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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Giants early spring analysis: Everything as expected

The Giant' full squad has been in town a few days now and has gone through some workouts together, and just as many expected, there's hardly any news or anything crazy to report on thus far.

One of the most stable, most professional clubhouses in all of baseball has shown up for work and they look like they're focused on not falling off after another championship. Just as they always tend to be in Spring Training under Bruce Bochy, things have been calm, cool and collected and there's really been nothing but good news to report so far. Of which, one of the most important is the health of catalyst center fielder and leadoff man Angel Pagan, who in his own words says he feels like "never before". Having him back healthy atop the lineup will make a huge impact. Not to take anything away from Gregor Blanco, who managed fine in the postseason last year in the leadoff spot, but we're talking apples and oranges in terms of these guys' talent levels. I mean, Blanco's quick and can get on base and play great defense, but Pagan is a guy who can be a difference maker when he's on his game. Remember that run at the end of 2012 when he hit .342 in August and was crucial down the stretch and in the playoffs. He's a good offensive player on a team without a lot of them, so keeping him healthy in 2015 is going to be so crucial.

Obviously, health with all the core guys are key, but Pagan and even Brandon Belt are two guys in particular who've missed significant time over the last couple of seasons with injury and with the losses of Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse, the Giants can't afford to have those guys hit the DL multiple times this summer. Whether that means babying them along in spring or working them harder and getting them in better shape, those two are another injury away from being tagged "unreliable" and "injury-prone". To Belt's credit, some of his injuries have been freak injuries as that baseball just keeps finding him at inappropriate times. Hopefully his concussion issues are a thing of the past though.

The other two guys with the health questions on the Giants 25-man roster each got glowing reviews during their first workouts as well which is great. We talked a lot about Matt Cain in out last post, but Tim Hudson threw his first bullpen on Wednesday and got positive results in both the way he threw the ball and the way he felt. It was the first time he's taken a mound since Game 7 of the World Series last fall, and of course with the had the ankle surgery over the winter (not even 8 weeks ago in fact), the Giants are going to take it easy with their elderly, albeit above-average right-handed starter. It's great news, nonetheless, that he was able to take the mound so soon and provide such solid results. Eli Whiteside caught Hudson's session and said he hardly had to move his glove away from where he had it targeted through the outing. With that news coupled with the way Cain reported no issues after his outing the other day and Tim Lincecum as focused as he's ever been in his life for the most important year for his professional career, the Giants pitching staff could end up being better than many people are expecting. 

In reality, the bottom line is there's still a long ways to go, and Cactus League games are still a week out, but seeing as everybody has reported healthy and in at least decent condition, then passed the test of their first workouts, it's kind of all you can ask for as a fan at this point. Once games start we'll start getting a better grip on bench roles and if Ryan Vogelsong may be able to knock Timmy out of the fifth spot. Until then, the main goal is just to keep everybody healthy. Losing players to injury before the season is brutal enough, let alone before the exhibition games start.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Giants third tittle defense unofficially begins

The road to the 2015 Major League Baseball has kicked off, as the reigning World Series champions just went through their first pitcher and catcher workout yesterday. The first full-squad workout is just around the corner too with all positional players due in Scottsdale Monday, then their first full-squad workout scheduled for Tuesday.

Alas, although the regular season is still 6 weeks out and spring training games are still a couple weeks away, we'll finally have some on-field baseball stuff to talk about moving forward. Obviously the two big pieces of news early on in regards to the Giants are the fact that Bruce Bochy has put to rest any potential battle for the fifth starters spot saying flat out it belongs to Tim Lincecum. May felt it would be a battle between Timmy and Ryan Vogelsong this spring but if that is the case, the Giants certainly aren't letting anyone know. I personally can't see how Boch would enter the year with Linececum in the rotation if he absolutely stinks in March and Vogey puts on a clinic, but unless that's the case, I do expect Timmy to enter the year in the fifth spot of the rotation with Vogey in the pen or taking the spot of Tim Hudson should his surgically repaired ankle take longer than expected to heal. Huddy is still on track to start the year with the big club but with him being up around age 40, you can't quite count on that body bouncing back like you would someone 10-15 years his junior. That being said, Hudson is rebounding greatly from his surgery and may even be a tad ahead of schedule and just may be a few days away from throwing off the mound. While that it great news, it doesn't necessarily mean Huddy will be ready to make his first start of the spring and may still be behind schedule, but that certainly is great news for the starting rotation.

