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Friday, February 26, 2010

Spring Training Notes

The Giants full-squad are all in camp and besides Freddy Sanchez, it looks like everybody's at or near %100 and all should be available when the Giants kick off their Cactus League schedule next week.

Spring workouts have begun to intensify a bit with pitchers now throwing live batting practice instead of coaches, and there have been a couple of young guys who have put on some shows in BP. One of them has been one of the Giants' top-5 prospects, outfielder Thomas Neal. Neal has gone deep more than any other player in camp so far, and reportedly hit 5 jacks in one of his sessions of about 10-12 swings. Neal really generated a lot of interest last summer, after quietly putting together a nice 2008 season and AFL showing, and if he tears the cover off the ball this spring, he very well could be in the mix for a big league call-up at some point in 2010. His 2009 season reminded me a lot of Pablo Sandoval's 2008 campaign and we all saw how well Pablo fared when he got his call-up at the end of that season. I think Neal is right about where "The Panda" was at that point, and could be the next Giants farmhand to make his way into the starting lineup, quite possibly as early as the second half of 2010. Buster Posey has also impressed Bochy with his batting practice sessions, driving the ball to the gaps and flexing some power as well. A few other names Boch mentioned as far as youngsters who have really stuck out are outfielders Francisco Peguero and Roger Kieschnik.

One key area that Bruce Bochy and the coaching staff are prioritizing this spring are the basic fundamentals. On the very first day of full squad workouts, Bochy clarified that everyone will be doing some bunting and some situational hitting throughout the spring in order to cut down the failed attempts during the season. Last year, the Giants weren't the most fundamentally sound club out there and it cost them more than a few times. A lot of people overlook the small part of the game like the sacrifice bunt or moving a player over to third base with less than 2 outs. Although the Giants have added some more pop to their lineup with the additions of Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa, they don't have the quickest base runners throughout their lineup and they're going to have to play fundamentally sound baseball in order to help make up for that. Andrew Baggerly wrote an article the other day about this in the Merc, citing a few different times last year when the Giants failed to get down a sacrifice bunt, and if you can remember back to those games, you see just how crucial it can be to fail to get something as simple as a sacrifice bunt down.

Bochy also scheduled the Giants' only intrasquad game to take place on March 1st, two days prior to their Cactus League Opener. He didn't say who will pitch in the scrimmage, but I'd assume it'll be someone like Joe Martinez, Todd Wellemeyer, Kevin Pucetas or Henry Sosa (who I'd love to see get a look this spring by the way). Tim Linceucm will start the spring opener on Wednesday and will be followed by Madison Bumgarner. All eyes will likely be focused on the radar gun for these two guys as there were reports at the end of last season that both of their fastball velocities were down. I don't really think the drop in speed is anything to get too worked up about though, as Bumgarner's was more a mechanical issue, and Lincecum's drop was probably due a little bit to fatigue. This is why I think it would be wise for Tim to try and bulk up as much as he can without messing with his mechanics. It's going to be tougher for him at his size to continue throwing the ball upwards of 95 mph in October after throwing 220 innings than it would be for someone like Matt Cain or Madison Bumgarner. Even if he's at 92 mph though, Lincecum generates so much movement and is so tough to pick up for opposing hitters, that he's still just as tough to hit as he is when he's throwing 95-96. He should fill out though in the next couple of years as he gets into his later 20's though, and that's when this kid should become even better than he is now.

Injury Notes: Travis Ishikawa, who was going to miss up to three months if he needed surgery, and at the time it looked like that was going to be the case, may avoid going under the knife after all. He just had an MRI and his torn ligaments are healing and he could be playing within the next 2 weeks.
-Mark DeRosa hasn't hit on the field yet, only in the cages, as he recovers from his wrist surgery, but he should be ready within the first week of the Cactus League.
-Nothing really new on the Freddy Sanchez front, though he's still coming along nicely doing some light activities.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Giants Full-Squad Workouts Begin

The Giants had their first official full-squad workout scheduled for Tuesday, but weather conditions have kind of kept teams from getting into their full-planned practices.

