Spring Battles: Bullpen (Frontrunners)

*As I type this, Adam Duvall just homered to deep left-center. Dave Flemming just estimated Duvall’s shot at 440 feet. Seriously, this kid might turn some serious heads this spring… and I wouldn’t mind it a bit if he did.

Here’s post #2 of the bullpen battle, and the guys who are (in my estimation) most likely to win the remaining two roster spots this spring. Hopefully you’ll find this list a little more appealing, although I’ll admit it’d be very nice to add a veteran guy like Joel Hanrahan to this group. Hey, if these guys don’t perform in the next month or so, you never know what might happen. The same can be said for many spots on the roster.

This is also the final post in the “Spring Battles” series. We looked at 29 players in total. It’s very likely that some combination of those 29 will fill out the final 5 spots on the Giants Opening Day squad. Maybe you learned something about a new player from this series, maybe you didn’t. But hopefully we at least now have an idea of the guys who are really battling this spring, as well as some potential sleepers out there. I think we’ve also profiled nearly every “non-established” player in camp, from the minor league kids to the veteran free agents.

Let the battles begin.

Jean Machi | Age 32

MLB: 59.2 IP, 2.87 ERA, 1.106 Whip, 4.23 K/BB

MiLB: 624.2 IP, 90 Sv, 3.76 ERA, 1.394 Whip, 1.89 K/BB

Outlook: He’s not flashy or overly athletic, but Machi has worked his butt off to get to the bigs at 30. He threw one of the harder fastballs on the staff last year, and should have a pretty good shot at a job if he has his stuff working this spring.

Odds: 75%

Heath Hembree | Age 25

MLB: 7.2 IP, 0.0 ERA, 0.783 Whip, 6.0 K/BB

MiLB: 162.2 IP, 87 Sv, 3.15 ERA, 1.168 Whip, 3.32 K/BB

Outlook: The kid finally got his shot in September, and never gave up a run. The slider looked good, but the velocity was a little cool. Hopefully he brings the heater (and the control) to camp. If he does, he’s prime for a full-time spot in the Show.

Odds: 65%

George Kontos | Age 28

MLB: 105 IP, 3.51 ERA, 1.248 Whip, 2.94 K/BB

MiLB: 585 IP, 7 Sv, 3.28 ERA, 1.197 Whip, 3.10 K/BB

Outlook: Didn’t really show up in 2013 after an impressive showing in 2012. Relief pitchers come and go on a regular basis, and it’s up to Kontos to prove he still belongs in a MLB pen. How does he do that? Well, lefties hit .330 off him last year, so ironing that out should be a focal point this year.

Odds: 55%

Jake Dunning | Age 25

MLB: 25.1 IP, 2.84 ERA, 1.224 Whip, 1.45 K/BB

MiLB: 230 IP, 13 Sv, 3.60 ERA, 1.339 Whip, 3.13 K/BB

Outlook: Did you know Dunning was a 33rd round pick? I actually had no idea he was drafted so far down. Got the call over Hembree mid-season and pitched well, although he didn’t light the world on fire. He’s not overpowering, but has shown he can be a steady option out of the pen. Can he steal the attention away from the flamethrowers this spring? I guess we’ll find out.

Odds: 45%

Derek Law | Age 23

MLB: None

MiLB: 140 IP, 20 Sv, 2.57 ERA, 1.064 Whip, 5.08 K/BB

Outlook: The Giants surprise bullpen arm of the season, Law could have a bright MLB future ahead of him. Of all the players in camp, he’s in the top 3 most intriguing category for me. I cannot wait to see how he fares this spring, and it sounds like there’s an outside chance he even earns a spot on the 25-man if all goes well. I’ll admit that I’d like for him to get a bit more experience against upper level competition (AA or AAA) before he’s thrown to the wolves. Unless he blows the door down in Scottsdale, I think he’s headed to Fresno for some more seasoning.

