Sorting Out Second

Ok, so all is obviously not right in the world. The Giants were bound to come back to Earth a bit, and they have this week against the Nationals. Hey, those things happen over the span of 162 games. After losing the first 3 against Washington, you just hope that Hudson and the crew can snatch a victory this afternoon and carry some momentum into the weekend series against Colorado. The Rockies are reeling big time right now, and even with the best record in baseball, the Giants still can’t afford to get sloppy on this homestand.

Anyway, the hot topic of the week in Gigantes Land seems to be second base. Everyone wants to know what’s going on at the Keystone, and now that the boys have lost a few and looked a little listless, these people are pissed off. Brandon Hicks isn’t doing his job over there, and the team is suffering because of it… or something to that effect. Wanna know what I say? Give me a break! The hottest team in baseball loses a few games to a very good team (who apparently is even hotter at the moment), and the finger-pointing begins. Such is life in a “what have you done for me lately?” society. Still, I think the Giants second base situation is definitely worth taking a closer look into at this point. So let’s get to it.

First, let’s review what we’ve learned about the Giants and 2B in the first 2+ months of the season.

1) We probably shouldn’t expect to see Marco Scutaro on the field this year. Honestly, that’s a total bummer, and Scutaro’s situation is looking way too familiar at this point. Seriously, 2B has been an all-or-nothing position for the Giants in the past 5 years. Either these guys are leading World Series runs or they’re rehabbing injuries. There really doesn’t seem to be any middle ground.

2) Ehire Adrianza isn’t ready for a full-time gig. Truly, he may never have the bat to be an every day starter. The defense is great, but Ehire seems very expendable on this team right now. Obviously, the Giants still value him (as they should), but at some point they’ll have to make a decision on where he stands with the organization.

3) Brandon Hicks is the epitome of a “3 true outcomes” hitter. What does that mean? It means the majority of the dude’s plate appearances end in either a walk, a strikeout, or a home run. At the moment, he’s tied for third on the team with 8 HR, and he leads all Giants hitters in both strikeouts (65) and walks (28). He holds his own defensively at 2B (as most former SS usually do), but his batting average is becoming an eyesore. It’s down to .183, and has drug his slugging % down to .361. Most people would argue that those aren’t MLB-caliber numbers. Adam Dunn and Dan Uggla would tell you to keep your mouth shut if you know what’s good for you.

So, that’s what the season has taught us about 2B to this point. What about the rest of the year? Well, knowing what I do about the Giants, here are a few things I think are very likely going forward in 2014.

1) You should not expect to see Joe Panik called up from Fresno anytime soon.

“Average Joe,” as Shankbone often calls him, is having himself a nice season in the PCL. And I can guarantee you, the majority of the fanbase has one of two opinions. Either they think he’s ready to play and should be the starting 2B in San Francisco now, or that his AAA numbers are a complete mirage and he’ll be destroyed by MLB pitching. That always seems to be how the party lines are drawn with this fanbase, and I don’t see it any different with Panik.

Personally, I think I fall somewhere in the middle of this argument. Do I think Panik still has the potential to be a starting 2B in the bigs someday? Yes, I do, and unlike quite a few scouts and internet writers out there, I’ve felt that way all along. Joe’s bounceback season in Fresno has been quite impressive so far, and I think he’s a guy whose average will range somewhere between .270 and .300 in his prime as a major leaguer. For now, though, I think he needs to stay exactly where he’s at. He’s young for AAA, and he’s shown he can be a streaky hitter in the past. His .320+ average will certainly even out a bit as the summer wears on, and I think Fresno is a fine spot for him right now. On the technical side of things, he’s not on the 40-man roster, and Adrianza (the player Panik would likely replace on the roster) is out of options. The Giants are a 1st place club without any major weaknesses at the moment… why would they throw Adrianza away and bring Panik up to replace Hicks? My guess is they wouldn’t, unless an injury forced their hand. Panik should have every opportunity to win a 25-man spot next year. For now, though, he needs to keep hitting in Fresno.

2) Brian Sabean will be more than happy to swing a deal if something presents itself.