Down in the pen, the back-end looks identical as to what they have been the last half decade or so. Once again anchoring things are the main four; Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez. After that foursome, however, things may look a little differently than what we saw heading into last year at least. Right now, the favorites for those last three spots are Jean Machi, Yusmiero Petit and Ryan Vogelsong. Despite Machi's regular season success last summer, he's kinda the odd man out should the Giants indeed decide to carry 12 pitchers out of the gate and all everyone stays healthy (certainly no given with Hudson's age and injury). There's also Hunter Strickland (who at the tail end of august looked like the closer of 2015) and others who are also right there in the mix as well, so Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti are going to have their work cut for them trying to decipher which 12 (or 13) arms they decide to break north with.

So far, reports on all who've thrown sessions have been glowing. The guy who's first bullpen session I was most curious in seeing the results of were Matt Cain's, who's coming off the elbow surgery and is obviously one of the most key components to the Giants staff becoming a powerhouse again. According to Henry Schulman and others in attendance on Friday for Cain's first throwing session of the spring, things went just fine for the 30 year-old right-hander. The health of Hudson is huge, but to me, the Giants' chances for success in their rotation hinder largely on Jake Peavy and Matt Cain. Getting the  Peavy that we saw in August/September and during all those years in San Diego would be huge. I have expectations for Peavy to be a big add and pitch like the mid-rotation guy with #2 upside. Bottom line is if Peavy pitches to his career norm and Cain his, things will be just fine. Hey, surgery on a pitchers throwing arm, shoulder or hand is never anything to scoff at but the Giants need Cain to actually revert back into pre-2013 as he wasn't quite himself  that year either. Plenty of pressure, I know, but your making a cool $21,000,000 in 2015 so deal with it Matty and step it up (elbow permitting)! As for Peavy, he kind of get's lost in the afterthought of Cain and Bumgarner, but he showed after the trade last summer that he still had front-end stuff on many occasions. A full year back in the NL and pitching in the spacious AT&T Park could easily have the 33 year-old in the 15-win territory for 2015. Granted, he has to stay healthy and motivated after he just got his new deal.

Now with Hudson, I think Bochy is really going to take it easy on him the first half of the year. A lot of 5 and 6 inning starts even if he's dealing. I think that's part of the reason why they wanted another guy capable of eating innings in their pen (Vogelsong). Heck, they may just give Hudson the occasional start off and use Vogey as his spot-starting back-up. As good as he was the first half of last year, we can't expect Hudson to deliver an ERA in the low-2's into June again. Brings me back to the fac that those top-3 that really carry the rotation, to start with at least.

Other than that though, not a whole lot to report yet as positional players make their way into camp over the next 24 hours. Should be interesting to see how Casey McGehee and Nori Aoki interact with the club but I think they'll fit in just fine.

So far, the biggest scare, outside of how they're going to score runs consistently, was Bruce Bochy's hospital stint and operation just over the weekend. We here at The Giants Baseball Blog wish him well and hopefully it's something that's fixed for good and will not persist.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Changes aplenty in the NL West

After their last two World Series Championships, the Giants suffered major meltdowns in the following seasons (2011 and 2013). They're completely aware of this, and although they didn't make any earth shattering moves in replacing Michael Morse and Pablo Sandoval, they feel like they're in good shape heading into spring training, which kicks off this week.

