Will depth be an issue?
As we enter the final stages of the Cactus League schedule, the Giants and Bruce Bochy have to be generally pleased with what they're seeing from their squad since early February. From what I've seen, this Giants squad seems a little hungrier to me. I mean, they have proven veterans like Gordon Beckam, Aaron Hill, Jimmy Rollins and Nick Hundley fighting for the minimal bench spots that currently exist and all seem to be portraying great attitudes in the process pf making their cases. I mean, J-Roll has been an All-Star starting SS in his career and has been in the MVP discussions multiple times and has plenty of experience deep in playoff baseball. Even though he's inching closer to 40 years of age, he still knows the game well enough to provide value so long as his body holds up and he can continue to contribute a few times a week. Hill, a notorious Giants' killer, has had a pretty nice spring and could provide legit backup support for the fragile Joe Panik at 2B as well as Eduardo Nunez at third (the Giants are also trying him out in left field as well). Then there are returnees Kelby Tomlinson, Mac Williamson and Gorkys Hernandez along with standout Chris Marerro (who's arguably had the best spring of any Giants' hitter).
So, how are things going for the Giants as we've hit the home stretch of the Cactus League? I'd say all in all, pretty darn good. The one guy who's really stuck out this March and someone who looks like they're set to run away with that starters left field job is Jarrett Parker. Barring some major fall off or injury between now and April 2nd, Parker should be your starting left fielder vs. Zach Grienke and the D-Backs on the nationally televised opener. The major improvement I've seen and been reading about regarding his approach at the plate which results and waiting out better pitches to hit, which in result, gets him pitches he can put the bat head on the ball and drive it. It's been pretty evident for the 28 year-old slugger that he's determined this spring to make this roster out of spring and not only that but be a key cog in the lineup. As of March 17th, Parker has had 36 spring at-bats, resulting in 12 hits (.333 BA), 4 HR, 12 RBI a .455 OBP and a 1.15 OPS.
Once I realized the Giants weren't going to be upgrading left field around mid-December, Parker immediately became my choice just because I remember how hot he can get when he filled in during those stints in both '15 and '16 (I think both times in which Pence was shelved). He showed he can hit balls out of the park with consistency and it's carried over to the spring. If you take what he'd done combined over the last two seasons at the big league level in limited duty, it doesn't look too shabby whatsoever. The left-handed slugger has collected 178 at-bats and has slashed .267/11/28/.371/.494 (.865 OPS), scored 33 runs and walked 24 times. The walks and ob-base percentage are really what really impresses me because most young players are over-anxious and want to swing at everything. He's not just up there hacking for McCovey Cove every time he steps into the box, I just really hope that holds up in a full-time gig come April. I don't know how it will wind up for Parker, but so far we have nothing but positive thoughts based on what we've seen. It wouldn't surprise me to see him become Fred Lewis-type talent, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him become a Brandon Belt-type talent. I'm leaning more toward Belt though, just because I think his power can translate at AT&T whereas Lewis could not hit there.
Mac Williamson certainly had his moments in Pence's absence last summer as well, especially in the outfield. He and Chris Marrero are the two other candidates for the starting LF job but Parker has better than 50/50 odds to be out there April 2nd vs. Zach Grienke. The issue the Giants have to deal with now is what to do with Williamson. He has options left so many believe they'll start him in AAA where he can play everyday. With the way Chris Marrero has played this spring, the Giants may feel comfortable enough with him being Parker's primary backup. I personally would like to see Williamson on the big league roster because I think he can still get a lot of bats as a role player but Marrero has earned it.
Another guy who may force his way onto the roster like Marrero is trying to do is Korean free-agent signee over the winter, Jae-gyun Hwang. He's made a very strong impression with the Giants' brass with surprising power and bat speed, a strong arm and the ability to play multiple positions. Another flexible asset that could make Bruce Bochy's life easier. The only thing wit Hwang is that this is his first few months in the states playing baseball and management will likely want him to work his way up the ladder a bit to get a good idea for American Baseball. He's certainly a guy I'm excited about as he's gotten off to a nice start in spring and he should continue to get acclimated even more as he enters his prime at age 29. He's slashed .320/.310/.989 with 3 big flys and 8 driven in.
