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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Giants Roughed Up In Spring Opener

It was only the first game of the spring, and you can't take anything too seriously at this point, but there weren't many positives going on for the Giants Thursday afternoon in Scottsdale. In fact, it was so ugly by the 3rd inning that Jon Miller and Duane Kuiper started discussing the Academy Awards. The offense, the area of the team that everyone is wondering about, looked stale and went down quickly and quietly through the first 4 innings. They were, however, without 3/8 of their projected opening day lineup missing Ray Durham (hamstring), Omar Vizquel (knee) and Bengie Molina (back). Randy Winn hit a bomb in the first inning and Aaron Rowand had a couple solid singles in his first un-official at bats as a Giant, but that was about it for the starters. The young hitters did a little better later on in the game. Eugenio Velez flashed some of his speed and offensive ability with an RBI triple in the sixth, something he had a knack for doing with the Giants late last year. Freddie Lewis also tripled, scored a run and reached base 3 times.

The pitching struggled throughout most of the day. Noah Lowry and Kevin Corriea did not pitch well at all. Lowry didn't last his 2 scheduled innings as he struggled with his control, and Corriea gave up 5 runs and also had to leave without getting in 2 innings of work. The first four pitchers together gave up 9 runs on 12 hits through the first 4 innings, but then the pitching settled down as Jack Taschner threw a pair of scoreless innings and Brian Wilson set down the Cubs in order in the 9th. The defense made a few errors that led to some runs. Scott McClain booted a ball at 3rd base, Josh Leone made a throwing error and Kevin Frandsen wasn't able to get to a playable ball up the middle which also led to a run.

The Giants announced Tuesday that Omar Vizquel would be out between 4-6 weeks after undergoing knee surgery on Wednesday. Kevin Frandsen is expected to assume most of the duties at short (started there Thursday) until Vizquel returns, but Frandsen is a below average defensive shortstop. Vizquel is 41 years old and plays a position that is very demanding, a knee surgery at this point may take him a little longer to recover from than it would have 10 years ago, so I'd say a return by the opening week of the season would be a little doubtful. If that's the case, the Giants may want to consider finding someone else to handle shortstop, at least part time. One thought may be allowing one of the other shortstops on the 40-man roster Brian Bocock, Manny Burris or Alex Ochoa to start the year with the team. Another possibility could be to add someone from outside the organization. The team is actively pursuing the White Sox's Joe Crede and they may be able to obtain Juan Uribe as well. That could make some sense for the Giants if they could unload Ray Durham onto the White Sox, allowing Frandsen to move to second, Crede to start at third and Uribe to handle short until Vizquel is ready. Once Vizquel returns, Uribe could obtain a utility role as he's experienced at both shortstop and second base and can play 3rd in a pinch.
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Monday, February 25, 2008

Young Players the Talk of Camp

The Giants' full squad has been at work for almost a week now, and most the talk around the Giants camp has been of the young players that will fill out this teams' roster come opening day. There have been plenty of articles written this spring about the stud pitchers Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, as well as the teams young outfielders and second basemen Kevin Frandsen. One guy who is starting to get some attention, and a guy who I'm sure a lot of casual Giants' fans aren't familiar with is John Bowker. It looks like the Giants may have future plans for the 24-year old power bat who led all Giants minor leaguer's with 22 home runs and 90 RBI's in AA ball last season. A 22 home run season doesn't jump out at you too much, but he hit them playing in the Eastern League which is very rich with pitching and big ballparks. He also made the Eastern League All-Star team which is no small feat for a Giants' minor league hitter. Due to the fact that there are about 7 outfielders currently ahead of him on the depth chart, Bowker has started working out at first base this spring to see if he may have a future there. I am all for this move and if he can make a transition to first like Dan Ortmeier has done, he could be a very intriguing bat to follow this season. In all likelihood, unless he absolutely kills the ball this spring, Bowker will begin the year in Fresno, and it's very possible he could be starting at first there. Fresno has a couple outfielders returning from last years squad and it's very possible that either Fred Lewis or Nate Schierholtz will occupy one of the outfield spots. All signs are pointing towards first base as being Bowker's fastest ticket to the big leagues.

