Spring Battles: Bullpen (Longshots)

Tons of middle-relief guys in camp to sort through, so I figured I’d break the list into two parts: The longshots and the frontrunners. We’ve already looked at the long-relief options, so the rest of these guys are essentially fighting for the final two bullpen spots (probably a 6th/7th inning role).

Erik Cordier | Age 28

MLB: None

MiLB: 573.1 IP, 4 Sv, 4.29 ERA, 1.517 Whip, 1.44 K/BB

Outlook: Career minor leaguer, the Giants gave him a major league deal right around Thanksgiving. Second round pick by the Royals way back when, he finally became a reliever full-time last year for Pittsburgh’s AAA club. His career 5.0 bb/9 is scary, as is his 99 mph fastball. The Giants must think they can get his control figured out. If he performs, don’t be surprised to see him get a shot at some point this year.

Odds: 30%

Kameron Loe | Age 32

MLB: 569 IP, 4.49 ERA, 1.439 Whip, 1.94 K/BB

MiLB: 616.2 IP, 3.52 ERA, 1.281 Whip, 2.76 K/BB

Outlook: There’s a journeyman pitcher in nearly every spring camp across baseball, and Loe looks like he’ll fill that role for the Giants. You might remember him for his 6-foot-8 frame, and he’s bounced around all over baseball – including a stint in Japan a few years back. He spent 2013 pitching for three different organizations, racking up a 7.09 ERA in 20 MLB appearances. Does he have anything left in the tank? We’ll probably find out in the next couple months.

Odds: 25%

Jose De Paula | Age 26

MLB: None

MiLB: 401 IP, 79 GS, 3.82 ERA, 1.262 Whip, 3.57 K/BB

Outlook: Claimed on waivers after the Padres DFA’d him in November. There are questions about his age; Baseball-Reference still lists him as 23, but the Giants have him turning 26 in March. He missed all of 2012 due to apparent visa issues, and made only 14 starts in AA last year. I’m not sure how long he’ll be in MLB camp, as it seems that he still needs minor league seasoning. He’s got very low walk rates and a surprisingly hard fastball. He has the makings of a nice lefty reliever, but I envision the Giants assigning him to a minor league rotation this spring. He’s on the 40-man, so he definitely has an edge over a handful of these guys in camp.

Odds: 25%

Dan Runzler | Age 29

MLB: 72.1 IP, 3.86 ERA, 1.507 Whip, 1.77 K/BB

MiLB: 277.1 IP, 23 Sv, 3.70 ERA, 1.428 Whip, 2.07 K/BB

Outlook: It looked like Runzler had a promising future with the Giants back in 2010, but he just wasn’t ever able to control the strike zone as a big leaguer. To make things worse, he’s completely blown up during the past two seasons in Fresno, and was DFA by the organization last fall. For some odd reason, he’s back in Giants camp this spring. It would take some pretty impressive work on his part to make the Opening Day roster, but the Giants could use another lefty, and he has more MLB experience than some of the guys here. For those reasons only, I’ll give him a slight edge over the arms below.

Odds: 25%

Sandy Rosario | Age 28

MLB: 49.1 IP, 4.93 ERA, 1.682 Whip, 1.22 K/BB

MiLB: 342.1 IP, 51 Sv, 3.42 ERA, 1.309 Whip, 4.27 K/BB

Outlook: Rosario bounced around the waiver wire last winter before catching on with the Giants. He really wasn’t bad in his 40+ innings of work for Los Gigantes in 2013, but his K rates didn’t really correlate with his fastball velocity. He was DFA but the organization apparently gave him another opportunity. He’s got to really impress in camp if he wants to snag one of the open relief spots.

Odds: 25%

Juan Gutierrez | Age 30

MLB: 222.2 IP, 24 Sv, 4.65 ERA, 1.406 Whip, 2.24 K/BB

MiLB: 629.1 IP, 5 Sv, 4.32 ERA, 1.438 Whip, 2.15 K/BB

Outlook: He also goes by JC, and I honestly didn’t realize until looking him up that this is the same guy who spent a couple of seasons closing games in Arizona. He’s got quite a bit of big league experience, including 53 appearances in 2013. Frankly, the numbers just aren’t that impressive. Maybe the Giants can straighten him out this spring, but I don’t know if he belongs in a MLB bullpen anymore.

Odds: 25%

Rafael Dolis | Age 26

MLB: 44.1 IP, 4 Sv, 5.48 ERA, 1.556 Whip, 0.96 K/BB

MiLB: 390.1 IP, 21 Sv, 3.69 ERA, 1.409 Whip, 1.59 K/BB

Outlook: He saw considerable action in the Cubs’ bullpen in 2012, but only made 5 MLB appearances last season before a forearm strain essentially cut his year short. He’s a big guy who throws serious heat (96-97), but his career statistics don’t really match up with the scouting reports. He’s definitely an interesting guy to have in camp, but I think he’ll ultimately land in Fresno come Opening Day.

Odds: 25%

Adam Reifer | Age 27

MLB: None

MiLB: 245.1 IP, 63 Sv, 3.45 ERA, 1.276 Whip, 2.23 K/BB

Outlook: I’m going to throw it out there right now. There’s something I like about this guy. For starters, he hails from San Dimas, which is my mom’s hometown and my home away from home during work trips. He’s also a St. Louis product, and we know all about the arms that have graduated from that system recently. The Cards looked to have him on the closer track early in his career, and it seems that he’s had an injury history (missed most of 2011, and the first couple months last season). Eventually, organizations have to make decisions on players, and Reifer found his way over to Miami’s AAA club in 2013. He was excellent, allowing a .143 BAA. Reports say he throws very hard (mid-90’s?). He’s my camp sleeper, and I’ll be following him closely.