Some reasons, however, why he may not quite make the opening day roster is his defense. He's got to polish that up a little but it seems like that's already happening. He's got good baseball instincts so I do expect him to settle in over here just fine and continue to imrprove. He looks like a legit bat speed and the athleticism (things you can't teach) and that should translate into the Major Leagues. Will he hit .320 with 25 jacks and a .950 OPS like he did overseas? I sure hope so, but no, probably not. Nonetheless, he obviously has natural talent, has played well in spring and is still very much in the running for a roster spot with Opening day 11 days away.
I could keep going on for every and ever about guys that have surprised, young guys (Ryder Jones, Tyler Beede, Chris Arroyo etc...) on the rise and more, but I'm trying to keep it more Major League related. My final prediction for the bench heading into the season (as of March 20) looks as follows: Nick Hundley C, outfielders Justin Ruggiano/Williamson/Marrero and Gorkys Hernandez (because they have nobody else who can man center field the way he can) look like the lead dogs for the 4th and 5th Outfield spots. Then there's some guys who look like they still are trying to prove themselves in the infield before spring ends, an infield where there's still plenty TBD. Connor Gillaspie should be there, especially after the spring he's had but that's the only given. The downside to having those guys is that neither of those two can play shortstop naturally like the Giants really need, which is why they;re giving Jimmy Rollins every chance at making the team. I personally like the idea of having the veteran in the clubhouse but if he does make the squad and is still contributing nothing at the dish, he'll be doing more bad than good at that point.
While I would have liked to see them pay a little more attention to the bench this winter, there are things I do like about it. Barring any injury, unforeseen trade or addition, I think the unit is pretty much set already. My picks as to who deserves a spot based on their spring performance/team necessity (not necessarily the five that Bochy will go with) are as follows:
C: Nick Hundley (He will be Busters backup this year)
IF: Jae-gyun Hwang (Would like to see it but most likely AH or KT. get nod here)
IF: Connor Gillespie ('16 postseason hero having best spring on team, if only could play ss)
OF: Chris Marrero (Ruggiano probably gets it but Marrero deserves it)
OF: Gorkys Hernandez (only bench candidate who can defend center field competently)
On the bubble: OF Justin Ruggiano, OF Mac Williamson, C Ted Federowicz, IF Kelby Tomlinson, C Trevor Brown and IF Aaron Hill
Again, I'm going on the guys I want to see and who I think would best make up the roster, not necessarily what I think Bochy will go with. Hundley was brought in to give Buster that veteran back-up who knows how to handle a staff which should help keep Posey fresh as he's now 30 years of age which is like 35+ in catchers years. So that along with his streaky bat I think make him the clear-cut favorite there and I don't think it's closer. As for Gillespie, he pretty much solidified his spot with his big (albeit brief) 2016 postseason and also leading the team in hitting this spring so far. He'll get regular time at third when Crawford needs off days and Nunez shifts to short as well as be the Giants' primary bat off the bench (after last October).
They have some other catcher and infield options, but as I mentioned after they were eliminated by Chicago last October, this team tends to overlook their bench often and I would have loved to see them put more money into bringing in at least one big bat or proven pinch-hitter... Easier said than done, sure, but the Giants had the resources to go out and add another positional role player but maybe nobody really grabbed their eye. I, however, would have thought someone like Carlos Gomez would have been a perfect fit as insurance for left field and if anything happens to Span (granted I don't know Gomez's clubhouse rep).
Notes: We've always done our annual MLB division-by-division preview here at the Giants Baseball Blog, however, this year we're going to stick to the National League only. 95% of the Giants' games come against NL teams so there isn't necessarily a reason to preview the AL. It also will free me up more for what matters most, and that's more Giants talk. OPENING DAY IS 11 DAYS AWAY people, and I am extremely stoked to see how the squad comes out of the gate.... On a negative note, Will Smith continues to be plagued with arm problems and will miss the foreseeable future with elbow issues. That could mean a month or that could me the season. Either way it's a huge blow and could have the Giants on lookout for left-handed reliever.