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Friday, February 20, 2009

Spring Battles To Watch

With spring training now in full swing, and cactus league games less than a week away, I thought now would be a good time to take a closer look at the top five battles that will be going on in Giants camp over the next 6 weeks. The battle for the 5th starters job, the starting second basemen spot, the final bench and bullpen spots as well as the fight for the bulk of the at-bats at first base will all be under the microscope as the Giants try attempt to field their first winning team since 2004.

The 5th Starters Spot: The most publicized battle this spring has been and will continue to be the battle for the fifth starters spot. There are only 2 contestants in this one so it's pretty cut and dry: Either Jonathan Sanchez or Noah Lowry will be in rotation come April, but not both (unless an unforeseen injury takes place). Noah Lowry leads the Giants in wins over the last 4 years, even after missing all of '08, so he's been very important to the pitching staff, when healthy. Jonathan Sanchez looked dominant at times in '09 and many, including myself, see his ceiling being a lot higher than Lowry's. Sanchez is the favorite right now, but he's been inconsistent a throughout his young career (inclduing a brutal finishing of last season) and he has to put together a solid spring to solidify his spot. Lowry is looking to get healthy and rolling this spring too. Unlike Sanchez though, Lowry has to first prove healthy, then he has to prove game-effective. After all, Lowry hasn't thrown in a regular season game since August 2007. So Sanchez has the edge and I think he'll be in the rotation come April with Lowry either on the DL or starting off in Fresno to build strength. Still this battle is going to be a good one to watch this spring, if Lowry can stay healthy and in it. If all 6 major league starters are healthy and pitching well at the end of the the spring, it would be intersting to see if the Giants would entertain the idea of carrying a 6-man rotation to start the year, or at least until they could deal someone.

Starting 2nd Basemen: This fight is going to be a three-way tussle between the favorites, Kevin Frandsen and Emannuel Burris, and the underdog, Eugenio Velez. I guess Juan Uribe should also be considered here but a lot of things would have to go wrong for him to end up the Giants starting second basemen on opening day. Frandsen has been in line for a few years and with Durham now finally gone, this was supposed to be his time. He's hit .300 at every minor league stop and when he got a got his look in September of '07, he hit .370 with 14 runs in his 73 at-bats. However, he got injured last season and it really put him behind the 8-ball. Many around the organization feel that Burris has more upside than Frandsen, but feel his future with the team is at shortstop. Still, if he outplays Frandsen, he'll likely get the job. I still envision KFrand winning this job out of the gate, putting Burris at shortstop in Fresno and Velez on the bench as a utility guy in San Francisco. This is going to be another good one though because nobody is being given the edge. There is no veteran incumbent and this should be a good old fashion case of "whoever plays the best, wins the job".

Bullpen Spots: The fight for the final remaining bullpen spots won't be as heavily watched as the others, but it's still going to be something to keep an eye on. The Giants currently have 5 guys who are pretty much locks to make the team: Brian Wilson, Bob Howry, Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo and Jack Taschner. That leaves 2 remaining spots for about 6 guys to battle for. The most likely candidates to fill those spots are Alex Hinshaw, Merkin Valdez, Keeichi Yabu, Justin Miller, Osiris Matos and Billy Sadler. Rule V draftee Luis Peredomo will also be given a look but isn't as likely to make the team as the others mentioned. If Merkin Valdez is healthy, he should be on the team for sure as he proved to be one of the Giants' most effective relievers in the early part of last year. He carried a 1.69 era in 17 games before suffering a season ending injury in mid-May. Alex Hinshaw should also have a leg up on the rest as he threw extremely well during his stint last year, except for a few outings in August, and struck out 47 batters in under 40 innings pitched (had 3.4 era, but has to bring his 1.5 WHIP down). Keeichi Yabu (3.57 era, 65 games) and Justin Miller (3.65 era, 76 k's in 62 games in '07) are two veterans who are very capable and have thrown well over the last year or two, so those two can't be counted out, even if the odds are against them. Again, my 2 favorites to take those spots will be (if healthy) Merkin Valdez and Alex Hinshaw. If Valdez isn't healthy, then I'd expect to see Yabu or Miller to swoop up his spot.

Lions' share of 1st Base: This job really is Travis Ishikawa's to lose, but there are some other options in Giants' camp this year in case he does struggle. John Bowker got a long look at the big league level last year and although he has to improve, he definitely showed some positive signs. The team also added Josh Phelps this winter for depth at the position and he has been putting together great seasons in AAA ball over the last few years and is itching for another look at the big leagues. Then there is the young Jesus Guzman who isn't really battling for first base, but if he plays like he's capable of this spring at third base, he may force the Giants hand at moving Pablo Sandoval across the diamond to first while Guzman gets his look at third. Again, though, all signs are pointing towards Ishikawa, who at least will provide very solid defense over there. The Giants are also still exploring other options at third base as well (Joe Crede, Andy Marte) so a move could still happen that would push Ishikawa out of a starting job.

