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Monday, February 25, 2013

Romo, Sandoval Starting off Strongly

Had enough speculation about who will get what roster spot and which prospect will end up where? Well, baseball has finally arrived, albeit of the exhibition variety.

The Giants, being the defending World Champs, have plenty of interest surrounding them as Cactus League has gotten underway. Ryan Vogelsong and Pablo Sandoval led the Giants in the opener over the Angels, as Vogey had a solid a solid two innings of work to get the Giants spring underway, and Pablo Sandoval drove in the first Giants' run of the spring with an RBI line-drive single over the 2nd baseman's head. Matt Cain got knocked around a bit in game two, giving up 4 runs in his inning of work, but Pablo continued raking the baseball as he went 2 for 3 and has hit safely in all 3 games this spring. Madison Bumgarner fared similarly to Vogey in game 3, looking solid in his two innings of work, and the Giants have to be pretty pleased overall with the way they've started the Cactus League. Sergio Romo has turned in a couple of scoreless performances as well as the Giants will begin to work him on back-to-back days to get him ready for the full-time closers role. Other than the late inning meltdown Monday and Matt Cain's forgettable Cactus League debut Sunday, so far so good in Giants camp.

As for the competitions for certain spots, it's still way to early to tell for the most part. Francisco Peguero had a nice game Monday going 2-3 with a double and an RBI and he looks like he's primed to make a strong run at a 5th outfield spot, especially when you consider the Giants need another righty. Gary Brown has seen action in all three games as well to start out, but hasn't done much outside of smoking a double in his first at-bat on Saturday. There's no real shot at Brown making the roster out of the gate, but with the Giants unimpressive left-field combo of Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres, I'm sure they'd be all for the youngster playing his way onto the big league squad and possibly into a significant role. If Brown's hitting .320 with a bunch of steals in Fresno by the end of May, and the Blanco/Torres platoon his hitting .220 without making much happen at the plate, then I'm sure the Giants would have no problem throwing the youngster into the fire. We saw them do it with Buster Posey and even Brandon Belt to a degree, and I think they do have those type of expectations for Brown. I really hope he gets 50+ at-bats this spring so we can see just how close he is.
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Friday, February 22, 2013

Giants Set for Cactus League Opener

Just like the offseason that preceded it, the Giants spring has been relatively quiet and uneventful, and now it's finally time to switch gears back to game action!

Ryan Vogelsong will take the hill as the Giants will play host to the Angels in their first game action since winning the World Series in Detroit last October. Boch didn't say what Vogey's pitch limit will be but my guess is the Giants will try and get him to go two if possible. Vogelsong will depart to play in the WBC next week so I'm sure the Giants will want to get him some work beforehand as there's no real telling how much work he'll see on the US roster. Bochy said he plans to use Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt and George Kontos some work Saturday as well. Then depending on how things go, Chad Gaudin, Scott Proctor, Jean Machi and Dan Otero could all see an inning of work too, as the battle for the final bullpen spot officially begins. Another surprise contender for that final spot that Boch revealed earlier this week is Dan Runzler, who's apparently looking the best he's looked in a Giants uni early on this spring. He can have Jonny Venters-type stuff when he's on, and would be incredible to watch if he can finally put it all together and stay healthy. Bochy said he'd carry four lefties in the pen if the issue forces itself, but something tells me that if Runzler really impresses this spring, one will be used as trade ammunition for some need at the end of spring.

Now, as I said at the top of the post, outside of the minor battles for the only three roster spots that have yet to be determined, there really hasn't been many headlines coming out of Giants' camp. They did have a minor scare earlier this week as Javier Lopez took a Madison Bumgarner throw off the back of his pitching hand. What could have been a lot worse was diagnosed as only a bruise and Lopez shouldn't be out of action more than a week or so. It did, however, make his decision easy to skip out on the WBC. That isn't the case for Pablo Sandoval though. Once again, the Giants' third basemen arrived in camp significantly over the weight limit the Giants' staff would like him to be at. It hasn't effected him at the plate one bit, as he's put up some of the Giants' most impressive batting sessions in practices, but it will effect him when it comes time to do more than stand in the cage and rake. He'll be working hard on shedding some of that winter weight between now and the start of the WBC, which unfortunately isn't that much time. Ideally, I think the Giants would prefer he opt out of the tourney to stay in Scottsdale and work like he did in the spring of 2011, but instead he'll have to get his conditioning in while traveling with the Venezuelan squad.