The two new additions to the Giants lineup, Mark DeRosa and Aubrey Huff, both arrived a few days early and got some work in on Monday before the rains came in and cut the workouts short. Huff arrived in good shape, supposedly down 10-15 pounds from where he ended last season at and appears determined to bounce back from his sub-par 2009 season. The 1 year deal could be a blessing for the Giants as he's again in a contract year and will have huge incentive to produce. The Giants projected number 5 hitter and left fielder, Mark DeRosa, is still easing his way back from surgery on his left wrist, but has been able to take part in most baseball activities and expects to be on the field for the Giants' Cactus League opener March 3rd. DeRosa took live batting practice in the cages on Monday, and reported no ill effects from the wrist surgery. Unfortunately, the Giants have done most all their hitting in cages over the last couple of days, so it's kind of tough to tell how the sessions have actually gone, but it's so early anyway that I don't think anyone is concerned one way or another. The other Giants' position player recovering from surgery, Freddy Sanchez, took part in agility drill and did some running as he tries to get himself into baseball shape despite not being scheduled to take part in any Cactus League games at this point.

Besides making sure DeRosa and Sanchez get back to 100%, the Giants will also be hoping to see a few of their returning players bounce back in 2010, and a good spring will definitely put them on the right track. The two guys I'm thinking about are Edgar Renteria and Aaron Rowand. Renteria, especially, has to bounce back in a big way from 2009's disaster in which he hit a career-low .250 and sported a career-low OPS of .635. At least, the Giants would like to see that OPS rise into the .700's and the batting average up around .275 or higher, and I do think Renteria can still do that. It's no secret that he played most of last year at less than 100%, and apparently one doctor who checked him out after the season was surprised he was able to continue playing in the condition he was in. His bounce back will be key in the Giants success, both offensively and defensively, as will Rowand's.

Aaron Rowand is set to leadoff for the Giants and hold that spot indefinitely and they're hoping he'll have the same success in that spot that he did when he was first moved there last summer. Obviously, in a perfect world, the Giants would have a more ideal leadoff man, and did show a bit of interest in guys like Johnny Damon and Scott Podsednik to try and get a more seasoned leadoff man in here, but Rowand actually thrived there in 2009. The 32 year-old center fielder hit .294 with 6 homers, 25 RBI, 29 runs scored and carried an OPS over .800 in 50 games at the leadoff spot last season. If Rowand doesn't work out in the top spot this year, I'd like to see the Giants go with Freddy Sanchez there as soon as he gets back into the lineup. Although he doesn't walk a whole lot, Sanchez is a patient hitter, and makes consistent contact and when he's right, he'll hit for a high batting average, and all those things translate well at the top of the order. Darren Ford, a youngster who could be in the mix in center field down the line, is also in camp, and he could very well put himself in a favorable spot with a strong spring. After Rowand in center field, there's Andres Torres and that's about it as far as major league ready players go, so Ford is going to given ample opportunity to climb his way up the organizational depth chart.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Friday, February 19, 2010

Spring Training Begins

Pitchers and Catchers have officially started their workouts, and the rest of the full-squad's arrival is just a few days away as the first full-squad workout is scheduled for February 23rd.

Unfortunately, there is already in an injury report going as one of the positional players who arrived early, Travis Ishikawa, will be sidelined for up to 3 months with multiple fractures in his foot. Ishikawa was set to back-up Aubrey Huff at first base and provide the Giants with a stellar defensive glove late in close ballgames, but it looks like he'll be unavailable until early June. Ishi's injury could open the door for Jon Bowker or even someone like Brett Pill to make the team for depth at first base. The team did get better news regarding injured second basemen Freddy Sanchez, as he appears to be a little ahead of schedule on his rehab from shoulder surgery in December. Sanchez's rehab was originally diagnosed to keep him out through the beginning of the regular season, but he's now targeting the tail end of spring as a return date and could be ready to start the year with the team after all. With most of the Giants roster set, the key to this spring will be keeping everyone healthy, so I wouldn't push it with Sanchez until he's absolutely ready. I don't want to see this thing nag him all year, and if he has to miss a couple weeks to start the season to be sure he's %100 in order to avoid missing time in the middle of the season, then so be it. They have Juan Uribe and Mark DeRosa who can easily fill in at second without the Giants missing much, at least offensively.