Giants' pitchers and catchers just arrived in Scottsdale with their first workout scheduled for tomorrow morning. The positional players won't be too far behind, as they report on the 23rd with the first full-squad workout scheduled for the 24th. Then, finally, we'll have baseball again as the Cactus League kicks off on March 3rd. Now, as we get ready to enter the 2015 season, there are plenty of questions surrounding the reigning top dogs. Many felt they failed in replacing Pablo Sandoval, so much so that their offense will take a noticeable tumble. Plus, while I didn't mind the Nori Aoki addition when you factor in who and what was available at that point in the offseason and the cheap price he came at. Seemingly every other team improved in the NL West though, so repeating not only as World Champs, but making a postseason run is going to be much more challenging.

First off, the San Diego Padres look re-stocked and ready to rock. They brought in a trio of all-star outfielders; Wil Myers from Tampa to play center, then Matt Kemp from LA and Justin Upton from Atlanta to flank him in the outfield. They then dove into the free-agent pool and landed highly sought-after free-agent RHP James Shields on a 4 year/$78M deal. Not a bad deal for the Pads after seeing what guys like Max Scherzer and Jon Lester just signed for. They have the depth in the rotation after Shields as well, with Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, and Ian Kennedy (coming off his best year since '11). RHP's Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow are each making their way back from injury and could really deepen an already solid staff if they're right. In fact, if those dudes get and stay healthy and the newcomers all mesh, it's going to pose major problems for the rest of the West. The Padres look like one of the most improved teams in baseball in 2015 and so long as Joaquin Benoit and that bullpen hold up while they avoid injury in their outfield, they could be major contenders come September.

The Dodgers, on the other hand, took a different approach than they have in recent years, letting some of their big name, big priced guys go in trade and free-agency and spending a little more judicially in the '14/'15 offseason. They still have enough talent with that staff, Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford finally becoming a full-timer (which could elevate him back into all-star status with health). They also brought in a couple of veteran, good clubhouse guys who still get it done to play up the middle in Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins. I have to say, adding those two make me a little more worried than when LA added HanRam, Josh Beckett and co. during the '12 season just cause those guys will help build a winning attitude in a clubhouse. Then there's that dreaded starting rotation, led by Clayton Kershaw and Zach Grienke which is the best 1-2 right/left handed punch in baseball.  (sorry guys, but unless Matt Cain is in 2011 form or Justin Verlander gets back to his ace-like ways ). That bullpen has about as much talent as any in the league, but health and performance issues always seems to weigh them down a bit.

That's kinda where the competition for the division tittle and wild care spot(s) end in the NL West because barring some minor miracles, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies likely aren't sniffing postseason play in 2015. Despite talks of dealing one and/or both of their star players, Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, both return in 2015 to at least start the year in Denver. Colorado also has up-and-comers like Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado and some high-upside starting pitchers. Still, they have a ways to go before being competitive again in the division. The Diamondbacks, while still possessing one of the best right-handed power bats in the game ( first basemen, Paul Goldschmidt) added the biggest prized international free agent of the winter in Yasmany Tomas. They'll use this spring to figure out if he or Marc Trumbo will fit better at the hot corner with the other taking right field playing alongside AJ Polack and  David Peralta to form a solid young outfield. The D-Backs' problem will be their lack of experience as well as their lack of overall talent in their starting rotation. They could have really been the ones to use James Shields, or at least made a play at one of the other second-tiere starters )

Then, we finish up with the Giants, who had a really quiet all-around offseason. They tried to strike big and early with offers to re-sign Pablo Sandoval and nearly lured Jon Lester into town with a huge contract, but ultimately he chose to reside on the North Side of Chicago instead. After missing out on their top two priorities, they flirted with guys like James Shields and inquired about Chase Headly and maybe dealing for Justin Upton or Ben Zobrist. However, in the end, it wasn't any big new name coming to town to replace Pablo and Michael Morse. Instead, the Giants went with 2014 NL Comeback POY Casey McGehee, in hopes of finding someone who would come close to Pablo's regular season production at a fraction of the cost. To replace Morse, they went out and made another bargain move in signing Nori Aoki to a one-year deal worth just under $5M. I certainly would have loved that Aoki signing more had they found some legit power at third or re-signed Pablo, but all in all, I think Aoki is my favorite new add of the offseason. Instead of that big signing or trade, the Giants will more so be counting on in 2015 is the development of Belt, Crawford and Panik as well some of their other young pitchers.