Let’s be honest: Hicks has provided the Giants with so much more offensive production this season than they ever could have dreamed of from Adrianza or Joaquin Arias. If you think otherwise, you’re dreaming. That being said, Hicks wasn’t even expected to make this team out of camp. He was a minor league signee who has come almost out of nowhere and provided a nice spark. But the league is starting to figure him out, and his numbers are starting to show it. If his average continues to fall as it has recently, I definitely think the Giants need to give someone else a shot. Hicks shouldn’t go anywhere, however. Ideally, his bat could be a real weapon off the bench, and I don’t think the organization has any plans of demoting him.

Back to the point at hand. If Hicks doesn’t see a major upswing in his production from now until the trade deadline, you’d have to think Sabean will look outside the organization for some help. And we all know there’s plenty of options out there. You’ve already heard a lot of names tossed around: Chase Utley, Daniel Murphy, Ben Zobrist, Gordon Beckham, maybe even Brandon Phillips. A lot of people are calling for Utley, but I really just don’t see a match there. The guy is injury prone, on the wrong side of 35, and the Phils owe him $25 MILLION next season. Yeah, that might be a little much to take on. What about Murphy? I know Shankbone likes him, and really he’d be the perfect fit. But the early word is Sandy Alderson is going to be a real headache come July 31, and we already know how that guy feels about the Giants. Take a hike Sandy!

Personally, I’d look to make a hard push for Ben Zobrist. The Rays are a tremendous disappointment this year, and they’ve never been one to turn away a trade offer. Zobrist is veteran, versatile, and very productive. He’s got the 3 V’s that the Giants tend to look for in a mid-season trade. Not to mention he’s got a $7.5 M team option for 2015. That’s a little pricey for a franchise that can’t fill its stadium to 40% capacity, but not for a large market club looking to win another ring. Who would the Rays ask for? I’m sure we can think of a few names. To me, nobody is off limits this season. That’s the way it goes when you’re looking to make a run, and the Giants look like they covered themselves nicely with Tyler Beede and Aramis Garcia in the draft. If they wanted build a package around Andrew Susac (and even Mr. Panik for that matter), I think they’d be able to get in the room for Zobrist. Add in a Clayton Blackburn and you might have yourself a deal. Am I lowballing a bit? I’m not sure, but I think the Rays would happily take Susac if he can get back on the field this month.

We’re almost to 1,500 words here, and I think I’ve exhausted myself. Hopefully I made the main points clear though. Scutaro is a long-shot, Hicks has been a dream, the Giants aren’t going to rock the boat until they absolutely have to, and Sabean should and likely will be surveying the market for an upgrade. If the Giants are able to get Brandon Belt back, keep the rest of the group intact, AND land a player like Zobrist at the deadline, I’ll think they’ll be sitting pretty for another nice pennant run. In the meantime, I hope the anxious fans out there will turn the panic meter down just a notch or two. This is a very good Giants team, and I don’t see them just flipping a switch over night and free-falling. They’re off to a tremendous start, and I think we’ve got a lot to look forward to as we march toward the season’s second half.

Enjoy your afternoons, friends, and hopefully Huddy gets us back in the win column by dinner time.

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Clutch Home Runs

I just had to sneak a late post in tonight. The Gigantes snagged that elusive first sweep of the season after falling short in their first two tries (both against the big blue). This one came in pretty sweet fashion, with Brandon Hicks crushing a 3-run walkoff job into the left field seats. The only downside to the day was Ryan Vogelsong getting a no-decision after twirling 7 shutout innings on the day. I’d say Hicks’ big fly more than made up for it, but Giants starting pitchers haven’t really been rewarded with many W’s this month. Hey, that’s baseball sometimes, but you have to be impressed with Vogey. 2 hitter? Yes, please!

Speaking of impressed… wasn’t I just saying this morning that Hicks isn’t the long-term solution? No, one swing of the bat in April doesn’t hold a ton of weight, but when a non-roster invite does something like that, you can bet Brian Sabean sits up in his chair and takes notice. Nice work, Hick. Keep it up, and you can play on my team any day.