Tim Lincecum, fresh off his newly signed 2-year, $23 million deal had his first workout of the spring on Thursday, even getting up onto a mound and getting off a couple of big curve balls, a pitch he has yet to really employ in his first couple of seasons. Something we tend to forget with Lincecum after he's won consecutive Cy Young Awards, is that he's still a very young pitcher and still has plenty to learn at this level and adding another off-speed pitch to his repertoire is a prime example of that. Bruce Bochy made mention of Lincecum's workout, as he was impressed with the breaking balls the 25 year-old was dealing. Bochy and Dave Righetti also hinted that Madison Bumgarner may not join Lincecum in the Giants rotation to start the regular season. The Giants are only going to need to use a fifth starter in three ballgames in April, and it won't be until early May that they'll actually need to consistently have a fifth starter. Because of the lack of opportunity, they could start Bumgarner down in Fresno in order for him to get 4-5 starts and get into a rhythm in April rather than throw about once every 10 days in the Big Leagues. The Giants have Todd Wellemeyer in camp, and could decide to use him as the fifth starter/long releiver in April while MadBum get's some final seasoning in Fresno, and I don't think that would be a horrible idea.

Buster Posey Watch
: Bruce Bochy also got into Buster Posey's potential role with the Giants on Thursday, saying the 22 year-old catcher would take grounders only at first base when he's not catching this spring. I'm still expecting Buster to start the year in Fresno where he can play everyday, but with Ishikawa out until around mid-season, he could earn himself some extra at-bats and playing time, at least in the spring, by becoming familiar with first base. I think we're going to see Posey in San Francisco before Ishikawa returns and if Huff gets hurt or struggles, Posey could get some significant time there, so I definitely see the logic in having him learn the position.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Successfully Quiet Offseason Winds Down

With pitchers and catchers set to report to Scottsdale on Wednesday, followed by their first workout on Thursday, Spring Training is officially upon us. Finally, in our next post, we'll actually have some on-field happenings to discuss!

It was a relatively quiet offseason for baseball this winter, as the free agent market wasn't stocked with big name talent, but there was a big bat (Jason Bay) and a few aces (Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee) who will be in new places in 2010. It seemed like this years' market was flooded with players who either were injured or had sub-par years in 2009. With the market as shallow as it was, the Giants didn't get involved with any of the bigger names on the market, and wisely stuck to the second-tiere of free agents this winter to help upgrade their offense. They didn't trade for an Adrian Gonzalez or Prince Fielder, or get involved in the Matt Holliday or Jason Bay contract talks, but they did bring in a couple of bats in Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa, who should definitely help their offense and won't hurt their budget. They also returned a few guys who were very key to last years success in Bengie Molina and Juan Uribe. With the addition of Huff and DeRosa, it will enable the Giants to move Molina down in the order, where his lack of speed is easier to place. Huff is coming off a down year and DeRosa is coming off of a rough 2nd half of last year, so they will have their doubters and definitely have something to prove in 2010. All that being said, I expect both to be positive additions to the team this year, especially at the salary they're being paid.