What the Giants will be banking on most is there returning guys all staying healthy and some improving on sub-par 2014 seasons. Belt and Pagan are another injury away from getting tagged"fragile", and they need Buster Posey to be MVP-like without Pablo around to have his back. We know that as long as they're within striking distance they'll be active at the trade deadline and they saved a lot of their trade chips this winter because of that. No, they don't necessarily look like a World Series favorite on paper right now, but we all know how things change when the games start, and I think they're gonna add some pieces in season.

However, that's about the lay of the land in the ever-changing NL West. Although the Dodgers slashed payroll and lost a couple of stars in Kemp and Ramirez, I actually think they'll be better than many expect. The Padres are going to be the Wild Card for me. If they mesh well, which they very well may be able to do, then they could become the new powerhouse in this division, but a lot has to go right. Right now, I'd place the Dodgers maybe slightly above SF and the Giants slightly above the Pads, but again, these teams went through so much change I really gotta see them play together before getting too serious with predictions.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Friday, February 13, 2015

GBB's 2015 Giants Top-10 Prospects, Plus Extras

With spring training just days from kick-starting, I definitely wanted to get out our version of the Giants top-10 prospect list.

Now, since Joe Panik has a starting job and has exceeded his rookie requirements obviously I'm not going to include him in the list. I will, however, include Andrew Susac since he's still yet to exceed rookie status and is not a lock to make the 25-man out of spring

1. Andrew Susac, C: So with the above mentioned, you kinda had to see this one coming. Susac has the upper hand here because he's shown in brief, but clutch, situations that he's capable of being a plus back-stop at the Major League level, and at age 24 has plenty of room still to grow. Looks like he's going to have at least 15-20 HR power with good .270+ average projection and should only get better behind the dish. At worst he'll become a league average starter but I think he's better than that. Plus we all saw how the last catcher with big upside turned out....

2. Kyle Crick, RHP: The big right-hander drops down a spot after spending last two years atop the pack. He just hasn't shown enough development on his command to really make him a can't miss guy like Cain, Lincecum and Bumgarner all were. Still, he'd dominant when on and at age 22 still has a few years to lock down that command which I think will eventually happen. Ceiling: #2 or #3 with big strikeout totals but never big 18+ win seasons because of command issues forcing him from games early.

3. Tyler Beede, RHP: The Giants 2014 first rounder out of Vanderbilt impressed in his very brief showing in 2014 for the organization. He struck out 18 batters in 15 innings over 6 starts and sported a 3.00 ERA split between rookie ball and low-A. Expect the 21 year-old to start in either low-A or possibly San Jose. Scouts have compared him to being a Matt Cain-type if all pans out and I'll be keeping close tabs on him  his first full year in pro ball this summer. Plus, he was drafted in the first round in two different amateur drafts, which has to tell you something. At best, your looking at another mid-rotation guy, possibly even #2 material

4. Keury Mella, RHP: It was tough to pick between he and Beede for the 3 spot but I had to go Beede based  on his college track record and showing last summer. Mella has electric stuff though, with a mid-90's heater with heavy sink, a hard curve and an improving change-up. If he gets a grip on that change, he could present a Pedro Martinez-type arsenal. Too early to tell possible upside but if he can put it all together, could certainly be a mid-rotation candidate down the road.

5. Clayton Blackburn, RHP: This guy has been in our top-10 the last 3 years, so it's hard to believe he just turned 22. Doesn't have the upside of the guys ahead of him but threw well in Richmond in '14, striking out nearly a batter an inning while sporting a solid 3.29 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 93 innings. He kinda seems to have a Ryan Vogelsong-type ceiling to me, and I hope they let him go the full year at AAA at 22 to give him that experience. He may be the most Major League-ready of any other Giants pitching prospect right now so he could get a call if the rotation goes into shambles. Projectable back-end rotation guy with #3 upside.