The Giants' will kick off their cactus league schedule Thursday vs. the Cubs with Noah Lowry getting the nod and Kevin Corriea scheduled to go second. Before that, they will hold an intra-squad game on Wednesday. Although it's only going to be the first game of the spring, I am very curious to see how Bochy fills out his lineup early on. I think the Giants will make a trade for a third basemen at some point in the spring so the lineup you see on Thursday could change a lot by March 31'st season opener. Ande Marte and Joe Crede seem to be the two most likely targets for the Giants but Marte showed up in Indians camp overweight and Crede still has to answer big questions regarding his surgically repaired back. The only guarantees I'm expecting to see are Dave Roberts and Rajai Davis leading off, Bengie Molina in the 4th spot (to start the spring) and Aaron Rowand hitting 5th. After that, Boch could go with a variety of different orders.
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Monday, February 18, 2008

Spring Training Notes

Most all of the Giants' 40-man roster had arrived in camp Monday, with the first full squad workout of the spring scheduled for Tuesday morning. Not much new news to talk about yet, but that should change Tuesday when the whole calvary goes to work. Most of the talk around the camp so far has been about the Giants' impending second base battle as well as their new philosophy on running more as a team. It seems like they have been talking about running more every year for a while now, but this year they are actually going to have to do some things on the bases in order to produce runs. Outside of Aaron Rowand and Bengie Molina, I would be pleasantly surprised to see any other player on the current roster top 15 home runs or 75 RBI's this year, so they are going to have to manufacture runs and taking extra bases will be crucial. Everybody in the Giants projected starting lineup is a threat to take a base except for Molina so they have the pieces to enforce that kind of baseball if they so choose.

Both Ray Durham and Kevin Frandsen seem to be taking the forthcoming battle for the starting second base job very well as they were both joking around on the field Monday. I will be surprised if Ray Durham doesn't rebound and claim the everyday job this spring. It would benefit the Giants as well to give Durham the chance at getting his stroke back. Ever since Durham signed with the Giants, prior to last year, he's arguably been the Giants' second most important hitter besides Barry Bonds. If he can regain some of his pre-2007 form, he would not only help out this teams' punchless offense, but he also would give them a nice trading chip come June and July. There also is the chance that Frandsen could start the year as the starting third basemen if the Giants don't make any additions this spring. Eugenio Velez is another guy that needs to be given strong consideration at getting a roster spot and time at second base. It would be interesting for Bochy to have the option of playing Frandsen at third base and Eugenio Velez at second. Velez could very well be the fastest player in the Giants' organization and he has come to camp and impressed management early on.
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Friday, February 15, 2008

Capellan and Sanchez Impress Bochy

The Giants have only been through a couple workouts this spring, and with camp full of pitchers to scour over, Bruce Bochy has been particularly impressed with Jonathon Sanchez as well as 21-year old Rule 5 draftee Jose Capellan. Bochy mentioned Capellan's size and velocity as something that stuck out as well as Sanchez's improved command and mechanics. Capellan is listed on the Giants official roster as being 6'2" 170 pounds, but appeared in camp closer to 6'3" 250 pounds. Both Sanchez and Capellan are competing for a left-handed bullpen spot with Sanchez also in the mix for the fifth starters spot. Capellan has to make the roster out of spring or else he can be taken back by the Red Sox if they want him. I think this is a good year for the Giants to take a shot on a rule 5 guy and if Capellan shows he belongs during the spring, he should be given a bullpen spot, even if it's at the expense of veterans Jack Taschner or Steve Kline. Sanchez on the other hand, will be better suited to start the year off in Fresno's rotation rather than the Giants' bullpen if he doesn't beat out Kevin Corriea for the fifth spot in the rotation. I think it will be better for Sanchez's development if he can go out and throw 6-7 innings every 5 days rather than making an appearance or two per week out of the bullpen.