Other than Huff and DeRosa, there weren't many changes made by the Giants this winter. They recently added right-handers Guillermo Mota, Byung-Hyun Kim and Todd Wellemeyer on minor league deals and I'm expecting at least one of those guys to break north with the big club to start the season. Wellemeyer will provide insurance in case 20 year-old Madison Bumgarner isn't quite ready for the full-time fifth starters spot. Mota should take Bobby Howry's role from last season and provide an overall young bullpen with a veteran presence. Kim can do a little bit of both and I'd expect him to start off in Fresno's rotation or as their closer. The Giants could still be in search for another reliever or two, to add depth if nothing else, during the spring. There are still some arms that are desperately seeking employment as spring training begins, including relievers Chan Ho Park, Kiko Calero and Joe Beimel as well as starter Jarrod Washburn. Also, there is one position player out there who I'd like to see the Giants take a shot on, and that guy is Rocco Baldelli. He could give the outfield some depth and provide a right-handed option to spell Nate Schierholtz in rightfield. He's a guy who could really make sense for this team and still has time to pan out if he can stay on the field. He did finish up last season healthy, and did homer 7 times with 22 RBI in just 150 at-bats with Boston... Jermaine Dye (bay area native) as a fourth outfielder/first basemen wouldn't be the worst addition either.

So, overall, I can't really complain about the Giants game plan for this offseason. They also capped things off positively, inking Tim Lincecum to a 2 year-deal that allows them to avoid arbitration for the next 2 years with their ace. They didn't spend money that will handicap them in the future, and they managed to get some players in who should help them out if they play up to their career standards. They may not pan out, but if they don't, it won't be an Edgar Renteria/Dave Roberts/Aaron Rowand-type, multi-year mistake. I would have liked to see them bring in Xavier Nady and Adam LaRoche instead of DeRosa and Huff, but LaRoche wouldn't sign here, and Nady's elbow must not be at %100 cause he's a rock solid hitter, and he generated very little interest in a think free agent market... Are DeRosa and Huff enough to get the Giants into the playoffs? Probably not, but they will help, and if guys like Renteria, Rowand and Freddy Sanchez can rebound from last year, things will definitely be looking up for the Giants in 2010!

*Check out The Giants Baseball Blog at HotStove.Com in a discussion about Tim Lincecum here! The Giants Baseball Blog is a regular contributor to Hotstove.com and HotStove TV!
The Giants Baseball Blog

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Lincecum Goes Easy on Giants

I'm sure by now, most every Giant fan on the planet has heard that Tim Lincecum and the Giants just barely avoided an arbitration hearing Friday, and agreed to a 2-year pact that will pay the 2-time Cy Young Award winning right-hander $23 million over the next 2 seasons.

Tim Lincecum is quite possibly the best pitcher in baseball right now, and there are guys that are earning nearly double of what he's going to make in 2010 ($8 million). I'm extremely surprised he went the route he did, but what this shows me is that he's serious about being a Giant and wants to try and make things work. I don't think there is any doubt in my mind that Lincecum would have won his 13 million in an arbitration case, and probably could have kept taking the Giants to arbitration each year over the next 3 offseasons and breaking the bank each time. However, his new deal will pay him the Giants' proposed offer of $8 million in '10, then Lincecum's proposed offer of $13 million in 2011 added onto a $2 million signing bonus that he'll be receiving. Amizingly, he's still getting paid less than what Ben Sheets (who missed all of the '09 season with injury and doesn't have near the credentials of Timmy) is getitng paid by Oakland. So, obviously, if it were all about money with Timmy, or if there was any thought that he was offended by the Giants low-ball offer, he showed by singing the deal that he's more focused on being a Giant than squeezing an extra couple of million out of them. I was the slightest bit curious as to what would have happened had they actually gone to arbitration, but I think the best case scenario, especially for the Giants, was to avoid it, so kudos to Brian Sabean and co. for getting this thing out of the way.