Bench Spots: Now, the battle for the bench spots aren't what people are going to think about as they're sitting in sunny Scottsdale this spring watching baseball, but it's something the Giants will be monitoring closely. Rich Aurilia, Jesus Guzman, Juan Uribe, Jon Bowker, Nate Schierholtz, Eugenio Velez, the loser of the second base battle and a handful of catcher are all trying to make the team as reserves, but the Giants will only have room for 5. There is a good chance that Dave Roberts will be let go before the end of spring, but if he isn't, that's one spot that will be taken. Also right now you'd have to assume that Bochy will carry a back-up catcher and Steve Holm would be the favorite for that and that would be 2 spots taken. So there really are only 3 spots available right now for about 6 guys to battle for. Nate Schierholtz is likely to get the job as the 4th outfielder unless he tanks this spring and I don't thing the Giants brought Rich Aurilia back to have play for Fresno, so I think they'll have themselves a spot. So that would leave one remaining spot for: Velez, Bowker, Guzman, Uribe, Ryan Rohlinger ect... Velez has the versatility and Bochy will likely want to keep him on the roster as they head north, so he'd be my pick at this juncture.

*Update: The Joe Crede watch is officially over as he has signed a one year deal with the Twins after all. Again, I'm glad he won't be in San Francisco this year as he wasn't what this team necessarily needed and wouldn't have been much of an upgrade to what they already have in the infield. However with him on a one-year deal, something tells me that we haven't heard the last of the "Joe Crede to the Giants" rumors that started in 2006.
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9 Comments:

  • At 3:20 PM, Anonymous KellyRincoln 15 said…

    At least we're talking about young players like Sandoval and Ishikawa rather than the traditional Giants AARP Roster. That's one good sign!

     
  • At 10:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The Giants are going to be an fun team to watch in 2009 cause we don't really know what they'll be. They could win the division, or they could finish 4th. It really all depends on how the hitting develops.

     
  • At 2:15 PM, Anonymous Trags14 said…

    The only thing you are missing in your evaluation of the Giants is making a place for excitement for the fan base. You should realize there were only two players on the 2008 team who batted over .300 last year. You can not win a World Series on that kind of planning. The Giants Home Office needs to take a chance on someone like Buster Posey who can spur the whole team to higher standards. If he has a great Spring Training why not reward him with a spot on the team. Too young or inexperienced? Mickey Mantle was younger than Buster when he started. He made a few errors and struck out a few times when he first started but look what he did for the Yankees in the long run. A team is going to be average when you go with the safe bets. You have to gamble if you are going to be on top. What do you say, Trevor?

     
  • At 11:01 PM, Anonymous Billy Bob said…

    I've heard the a rumor that Andy Marte would be coming to SF now that crede has been signed?? Any merit to that rumor anyone know? I haven't heard anything

     
  • At 11:36 PM, Blogger Trevor Cole said…

    Trags-
    I agree with you about needing to gamble sometimes to come out on top and that Posey should be up sooner than later, and sure, the team struggled last season, but I'm not really following what your saying in the first part of your post?

    Anyway, my post was regarding the spring battles for specific positions and I think your talking about a hole other issue such as an organizational philosophy, and yes, the Giants need to change some things obviously because they've been horrible when it comes to producing their own everyday ballplayers. Maybe they need to start pushing guys along a little quicker and I think we started to see some of that last year. They also plan on having a few of their top prospects up in AA by May and a few of them could see some of San Francisco by the end of the year.

     
  • At 11:37 PM, Blogger Trevor Cole said…

    The Giants may look at Marte, but I doubt they'll add him. They may get him and add him into the mix and let him battle for time, but only if he clears waivers. I think Jesus Guzman is a better hitter and I don't think Marte is really in the Giants plans though.

     
  • At 12:00 AM, Anonymous JuTMSY4 said…

    "You should realize there were only two players on the 2008 team who batted over .300 last year. You can not win a World Series on that kind of planning"
    The Phillies had exactly 0 starters bat over .300 last year...

     
  • At 9:39 PM, Anonymous Rawbeezeitz said…

    That's the same number of TB Rays who hit over .300. Team ERA, team slugging, team OBP, unearned runs, those types of things are stats to look at; not the number of .300 hitters. The 2 on the Giants is 2 more than both League Champions combined.

     
  • At 9:54 PM, Anonymous JuTMSY4 said…

    I believe only 2 playoff teams had reg. season team ERAs above 4 (The White sox and I think the Red Sox)...


    And (now I'm looking it up now) all 8 playoff teams were in the top 11 (stupid White Sox...)

     

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