There were a bunch of positional players who showed up with the pitchers and catchers who got some work in over the past few days, even though the first full squad workout isn't scheduled until the 20th of February. Aaron Rowand, Kevin Frandsen, Nate Schierholtz, Rich Aurilia and Eugenio Velez were among the most notable players to show up early. Rowand has sort of taken on the role as team leader and seems to have embraced it very well. Frandsen has been a man on a mission ever since last season ended as he is preparing himself to play everyday someplace in the infield. He's added strength this winter and has been in Scottsdale since January working on his hitting. He stated earlier in the offseason that he's setting out to take the second base job from Ray Durham this spring. Frandsen also figures to be in the mix at third base as well, at least until the Giants make their likely trade for Joe Crede in March.
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Monday, February 11, 2008

Spring Training Preview

Pitchers and catchers are set for their first workout of the spring on Thursday, and this will be my final post of what has seemed like a very long and boring off-season. Come Thursday, there will be some actual baseball to talk about and even though the Giants are likely looking at their 4th consecutive losing season, spring fever is starting to swing into full effect with Giant fans.

Brian Sabean made an interesting move Monday, signing reliever Scott Williamson to a minor league deal with an invite to camp. This move is a low risk, high reward type deal that could end up giving the Giants a valuable bullpen commodity for the league minimum. Williamson threw well in his brief, injury shortened 2007 campaign. When healthy, he still brings a decent fastball and isn't easy to hit (16 k's and a .235 BAA in only 14 innings pitched last year). At worst, he gets cut or starts the year in Fresno, at best, the Giants have themselves a solid middle reliever. His injury last year wasn't arm or shoulder related so he should be fresh.

The Giants have a few questions heading into the Spring that should be answered over the next 7 weeks. Here is a list of 5 questions/battles regarding the 25 man roster and my best guesses as to what will transpire as we make our way towards opening day:

Who's on the Corners? If nothing changes with this team's roster over the next 7 weeks and all things go accordingly, it appears Kevin Frandsen would start at 3rd with Rich Aurilia starting at first on opening day. The Giants have been linked to third basemen such as Joe Crede and Eric Chavez and could be waiting to see health status on Crede before striking a deal. There's also a chance Frandsen could beat out Ray Durham for the starting second base job. If I had to guess, I'd say Joe Crede or Kevin Frandsen will open the season at 3rd, with Aurilia getting the nod at first.

Who's Going to Hit Cleanup? Everybody's guess (even Bruce Bochy's) at this point seems to be that Bengie Molina will be in the cleanup spot for the Giants on opening day. That would mean that they go from having Barry Bonds, who averaged 40 home runs a year over the last 15 seasons, as their cleanup man to Bengie Molina, a 33 year old catcher who's never hit more than 19 home runs or driven in more than 81 runs in his career. My guess is that Aaron Rowand will take the spot by default as he is now the Giants biggest offensive threat. If Joe Crede is acquired, we'd probably be looking at a middle order of Winn-Rowand-Crede. If not, I'd say Winn-Rowand-Molina will be hitting 3-4-5 come April.

Who Gets the Extra Outfield Spots? There are only 3 outfielders who are guaranteed spots on the roster. Barring a trade, Randy Winn, Aaron Rowand and Dave Roberts will all be on the roster and most likely in the opening day lineup. If the Giants go with a 12 man pitching staff, which is pretty standard out of spring training, it would leave 2 spots open for competition between Nate Schierholtz, Rajai Davis and Freddy Lewis. Rajai Davis is out of options, and he would likely have to play himself out of a job this spring in order to not make the team. Nate Schierholtz has proved himself at every level and is ready for a shot in the Giants' outfield but if he isn't going to start or get consistent playing time, they may choose to keep him playing everyday in Fresno to start the year. I like Freddie Lewis and what he did over the course of his time in the big leagues last summer. If I had to guess right now though, I'd say Schierholtz and Davis will start the year in San Francisco while Lewis continues to fine tune his game in Fresno.