The Giants did make a minor trade on Friday afternoon, sending Connor Gillaspie, who's been at a stand-still in the organization for years now, to the White Sox for relief prospect Jeff Soptic. Gillaspie wasn't going to make the 25-man roster and would have likely been lost on waivers at the end of spring, so at least the Giants got something for him. I don't know much about 21 year-old right-hander other than the fact that he throws hard and is tough to hit, but still is learning how to harness his stuff. Drafted in the 3rd round in 2011, he went 3-2 with a 5.40 ERA in his first full season as a pro with Chicago's low-A squad.
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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Back to Work!

Finally, after what's seemed like a relatively slow and uneventful offseason, the Giants' pitchers and catchers reported to Scottsdale Tuesday and preparation for their tittle defense has officially begun.

Being barely a day and a half into camp, there really hasn't been too much news to hit the wire out of Arizona yet, but there have certainly been some positive feedback regarding some of the pitchers first bullpen sessions. The one I was most curious about, and I'm sure I'm not the only one, was how Tim Lincecum looked fresh off a winter in which he had to work some issues out mechanically and physically. From everything I've heard on Timmy's first session though, apparently things couldn't have gone much better and Lincecum declared himself fully healthy and 100% focused after the practice. The Giants were able to win the world series last year without having their ace even in the playoff rotation, so obviously if the Giants get him back to his pre-2012 form, this rotation returns to one of the elite (if not the best) rotation in all of baseball. Of course, a lot of that will lie with whether or not Barry Zito can carry over his 2012 rebound year into 2013, but Bruce Bochy has to be feeling just fine with how things are looking here early on.

Since the positional players aren't required to report until later this week, there aren't many in camp quite yet, however, one guy who has shown up early is Pablo Sandoval. The Panda had the health scare that required a hospital stint last month, and apparently he's still feeling some of the effects of that and as a result, hasn't been able to take on his full workload. Bochy acknowledged that Sandoval needs to shed some pounds and the Giants will used these next few weeks before the Cactus League starts to get him completely healthy and work his conditioning. At the same time, Pablo won the World Series MVP last fall playing at a weight that was significantly higher than the Giants' brass would prefer as the weight doesn't really affect his hitting ability. Where it does come into play though is with his range at third base as well as increasing his chances to injuries like hamstring pulls and muscle strains. Last time Pablo played close to a full season, he hit .330 with 25 jacks and 90 RBI. The goal for the Giants this year with Pablo has to be avoiding that disabled list.

There will be much more to talk about as the players start trickling into camp and the activities increase beyond bullpen sessions and catchers batting practice. There are also still expected to be 3 open spots for the opening day roster, so even though the starting lineup, rotation and back-end of the bullpen is virtually set, there will be some lower-scale competitions to monitor starting here shortly.
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Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Romo, Ramirez Signings Should Wrap Offseason

With the Giants just a week away from getting back to work and officially starting work on their attempt at a 3rd tittle in 4 seasons, they have locked up all their arbitration eligibles and have just about reached their mandated $140 Million payroll.

The two big moves this week were the inking 2010 bullpen stalwart Ramon Ramirez and the signing of expected closer Sergio Romo to a 2-year deal that buys out his remaining arbitration eligibility. With Romo expected to slide into the closers role full time this season, and Guillermo Mota not re-signing, it left another mid-relief spot vacant which is where Ramirez could fit in assuming he throws well this spring. He's coming off rough year in New York in which his ERA shot up to the high-4's after carrying one in the low-2's throughout his year-and-a-half in San Francisco. The Giants are hoping a return to the thick cool air by the bay will result in a return to form for Ramirez, but again, he's coming in on a minor league deal and will have a lot to prove in Scottsdale. The one thing in his favor though, is he's the most experienced arm in that race for the 12th bullpen spot. I expect to see guys like Jean Machi, Brett Bochy and Heath Hembree also get some looks early in spring as the Giants try and size them up, but the job should be Ramirez's to lose.

So, after the two signings, the Giants team payroll is just about maxed out for their projected 2013 figure, but like they've made clear in the past, they may be willing to surpass that number a bit should they find the right fit. That being said, I'm extremely surprised that they didn't make a more serious run at Scott Hairston, a guy who I've mentioned numerous times here this winter and just signed a 2 year, $5M deal with the Cubs. I just felt Hairston was exactly what this team was lacking, a right-handed outfielder with big power in his bat that could sufficiently platoon with, or even replace Gregor Blanco. I mean, you give Hairston 400 at-bats in a season and he's going to put up some numbers for you. For a team that lacks players with the ability to hit the 3-run homer and create some runs when the offense is struggling, it seems like he would have been an ideal target, especially after seeing his price tag. Not that I don't like Blanco, but I think he gets overmatched vs. a lot of lefties at the plate and is still a question mark as an everyday corner outfielder.
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