Most importantly, the Giants took a week that started off pretty rough, and finished it with a 4-game winning streak. Getting a sweep in interleague play isn’t too shabby; the AL has been pretty tough on our Gigantes in recent years (well, not in the postseason, or the All-Star game, but you get the point), so the club has to be feeling pretty good after finishing off Cleveland today. Don’t look now, but the orange and black are 15-10, sitting 1.5 games up on Colorado and the Dodgers. One more series to go in April, with the Fathers coming to town for an early-week series. Sounds like a pretty good opportunity to build on that 1st place record to me.  

This isn’t supposed to be a real long post, but I did want to note something. As mentioned this morning, the Giants are hitting home runs left and right so far in 2014. Will that trend keep up? It might be too early to tell, but it’s not too early to make this point: some of the most important big flies this month have come off the bat of some pretty unheralded guys. Brandon Crawford’s walk-off splash against the Rockies on the 13th; Hector Sanchez’ granny in Coors on Wednesday; Hicks’ game-ender this afternoon… those are some seriously clutch home runs, from a few guys who take a lot of heat from the fans.

For some reason, a large percentage of Giants’ faithful love to bash on Hector. He can’t catch. He can’t throw. He can’t take a walk. You know what? He sure can come up with the big hit… and he’s younger than just about any backup catcher in the league. Hicks, for all the praise he earned in spring training, really hasn’t made many friends among the fanbase with his up and down defense in the early going. He strikes out in pretty high numbers as well, and doesn’t hit for a very high average. But there are guys who play their whole career without doing what he did in the 9th inning today. And if you remember the video I posted back in February, today’s walk-off wasn’t the first for Brandon H, who also sent the folks home happy with a blast a couple of years ago with Oakland.

Crawford might get a little break because of his slick glove-work, but come on. How many people in the general fanbase really believed his bat was a serious threat coming into this season? Not as many as you might think.

What’s my point here? The Giants might not have the sexiest roster in the league, but they’re sure getting production from a lot of different players in the early going. When guys like Sanchez, Crawford and Hicks are hitting the clutch home runs, you’ve got a deep roster. Once again, Sabean’s overlooked offseason moves are paying off, and the Giants are playing good ball because of it. Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be… underrated moves have helped the Giants win two World Series titles in this decade, despite drawing sneers from pundits all over baseball. Those pundits can keep on sneering, but I like where this team is headed.

Final Exhibition Cancelled; 25-Man Roster Set

No, we don’t have baseball today, as the final tune-up game of the spring was cancelled due to rain. That’s probably a good thing, and here’s two reasons why: 1) The Giants seem to have left their bats in Arizona (not a problem, they’ll be there to pick them up on Monday!). 2) The toilets are overflowing in Oakland. Yeah… Billy Beane, men amongst boys, right? Ok, I shouldn’t knock Billy for that – stuff like that really falls on the owner. But come on! You’ve won two straight division titles, and you can’t even get a fully functioning plumbing system? I know one man who wouldn’t stand for that kind of nonsense… his name is Brian. 

Anyway, enough about that. No baseball today, but we do have a finalized 25-man roster! There weren’t any major surprises, but I’ll admit I really wasn’t sure who would get the final bullpen spot (in Jeremy Affeldt’s absence). Turns out it went to JC Gutierrez, who I tagged with a whopping 25% chance of making the Opening Day roster back in February. Just goes to show, you NEVER know what might shake out during spring training. Gutierrez pumps a 95 mph fastball and has big league experience, so he’s the guy for now. The real question is, how long will he last?

No, I wasn’t shocked that Gutierrez got the final spot over Law. I’m not really all that bummed either, to be honest with you. Law has the goods, as he proved to the world over the past month. When he does get to the Show someday, he’ll be a fun one to watch. But he’s never pitched above high-A, and most guys just don’t jump from the California League to the Major Leagues overnight. So Law was assigned to AA this afternoon, which I think surprises me even more than the news of him not making the MLB club. I thought for sure the organization would want him close by in Fresno. Richmond is a long way from the Bay Area, but Sabean has already made it clear that he’d jump a guy straight from AA if he thought the player was ready… so this isn’t a setback for Law in the least.