The Giants also agreed to terms with another starting pitcher this week, inking former Cardinal's right-hander Todd Wellemeyer to a minor league deal with a spring training invite. The 31 year-old is coming off a rough '09 campaign, as he went just 7-10 with a 5.89 era and sported a ridiculously high 1.77 WHIP. He spent most of the season in the Card's rotation, but was moved to the pen later in the year only to get the same results. However, in '07 and '08, he really wasn't all that bad for St. Louis. In 2007 after coming over from Kansas City, he threw in 20 games for the Cards, including 11 starts, and sported a 3.11 era and a respectable 1.22 WHIP. In 2008, he spent the full year in the Cardinals rotation and flourished, going 13-9 with a 3.71 era, striking out 134 batters in 191 innings, and sporting a 1.25 WHIP. His 2008 season actually was very similar, equal or better in all categories but the strikeout totals actually, as to what Matt Cain did in that very season. The fact that threw that well in '08 is what got him his chance with the Giants, and if he reverts to that form, he's going to force Madison Bumgarner back to the minors or at the very least make the roster as a long-reliever. With a great spring, he makes the rotation, with a solid spring, he makes the bullpen, if he's nothing special or has a sub-par of a spring, they toss him down in Fresno and have insurance if Bumgarner stumbles a bit, or if one of the other starters go down at any point in the year. Another deal that really has the chance to pay off big time, without having to commit much of anything, so for this reason, I like the move.

Final Offseason Review Post Coming Next....

4 days
The Giants Baseball Blog

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Giants Should Wise Up With Lincecum

As we inch closer and closer to the spring training reporting date for pitchers and catchers, it's becoming more and more likely that the Giants and Tim Lincecum will need to go through a hearing to determine the right-hander's salary for the 2010 season.

There has been so much on this topic bandied about throughout the cyber world and sports talk radio/TV shows, so we've tried to stick with on-field topics rather than continue to beat this topic to death. I just don't understand why the Giants are toying with their most important piece of their franchise, and risking the possibility of irritating the 2-time Cy Young Award winner. And offering him $8 million for 2010 season has to be insulting to Timmy. He's still saying all the right things regarding the situation, but I seem to be picking up a little frustration from him as this thing continues to drag out. He's taking a "whatever" type approach to this situation, which I take as meaning one of two things. Either he's seriously getting fed up with the Giants and this contract situation, or he really does not care too much, and I highly doubt it's the ladder. The Giants are paying Barry Zito $18 million in 2010, and for them to offer Lincecum less than 1/2 of that after what he's done for the franchise over the last two seasons is the epitome of a low-ball offer. Especially after Lincecum went relatively low on his request ($13 million) even though he probably could have went up to $15-17 million like the other elite pitchers in this league are earning. The Giants need to hammer something out with this kid and they need to make him happy. Tim Lincecum has single-handily allowed this city to transition from the Bonds-era nearly flawlessly and he's now the guy who the fans will pile up at the gates too see, but the Giants seem to think that's worth just $8 million?

Right now, the ultimate goal for the Giants management needs to be locking Lincecum up long-term but if they continue to drag this out, he may not want to do so. Heck, if he keeps on pitching like he has over the last 2 seasons, he could keep earning $17 million in arbitration for the next few years until he becomes a free agent. I don't think that will happen, and I do think the Giants will eventually lock him up long term, but I'm not a supporter of the way they've handled this situation thus far and it's on them to make it right.

Other news to come out of this weekends fanfest was that Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean are counting on Nate Schierholtz rising up to take hold of the rightfield starting job, but they didn't dismiss Jon Bowker, Fred Lewis and Eugenio Velez as options. Boch says the position will be determined in the spring, but the only other legit option I see for the Giants in rightfield is Jon Bowker (seems like everyones given up on Fred Lewis), but unless Bowker completely outplays Nate in the Cactus League, Schierholtz will be out in right come opening day. Schierholtz has the upper hand defensively, as he's considered the teams best defensive outfielder, and has very strong and accurate throwing arm, two traits that translate well in AT&T Park's quirky and spacious right-field. The only question regarding on Schierholtz is whether he'll hit enough to carry a corner-outfield spot. Randy Winn isn't exactly leaving huge shoes to fill as he hit just .262 with 2 homers and 51 RBI last year, but the Giants are hoping to get much more production out of right field this year. If Nate indeed wins the job out of spring, like I'm expecting him to do if the Giants don't add another outfielder from outside the organization, he's got to improve his average and needs to get on base more than last season (.267 and .302 OBP). He says he's done a lot of work this winter with his swing and approach and if he can reach his potential, he's capable of hitting right around .300 or higher with moderate power (12-17 homers).
The Giants Baseball Blog