Odds: 40%


13 thoughts on “Spring Battles: Bullpen (Frontrunners)”

    1. Well, I don’t think I was trying to imply any major concern, but he certainly wasn’t heating up the gun in September like he was previously known for. The hardest I remember was 94, where I was expecting it to be more 95-98. I will say though, he was very effective with the lower velocity, and Krukow was on KNBR this morning talking about not needing to reach back with every single pitch. If he can get outs, that’s what really matters. But at some point, I guess I’d like to know he still has the ability to throw that 98 mph fastball by a hitter if he needs to. Just something to keep an eye on, not necessarily a concern.

      1. I caught the tail end of the KNBR interview with Hembree. Hembree feels good about his fastball and slider, and his changeup was coming along very well so far this spring. Krukow noted that if he can have three good pitches, he’ll be able to pitch to both lefties and righties equally.

        I think I recall a discussion somewhere about this and the feeling was that Hembree dialed back some of his velocity in order to have more command of his pitches, as he was walking way too many hitters. So I wouldn’t worry too much about the loss in velocity unless there is talk of injury, plus, 94 MPH is still pretty good when you got a great slider, which he already has. So I don’t think he needs his heater in order to win a spot, he just needs to pitch like he did in September.

    2. I would second the wish to see if he can rear back when he needs it, but I think the velocity, as long as its low 90s, is good and the location is what’s what. I’d also like to see more of his secondary stuff, which is what has held him back. He needs a 2nd and 3rd pitch, well definitely a 2nd pitch.

      1. He certainly showed good command last year, at both levels. And if I remember right, his ERA was weighted pretty significantly by two or three bad outings. Otherwise, he was basically lights out in Fresno. I have no beef with 92-94, but man, if you can elevate 97, then back it up with a low 90’s slider, you’re going places. That’s just my opinion.

      2. According to the KNBR commentary, he has a really good slider to go with his fastball now, and he says that the changeup is coming along faster than he thought it would, that he was pleased with the results so far, Shankbone. So, at least from the radio commentary, it sounds like he has a good slider now, at min.

        Well, yeah, being able to elevate to 97 while slinging a low 90 slider will get you places, of course. My opinion is that Hembree can also get to similar places with a low to mid 90 while supplementing with a good slider and changeup to lefties and righties.

        And being able to throw 97 with no command will get you nowhere in the majors. I’ll take 93-96 with command any day over 97 consistently all over the place.

  1. Would be interesting to know what he was hitting on the gun in today’s game, although I recognize it is very early in the S/T season.

  2. Nice rundown. I think it should be noted that there are two bullpen spots open.

    Frankly, I think Hembree has better odds than Machi for a spot. He is the front-runner as far as I’m concerned, it is his to lose, while the rest are battling for the last spot or if he falters (like Wilson did in his first shot at a 25-spot).

    The scuttlebutt that I recalled reading somewhere is that Kontos, like many of his teammates, didn’t prepare the best for the 2013 season, and that affected his performance. I think right now Hembree and Machi are above him on the ladder, and that he’ll have to have an excellent spring to battle for that last spot, or even convince the Giants to give Hembree more seasoning or to trade Machi. However, I fear that he’ll be good but not good enough, and he’ll be traded in spring for a prospect.

    I don’t give Dunning or Law much odds of making the roster. Something bad has to happen to Hembree, Machi, and Kontos for both to make the roster, two of three for either to make the roster. Plus the chance that one of top relievers are DLed. While possible, I don’t think all that is likely. Then both can be great backup risk mitigation in AAA during 2014 in case of injury or poor performance among the relievers. Both are young enough that they can stand a little more seasoning.

    However, if Law has another dominating performance, like his SJ or AFL, there is the chance the Giants decide that he should be on the 25-man, and then the dominoes will fall…

    1. I thought I noted that there were 2 mid-relief spots open, but maybe I didn’t. I’ll have to read through it again. I’m not sure if this will make sense, but I guess I listed the “odds” for each of these guys as a mutually exclusive event…. I looked at it like this: if Spring Training were played out 10 separate times, what would the player’s chances be of making the squad?