Odds: 20%

Brett Bochy | Age 26

MLB: None

MiLB: 148.2 IP, 26 Sv, 2.78 ERA, 0.969 Whip, 4.26 K/BB

Outlook: To his credit, the Skipper’s kid has put together a nice minor league resume in his three years with the organization. But he got knocked around hard in Spring Training last year, and he was passed over in the Rule 5 draft this winter. Obviously, the talent evaluators aren’t very high on his abilities. I do think he’ll get his time in the big leagues someday, but I’d be very, very surprised if that time is Opening Day 2014.

Odds: 15%

Mason Tobin | Age 26

MLB: 5.1 IP, 6.75 ERA, 1.875 Whip, 0.0 K/BB

MiLB: 130.2 IP, 21 GS, 3.17 ERA, 1.209 Whip, 1.92 K/BB

Outlook: Came to the organization about this time last year, and spent 2013 in Fresno. He’s a Glendive, MT native (as is most of my girlfriend’s family), and that’s primarily why I included him on the list. He did pitch a couple of innings with Texas in 2011 though, so there’s that. Otherwise, he’s a pretty big longshot to make the 25-man.

Odds: 10%

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More Spring Talk

It’s still winter at my house, but dang if I don’t have spring on the brain (almost every waking second) these days. Lots of people calling to the uncertainty facing the Giants as pitchers and catchers get ready to report to Scottsdale at the end of this week. I’m doing my best to steer clear of the negativity. I’m big on positive thoughts this time of year, folks. Personally, I’m excited to get this squad rolling. Lots of people to prove wrong this season, so let’s get to it!

We’ll keep this brief, but I wanted to mention a few things I’ve had on my mind lately. If you scan over to the right, you’ll see I posted some questions on Twitter earlier today (mostly so I wouldn’t forget them).

Question 1: How long is Vogey’s leash? It’s hard not to love Ryan Vogelsong because of what he’s done for the organization. His story is awesome, just plain awesome. But you either stopped watching altogether in September last year or you’re in some serious denial if you don’t remember his velocity dipping significantly down the stretch. A quick look at Brooks Baseball today showed what we all thought: Average fastball velocity of 92+ in September and October 2012, dropped to 87 in August and 88 in September 2013. WBC hangover? Rust from the injury time off? Only he knows, but I’d sure feel a lot better about some 90’s this spring. Something a little more like this…

Back to the question. If Vogey just doesn’t have it anymore (which is a very relevant question in my mind), does he still get the 5th spot in the rotation? What if Yusmeiro Petit or David Huff out-perform him? At their peak, Vogelsong is head and shoulders better than those two. But I don’t think we’re talking about peak performances anymore.

My take: I think Vogey would have to really, really fall apart (or never actually get going) to lose his spot this spring. The Giants wouldn’t have promised him the job if they didn’t think he could do it. Worst case scenario, he starts the year on the 15-day DL to see if the kinks come out, with Petit taking the #5 spot. Best case scenario, Vogey comes back well-rested and makes us forget this conversation even happened.

**Update**: I posted this question to Baggarly in his weekly chat this morning. Also told him I had a hunch the WBC played a much bigger role than we anticipated. His response: “I agree on the WBC. I think he’ll be given a bit of leash because that’s Bochy’s MO. But it’s all relative to the alternatives. If someone else like Escobar is blowing off doors, then I think Vogelsong’s leash would be shorter.” I’m starting to get the impression that Baggs’ thinks pretty highly of these kids. He mentions Escobar and Derek Law a ton. Said he’s most excited to see Law’s power curve in camp. Hearing things like that gets me pretty excited, as I believe Baggs’ views are often a strong reflection of the organization’s.

Question 2: Will there be a surprise competitor in the bullpen race?

There are at least two relief spots open heading into camp, maybe three if you include Petit and the long-man role. At this point, there are too many guys to count that are vying for these spots. I’ll have some profiles up in the next couple of weeks so we can keep everything straight. The obvious favorites (in my estimation) are Jean Machi and Heath Hembree, but George Kontos and Jake Dunning will get some long looks. Machi looks like he’s slimmed down, and he’s been working away as the closer for the Venezuelan team in the Caribbean Series.

Ok, maybe he hasn’t slimmed down THAT much…

So, any surprises? Everyone’s talking about Derek Law. I’d love to see him break through. Love it. But I just don’t think the front office is ready to promote a kid from High-A to the bigs in the span of one offseason. The two guys I’ll be paying special attention to this spring are Rafael Dolis and Adam Reifer. Dolis throws very hard, but the statistics don’t match the scouting report. Reifer was on the verge of breaking through with St. Louis a couple years ago, and allowed 19 hits in 41 innings pitched at AAA last season…yeah, reread the first part of the sentence and let it sink in. He’s also had a tough time controlling the strike zone as a pro. I found a grainy video of him, must have been from the minors a few years back. Tops out around 93 with the fastball – I’d heard he throws harder than that. Either way, he’s my sleeper this spring.

Just for fun, I’ll throw Erik Cordier’s name into the ring as well. Just how hard does he throw?

That’s it for now. We’ll get to some more topics later in the week, as we wait out the final days until the beat writers start hitting us left and right with camp stories. As Chris Berman likes to say, “tick-tick-tick, tick…”