Who Gets the Last 2 Bullpen Spots? Assuming the Giants start the year with a 12 man staff, they would need 7 relievers. There are 5 guys who have contracts for 2008 and are almost certain to be on the team come opening day. Those five are closer Brian Wilson, set-up men Tyler Walker and Brad Hennessey and two middle relievers, Steve Kline and Vinny Chulk. Rule V draftee Jose Capellan, Jonathon Sanchez, Pat Misch, Randy Messenger, Kenichi Yabu, Jack Taschner and newly acquired Scott Williamson figure to be the front runners to take up those spots. There are also a couple wild cards in Merkin Valdez, Eric Threets and Billy Sadler who could put their names in the mix with a good spring. My guess is that Williamson will get sixth spot and I will go out on a limb and say Capellan will get the seventh. I hope Jonathon Sanchez gets put into the rotation in Fresno to start the year. I don't think he'll beat out Kevin Corriea for the fifth spot in the rotation, but if Corriea struggles, or somebody gets dealt, then Sanchez should be preparing to be a starter in the minors rather than rotting in the bullpen. The constant revising of his role is likely stunting his development a bit.

Backup Catcher, Utility Infielder?
It also should be interesting to see who else fills out the Giants' bench besides the backup outfielders. Elezier Alfonzo and Guillermo Rodriguez will duel for the backup catching spot behind Bengie Molina for one spot. Whoever isn't starting between Kevin Frandsen, Ray Durham, Rich Aurilia and Dan Ortmeier will get another spot, leaving one open for either a 6th outfielder, or a utility guy. Eugenio Velez came up in September and showed some value to this team as an offensive player and base stealing threat. He should make the team with a good spring. The Giants don't currently have a clear cut first basemen, so Travis Ishikawa could help himself out a lot this spring if he performs. If he outplays Ortmeier, he could end up earning himself a spot on the team.
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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Offseason Review

With the Giants' pitchers and catchers ready to break for spring training in 9 short days and no Giant news to report on (besides the steroid debacle), I figured now would be a decent time to recap the offseason, although there wasn't much movement on the Giants' front:

Who's Here: CF Aaron Rowand (Phillies)

Who's Gone: Barry Bonds (FA), Pedro Feliz (Phillies), Ryan Klesko (FA)

Aaron Rowand takes Bonds spot in the lineup and in the outfield which helps this team's defense significantly, but losing Bonds' bat and not adequately replacing it will have this team struggling to score runs, even more so than last year. As for Feliz and Klesko, both are very replaceable and neither were high priorities for the club at the end of the year. Feliz was in talks with the Giants for most of the winter, but the sides never seemed to get to close on anything. Losing Feliz and Klesko means a lot more ab's for Rich Aurilia, Kevin Frandsen and Dan Ortmeier which is a good thing. The loss of Bonds and Feliz will probably lead to the Giants being one of the worst offensive teams in baseball but having them on this team wouldn't have made much of a difference anyway. The team still could add Joe Crede, a proven 3rd base commodity, before opening day, but Crede is best suited to hit 6th or 7th in a lineup so expecting him to be the cleanup hitter this team lacks wouldn't be accurate. That said, I still think Crede would make sense for the Giants but not if they have to part with any promising pitchers. Crede for Dave Roberts or Ray Durham? Yes. Crede for Jonathon Sanchez, Kevin Corriea, Brad Hennessey or any other quality young arm? No way. I'd hate to see Sanchez sent to Chicago and become the next Francisco Liriano or Jeremy Accardo while Joe Crede becomes a one year rental in SF (Shea Hillenbrand, AJ Pierzynski).

The Giants didn't do much to address their abysmal offense from a year ago, but there weren't many opportunities to do so. There were however, a surplus of free agent relievers that would have instantly helped this team. Masahide Kobayashi (2 yr. $6.5) , David Riske (3 yr. $13), Luis Vizcaino (2 yr. $7.5) and Scott Linebrink (4 yr. $19) would have all fit in well as late inning relievers with the Giants, and all signed very reasonable contracts. It continues to amaze me at just how much Sabean ignores the bullpen. They have been below the league average for about 3 years now, and Sabean continues to try and build the bullpen from within. Brad Hennessey, Brian Wilson and possibly Tyler Walker are the only guys who I would have confidence in handing the ball to late in a close game. The pen as a whole finished strong last season after Brian Wilson took over closing duties and Tyler Walker returned from surgery, but they still could use some reinforcement. As much as I like how Bruce Bochy wants to infuse this team with a warrior mentality, they still need talent to win. Right now they don't have much of it in their bullpen and even less in their everyday lineup.
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