6. Christian Arroyo, IF: Based on what the 19 year-old middle infielder showed in Augusta last season, ranking him this high may look like a stretch. However, he did tear the cover off the ball in low-A (.333/5/48/.847 in 243 ab's) and at 19 he looks like he's only going to keep getting better and better. Look for him to start in Augusta, or possibly even San Jose. Still too early to tell what he could become at the bigs if all pans out but a guy who can hit for a solid average (.280+) with at least gap-to-gap power is not out of the question and reasonable for a middle infielder.

7. Adalberto Mejia, LHP: The 21 year-old was one of the bigger buzzes in the organization prior to the 2014 season, but he didn't necessarily blow their socks off in AA Richmond. He wasn't terrible, posting  4.67 ERA with 1.39 WHIP in a league notoriously known to favor the pitcher. That said, Mejia is still just 21, has a ton of attributes that scouts like as a lefty, despite the sub-par showing in 2014. One reason he's not ranked higher is because he'll face a 50-game suspension to start 2015 for PED infraction which is hardly what the kid needs at this point.

8. Ty Blach, LHP: Now the only slight issue working against Blach is he came out late and is already 24 with very little minor league experience. Other than that, the lefty has looked like a stud since joining the organization in 2013. His numbers over those two seasons speak for themselves, going a combined 20-12 with a 3.02 ERA and a solid 208:57 K:BB ratio over 270 innings as a pro. He's another guy who could be atop the list should the Giants need a starter called up in a pinch. Best case is he ends up almost like a left-handed version of Ryan Vogelsong or even a Noah Lowry-type. Throws 4 pitches for strikes and gives his team a chance to win but won't really overwhelm you with strikeouts or swing-and-miss stuff like some of the others higher up on the list..

9. Matt Duffy, 2B/IF: Although he wasn't quite as influential in the postseason run as Panik, Duffy still came up and showed he could hang and even contributed in the postseason. His ceiling is probably that of a middle of the of the road middle infielder, a la Mark Ellis or David Murphy best case. He's got talent on his side but a long way to go. My guess is he spends most of his career on the bench where his versatility is a value.

10. Daniel Carbonell, OF: "Carby" is kind of like my "project pick" here. The 23 year-old Cuban defector's raw talent could have him much higher on this board, but the fact is he's gonna be 24 by the start of the 2015 season and still has a ways to go before being Major League ready. He's not gonna be Yasiel Puig or Yeonis Cespedes, but he does have a nice combo of average power with the ability to hit for a high average. Plus he's athletic, can run and field and with a developing frame, I don't think his power has fully arrived. Likely to start the year in San Jose, although could ascend up quickly if he hits like he did last fall.

Just Missed: LHP Steven Okert (Filthy numbers from the lefty last year and tough to exclude from top-10)
RHP Hunter Strickland ( Much of the same applies here, although Strickland's tendency for the long ball causes major concern or else he'd be top-7 easy)

Honorable Mentions: There were a ton of guys that just didn't make the cut. 24 year-old outfielder Mac Williamson was right there, but he's yet to show much beyond A-ball. However, he may still be the best power guy in the system so a full healthy year out of him could have himself back in the top-5 mix next year.... Former first-round pick, RHP Chris Stratton, has seen his stock fall quite a bit the last two seasons. He had a rough year in San Jose, sporting a 5.07 ERA in over 100 IP. Still young and skilled enough to become relevant again though with a big start in 2015... Then there's 26 year-old Gary Brown and it's basically do or die for him this year. If he doesn't make the club at some point and contribute, he'll be gone in 2016. Then the guy taken shortly after him, Jarrett Parker, had one of his better years as a pro in 2014 (15 HR, .276 AVG, .830 OPS between AA/AAA) but also just turned 26 so pretty much all the same said about Brown applies to Parker too... 21 year-old backstop Aramis Garcia and (1.068 OPS in college last year) and 22 year-old lefty Luis Ysla (2.45 ERA in low-A with almost a 3-to-1 K:IP ratio) are also climbing their way up, among others we'll be watching over the next month.

The Giants Baseball Blog