Part 1 of 4
Hey, Cactus League games are finally here! Is there anything sweeter than that? If you’re like me, you might have forgotten the Giants stream free webcasts for most of their spring games live on SFGiants.com. MLB probably isn’t very happy they do that, but you know what? Good for the organization’s media team for thinking of the fans. What a concept, right?!
Now that we’ve gotten the prospects and projections out of the way, it’s time for the third “P” of spring, the previews. I haven’t written on many MLB-Giants related topics lately, so let’s take a position-by-position look at the players you’ll be seeing, hearing, and reading about in camp this spring. I’ll do my best to comment on as many of them as possible here, but it may just be a quick blurb for the prospects whose chances of making the team are very slim.
Do I need to mention Buster Posey here? One of the most important goals for the coaching staff this spring is getting Posey in tune with Samardzija and Cueto, so you can bet Buster will be out there every time either of those two is on the hill. Otherwise, the focus here will be finding a competent backup for the face of the franchise.
Is Andrew Susac the favorite to win that coveted roster spot? He’s easily the most offensive-oriented of anybody fighting for the job, but that’s not necessarily what makes a valuable reserve catcher. I still believe he can be a game-changer with his bat, but anybody who’s been following Susac since his amateur days knows injuries have played a major role in his career. He’ll have to prove he can stay healthy this spring.
Trevor Brown made the MLB club out of necessity (and emergency) last September, and he’s done nothing but impress people with his glovework, rapport, and even his ability to put bat to ball. There’s been a lot of talk about both young backstops getting some time at 1B this spring, and we already saw it in the opener with Brown (who went 2-2 at the dish).
Brown and Susac are the only other catchers on the 40-man roster, so they’re the odds-on favorites to win the job from my vantage point. It would likely take a very good spring from veteran George Kottaras – who I honestly don’t know much about aside from his 7 seasons of off-and-on MLB experience – to make the club out of camp. He’s got some pop, but spent all of 2015 in AAA. Will the Giants keep three backstops on the roster? I know there’s been talk of it, and I really think it’s an idea worth exploring… especially with the talk about Belt sitting against Kershaw.
Aramis Garcia, Ty Ross, and Matt Winn are the three prospects in camp, serving as added depth and catching bullpens at the facility. All three will likely see a handful of plate appearances. Garcia’s bat could make him a valuable commodity if his receiving skills develop, while Ross’ defensive rep may get him to the majors in a reserve role someday. Winn was drafted last year out of VMI, so getting the invite so soon is quite an honor. He too apparently has offensive pop and some savvy behind the plate.
The best homegrown infield in baseball is securely in place heading into spring. For all the talk and excitement of the big three atop the rotation, this group (plus Posey) is the real strength of the team. Not only are all four of Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik, and Matt Duffy above average hitters, but the foursome can absolutely pick it on the defensive side. If Panik is really over his back injury, it’s going to be a treat and a huge competitive advantage to have this group together again.
Again, the infield camp storylines revolve around depth. How many openings are there, and who steps up to earn them? I think Kelby Tomlinson is a lock, especially if he keeps playing like he did yesterday at shortstop. KT’s energy and versatility are a huge boon for this club, and could really help dictate what the opening day roster looks like.
I don’t feel the same about Ehire Adrianza, but that doesn’t mean he can’t earn a 25-man job himself. I just think he’s got a lot of heat on him from NRI’s at the moment, and his in-season look didn’t do him any favors last year. Hopefully his added weight this winter will help him offensively.
As for newcomers, the names I’ll be following in camp are Connor Gillaspie, Hak-Ju Lee, Ramiro Pena, and Grant Green. Gillaspie has some defensive short-comings, but he put a very nice swing on a ball yesterday, and the fact that he can play a few different positions should help his case. If I had to choose between Gillaspie and Adrianza for the 25th spot, I’d take the guy with the better bat.
Lee was once the #44 prospect in MLB, but nowadays he’s just trying to prove he can hit advanced pitching enough to earn a major league job. I think he’s ticketed for Sacramento, but I don’t see a big difference between Lee and Adrianza (as far as MLB skillsets goes – Adrianza hit pretty well in AAA last year) at the moment.
Pena has some MLB experience, though he spent all of 2015 in AAA. He handled the bat well in El Paso, and again in the Mexican Winter league (.302-6-25). He’s a name to watch, and definitely a sleeper candidate to earn a backup SS job out of camp.
Speaking of sleeper candidates, Green is one of the NRI’s I’m most excited about this year. He was a star for USC in the late 2000’s, then burst onto the minor league scene after the A’s drafted him in the 1st round. He crushes minor league pitching, but really hasn’t been able to establish himself above AAA. The Giants could really use an Inf/OF utility type, and Green is one of the few guys in camp with that skillset. If Muelens can help him figure his swing out, I can really envision an MLB role for him in 2016.
Kyle Blanks is another wildcard. I figured the Giants signed him to compete for a reserve OF spot, but they’ve got him listed as a 1B on the roster. What that means exactly, I don’t know. The projected roster doesn’t have a ton of RHH power, so Blanks could provide value if he’s healthy. That’s always been the catch for him though, so his status will be worth monitoring all spring.
Christian Arroyo, Ryder Jones, and Rando Moreno are the prospects hanging around in camp. I don’t think it matters how many veterans are fighting for spots, we are absolutely going to see a lot of Arroyo this year. Will he play SS, 2B, 3B, LF, RF? I really don’t know how much they’ll move him around this spring, but I believe he’ll step up no matter where they put him. He already looks locked in, and if he hits in AA, it’s not out of the question to see Arroyo in SF this summer… Bobby Evans said so himself.
Jones is a guy who has taken some heat in Giants prospect rankings, but the organization obviously still believes in his offensive potential. Moreno is a versatile middle infielder who’s made the back end of my top 50 twice in the past three seasons.