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Giants Add Relievers

In the last few days, the Giants have come to agreements on minor league deals with 3 different relief pitchers and will have all three in camp battling to make their opening day roster.

First, the Giants took on a project, a guy who hasn't thrown in the major leagues in a couple of years, Byung-Hyun Kim. The 31 year-old, submarine throwing right-hander was successful in the early 2000's with the Diamondbacks, and is most famous for blowing consecutive saves in the 2001 World Series, games that could have sealed the series for Arizona, although the D-Backs still managed to win it that year. For some reason, Arizona decided to move Kim into the rotation in '03 (after he saved 36 games with a 2.04 era the year before) and he was never the same pitcher after that. Kim's last appearance in the MLB came in 2007, when he made three different stops with the Rockies, D-Backs and Marlins, carrying an era of 6.08 in 118 innings, also sporting a WHIP of 1.68. He was a starter for most of that season with the Florida, and surprisingly had a winning record (9-5) and really wasn't all that bad. He had a high WHIP due to a lot of walks, but he k'd nearly a batter per inning. The Giants will likely give him a shot to make their bullpen as a long-man, but I think the odds will likely be against him. The Giants look like they have about 5 bullpen roles that are basically guaranteed, and those are Brian Wilson, Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo, Brandon Medders and Dan Runzler. That leaves 2 likely spots for a plethora of arms to battle for. If he doesn't make the team out of spring, he'd provide the Giant some depth in AAA as a guy who could come up and start a game for them, or move into the bullpen if needed.

A couple other arms that will join the battle for those final bullpen slots are right-hander Guillermo Mota and lefty Horacio Ramirez. The 30 year-old Ramirez will have a much tougher trail ahead of him than Mota will to make the club. He's coming off a down year with Kansas City (5.96 era in 22 innings) and really hasn't been all that good since leaving the Braves after the 2006 season. Between '03-'06 with the Braves, he went 30-21 with a 4.37 era as a starter, but since leaving Atlanta, he's had an era of 6.74 and has won just 9 ballgames. Ramirez has had big-time injury problems over the last 3 seasons though and has thrown a combined 60 innings in that span. The Giants will give him a chance to make the bullpen out of spring, but I think he was brought in with the thought that he'll provide some depth at AAA and could be an emergency starter or a part-time bullpen-filler if the Giants need it during the season. Brian Sabean had said he would be on the lookout for possible options to start for the Giants, but I hope signing Ramirez is more for depth and insurance compared to being a legit option to start for the Giants.

The guy I'm expecting the most out of from this trio in 2010 though is Guillermo Mota. I'm expecting Mota to actually earn a spot out of Spring Training, as he's got the track record that Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy are seeking, and he's actually coming off a decent year with the Dodgers. The 36 year-old right-hander won 3 and lost 4 for the Dodgers in '09, but carried a respectable 3.44 era and 1.18 WHIP while opposing hitters hit just .224 against him. The one area that his game lacked a bit last year was the strikeout totals, which is a little concerning. He K'd just 39 batters in 65.1 innings of work after averaging over 8+ k's/9 innings throughout his career. If he has a good spring though, I'm definitely expecting him to break north with the team and quite possibly carry a prominent role in this bullpen. The only full-time bullpen guys from last year who posted an era below Mota's 3.44 mark was Brian Wilson (2.74), Jeremy Affeldt (1.73) and Brandon Medders (3.01).
The Giants Baseball Blog