      Well, I’d place a guy like Dunning at about a 4-in-10 chance, as I think he does have decent stuff. He certainly wouldn’t make the team every year, but I don’t think any of the players on this list would be 10-for-10 locks. If they were all locks, I’d put them in the Romo/Lopez/etc. category, and I wouldn’t discuss their chances. Instead, I looked at each player individually and assessed his odds (based on his talent, not compared to any of the other competitors). Does that make sense? I’m sure it probably doesn’t, but that was my thought process.

      1. Well, I sometimes miss things too, even after reading it a few times. I see it now in the second paragraph… Sorry.

        OK, I see your point about the odds, you are just talking generally, talent-wise, whether the guy will make a team, based on just him alone, not in competition with anyone else. I was wondering about that before, as I noticed that they don’t add up to 100%, but decided to go with them as being relative measures, but didn’t realize that it was a non-competitive odds situation.

        I still think Hembree has better odds. We know the Giants like velocity, and Hembree has it, even if it is not as high as it was before, and he’s young to boot, I have to think the Giants are concerned with the age of their bullpen now. Plus, he had a good 2014 season and topped it off with a stellar performance in his September call-up. He’s not a lock, per your point, but I think he wins a spot most years, and more overall than Machi would, who is older, long-time minor leaguer, but who did have a good 2014 season.

        And frankly, if this is not a competition, I think Law would make the roster most seasons as well. The Giants are not shy about promoting pitchers to the majors with little to no upper level experience. His K/9 and K/BB were stellar, the MLEs for them must still be great, even down so low. If there were no competition, and he continues pitching the way he seems capable, I don’t see how he don’t win a spot out of spring training most seasons.

        But it is a competition and the reality is that the team also has reasons to keep young guys down that has nothing to do with competition or skill. So that’s why I don’t think Dunning or Law has much realistic chances of making the roster.

  3. So glad you didn’t back off from making the “cool” comment about Hembree’s stuff last season. I too was expecting to see him reach back and at least hit 95-96. I saw mostly 92-93, but I also thought of George Kontos hitting 92-93 on the gun. It would be nice to know that he can command the heat with movement. Looking back on Brian Wilson though, it seemed he was more effective working movement both directions 90-93.

    As I was following the game today, I was wondering who the heck is Raf Gutierrez and Rafael Dolis. But you already knew ! You got it going on here, brother. Great observations. And you have stalwart commenters in DocB, shank, OCG, Ricard in BFE Canada, et al. Keep up the great work.

    1. The Murderer’s Row of Giants minds, as I like to say. I don’t think I want any part of Gutierrez, but Dolis brings some major heat. As for Hembree, yes, I want to see the gas. Maybe he’ll work himself into a comfort level with 94-96, but 92-93 doesn’t really distinguish him from a lot of other guys. Maybe that sounds naive, but the big fastball (coupled with that developing slider) will make him a closer down the road.

      Thanks for the compliments. Nice power from Duvall and skinny Adrianza today. And those catches from Reddick, my goodness… Morse still might break a spring record for big flies… Which doesn’t mean anything, but would still be pretty sweet!

    2. Hey, I would love to see a fireballer come in and take no prisoners, but we all know the history of these fireballers in our farm system who make it up to AAA but could never figure out how not to walk a million guys.

      Hembree has figured out how to dial it back some so that he has excellent control to go with his advanced velocity, which is still pretty good. And as we see all around, there are a lot of pitchers who can pitch effectively without advanced velocity. In any case, according to one prospect book I read, he worked in the 93-96 MPH range, so that’s still pretty decent. I would cut him some breaks too, he had never pitched before in September, so he might have had some dead arm going. And even though many are pumped up and start overthrowing when called up, he did great.

      I would worry as you all do if the reduced velocity came with talk of injury or poor conditioning. I’ve seen neither.

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