16 steals (his lowest total as a big league regular) for the Indians in 2001, he signed a one-year free-agent contract with Chicago worth $1.025 million. He could have made another $1.75 million in incentives, but agreed to reduce that amount in order to join San Francisco. The White Sox also agreed to pick up part of whatever bonus money is due Lofton. The six-time all-star recaptured some of his past form in April, hitting .343 with 13 steals in 25 games, but has batted just .225 since, dropping his season totals to .259-8-42 with 22 steals in 93 contests. Lofton has won four Gold Gloves, but he doesn’t cover as much ground as he once did and a 1999 shoulder injury has sapped his throwing arm. His .348 on-base percentage will be an upgrade in the leadoff spot for the Giants, whose No. 1 hitters rank 12th in the National League with a .317 OBP. In 1,459 big league games, Lofton has batted .299-100-593 with 501 steals.

San Francisco has a wealth of talented starting pitching prospects, including righthanders Jesse Foppert, Boof Bonser, Kurt Ainsworth and Jerome Williams, so it could afford to part with Diaz. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 1998, Diaz ranked fifth on Baseball America’s Giants Top 10 Prospects list in the offseason. His age since has been revised upward a year from 21 to 22, but he remains a coveted prospect. A righthander, he works in the mid-90s with his fastball and also uses a hard slider, a plus changeup and a curveball. He has spent 2002 at Double-A Shreveport, where he has gone 3-5, 2.70 in 12 starts, with 58 strikeouts and just one homer permitted in 60 innings. Diaz missed seven weeks with an ankle injury.

Meaux, a 23-year-old lefty, signed as a 25th-round pick out of Lamar (Colo.) CC in 2001. He was cuffed around in his pro debut, posting a 5.59 ERA at short-season Salem-Keizer but blossomed into a low Class A South Atlantic League all-star in 2002. In 43 games at Hagerstown, he went 4-3, 2.68 with 16 saves. Opponents hit just .198 with one homer against him, and he fanned 41 in 54 innings. Meaux doesn’t have noteworthy velocity but gets good sink on his fastball, and his curveball is also effective.