Speaking of the minor leagues, Conner Penfold apparently has the lowdown on the Giants farm clubs, and has rosters posted for all 4 full-season affiliates over at his site. No official rosters have been released yet, but these definitely look like the real deal. They also make my early spring roster projections look somewhat silly, but I was prepared for that. You can be darn sure I’ll be working on some reaction pieces to those minor league squads in the next couple of days.

Anyway, you shouldn’t be surprised to know that Brandon Hicks and Ehire Adrianza made the Opening Day roster. That was all but settled when Scutaro had another flare-up in his back and Tony Abreu was released. For the record, I gave Hicks a 2 in 10 initial shot at making this club about 6 weeks ago. Silly me. Hitting .400+ will definitely up your odds.

You might have been a little shocked to hear that Abreu is now headed to Fresno. Apparently he cleared waivers last week.

What about that final outfield spot, you ask? Juan Perez had that bad boy locked up three weeks ago. Tyler Colvin is headed to Fresno, while Roger Kieschnick was DFA to make room for one of Hicks or Gutierrez. I wonder if Roger will clear waivers and end up in Fresno too. I honestly couldn’t tell you. But jeez, it just goes to show how quick your window can close. He’s a good athlete, and I think he’ll have a MLB career at some point. How long it lasts, well, that obviously might not be up to him.

So here you go, 25 men to don the orange and black on Monday evening in Phoenix. Take a good, long look at this group. Does it inspire confidence? That’s your call. We all have our own opinions. But I can tell you this… that group will definitely change as we move throughout the season. Heck, it may only look like this for two weeks. We really can’t tell at this point. As long as the core players don’t change (get injured), I think the Giants will be in fine shape.  Either way, spring training is over folks, and another regular season is here. We made it!

Giants (25) 

C (2) Buster Posey, Hector Sanchez

IF (6) Brandon Belt, Joaquin Arias, Brandon Crawford, Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Hicks, Ehire Adrianza

OF (5) Hunter Pence, Angel Pagan, Michael Morse, Gregor Blanco, Juan Perez

SP (5) Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong

RP (7) Yusmeiro Petit, David Huff, JC Gutierrez, Jean Machi, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo

*From Joe Ritzo: 12 of the 25 are former San Jose Giants. That is so impressive to me. Let the experts put the Giants farm system in the bottom third of the league all they want. When nearly 50% of your MLB roster played at your high-A affiliate, you’re doing something right. The Giants know it, I know it, and you know it. What else is there to say?

Image

(SFGiantsphotos.mlblogs.com)

Decisions, Decisions

There will be plenty to talk about, as we get closer to the Giants leaving (Thursday) and returning to Arizona (Monday). So I’ll try to keep this one short, but I wanted to jot down a few thoughts and do a little weekend roundup.

First, the big news: Tony Abreu is out, put on release waivers. The Giants had to eat a quarter of his salary, or something like that. Big whoop. I did have some hope for Abreu. When you look at his minor league pedigree, you see a guy who could be an asset at 2B from an offensive standpoint. But the guy just isn’t consistently healthy or productive. That seems to have plagued him his whole career. Regardless, Adrianza definitely looks to have the inside track for the primary reserve IF spot now.

I imagine will see two more roster moves before game-time tomorrow. The first will be Scutaro to the DL. If the Giants hold true to their word, then this weekend was supposed to determine Scooter’s fate. Well, I didn’t see him out there, unless he was hiding. The second move should be Brandon Hicks on the 40-man. With Abreu off, that’s an easy switch. We’ve talked about this already, but Hicks should be the guy to grab the extra roster spot if Scutaro is DL’d. Then it’ll be a 3-way battle for playing time between Arias, Adrianza and Hicks at 2B as the regular season gets going. Maybe there’s a trade in the works to patch things up? I doubt it.

The other big decision resides within Bruce Bochy’s bullpen. Heath Hembree is out, while Derek Law is technically still in. If you listened to Bochy during his in-game interview with Kruk & Kuip on Friday night, it sounded pretty clear that the coaching staff wants to carry guys who can go multiple innings in relief, at least to start the season. That bodes very well for Yusmeiro Petit and David Huff, who are both out of options, and both happened to pitch lights-out on Friday.

Speaking of lights, I don’t know if anyone else caught that tweet from one of the beat writers Friday night against Oakland. It was something to the extent that the lighting in Scottsdale was less than ideal. It was pretty apparent to me that the hitters weren’t picking up the ball well at all (on either side). When Petit blew an 88 mph fastball by Yoenis Cespedes, it was all the proof I needed. I’m not trying to make any bold statement here, but it’s just another reason why you have to take spring training stats with a grain of salt. Both Petit and Huff helped their causes that night, regardless of the circumstances.

So, it would seem that there’s really only one bullpen spot up for grabs with a week to go until the season starts. As it stands, the Giants will likely open up with the core four of Romo, Casilla, Affeldt and Lopez, plus the righty-lefty swing combo of Petit and Huff, who should actually add some versatility in April. If both guys pitch well, that’s great. But both are out of options, so keeping them both on the 25-man initially seems like kind of an extended tryout to me. Maybe they give it a few weeks, and if one is floundering they can let him go in favor of a guy like Hembree.

Who gets that final bullpen spot then? I would guess Jean Machi, but George Kontos, Dan Runzler and Law are technically still in the running. Personally, I’d go with Law. Get a little funky youth in there! If not, we’re looking at a big time veteran bullpen, but I think that will be ironed out as the year goes along.

I’ve gotten a little long-winded again. Let’s wrap it up. Lots more to talk about this week, as I said. I’ll try to get to the Pablo talk, as well as a little pre-season prediction nonsense. I don’t know about all of you good people, but I’m sure ready for Opening Day. Tried to watch a couple innings of the Australia game last night, then thought better of it. But hey, at least the regular season is underway!

Sunday Wrap: Esky Steps Up, Crick Struggles

A few tidbits from a very busy day for the organization. Edwin Escobar, a “class-A pitcher” in the words of Vin Scully (I think he said it about five times, actually) outdueled Clayton Kershaw, no doubt impressing the front office in the process. Escobar certainly wasn’t always sharp, and I wondered whether he would make it out of the 1st inning.

He would ultimately toss four innings, allowing only one run on one hit. His four walks were uncharacteristic, but I can’t blame the guy for being amped up. As DrB noticed even on gametracker, Esky got squeezed on a number of pitches too. A solid outing for the kid against the archrivals, with hopefully many more to come.

Apparently Kyle Crick wasn’t able to work out of trouble in the “futures game” like Escobar was against the Dodgers. Sounds like Cricky was all over the place, and didn’t make it out of the inning. Walks, wild pitches and an infield hit. I believe it was 5 ER altogether…notice, he didn’t get hit hard. He rarely does. As most of us know, it’s all about control for the kid. You can’t beat yourself in this game, and Crick knows that.

A few other notes from today:

Big time homer from Brandon Hicks today. Taking Kershaw deep is a big deal, even in Spring Training.

Pablo looked solid again, both at the plate and in the field. He’s just such a different player when he’s in shape.

Conner Penfold from Giant Potential hit the jackpot today, getting footage of Luis Ysla and Keury mella in minor league camp. Conner was very, very impressed with Ysla, who featured a 3-pitch mix and ran his fastball up to 95… yeah, you read that right. Sounds like there’s plenty of video coming soon on his site, Giant Potential. If I’m not mistaken, that will be the first (and only) video of Ysla on the web.

Penfold also noted some strong performances from Ty Blach (sitting 93-94), Derek Law and Clayton Blackburn today. Seriously, just too much good pitching in this camp. I can’t wait for these guys to get their seasons started next month.

That’s all for this weekend. I’m hoping to have some updates on the camp position battles tomorrow, so stay tuned. Only three more weeks until Opening Day!