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Friday, March 25, 2016

The three stages of Spring Training

Ah, the three stages to spring, at least the way I see it. First is, you get everyone here, healthy and and in shape (man has that third part gotten easier without the Panda bumbling into Scottsdale) the for those first few weeks, the majority of teams actually think they have a shot, and this year, they do. So for the first week or 2 of games it's slow process getting back into the swing of things and it's a time for the young guys to shine. And most importantly, keep everyone healthy. But then things pick up...

Then all the sudden before you know it it's the time that first cuts come and guys who make the cut and are actually performing, are getting their chance to shine. For the younger guys, it's crunch time in terms of putting up or shutting up in the Cactus League because at the end of spring the vets will all be getting 7+ inning tune-up. This group contains guys like IF Kelby Tomlinson, OF Jarrett Parker, IF Ehire Adrianza, OF Mac Williamson, catchers Trevor Brown and Miguel Olivo and reliever Mike Broadway. Of course star young prospect, Christian Arroyo (the best all-around talent level since Buster Posey) and one of the top young SP's Kyle Crick, were optioned to minor league camp early but were very impressive during their brief stay (especially Arroyo).

Of the group remaining though, I think Jarrett Parker and Ehire Adrianza seem to have grabbed a stranglehold on the final bench sports now, but Mac Williamson is doing his best to be that right-handed power bat off the bench. Usually you get a big slugger like that and he's anchored to one position. To me though, Arroyo didn't make the cut but was obviously the most intriguing of any prospect, and not necessarily a guy to rule out in 2016, especially with Panik's back issues. Brandon Crawford doesn't really have to worry this year about the 21 year-old "could be phenom" but this kid should be more than ready by 2017 which means someones getting dealt. (I know it's all purely speculation and Aroyo's yet to even face a big league arm, and BCraw has been crucial in 2 of them). Arroyo won't make the squad outta spring of course as the team will want him playing everyday, but he should just keep working his way up the prospect charts.

Now, of course, we've hit third and final phase, it's really put up or shut up for the fence guys when they do get their chances and turn up time for the 20 odd players guaranteed a spot for April 4th. So far things have been pretty good in terms of health and even production from the Giants' on and offensives standpoint, especially offensively. Most of the starters are hitting around .300 or north of it and everyone appears on target for opening day.

On a pitching standpoint, however, especially on the starting end, it's the complete opposite, as everyone has an ERA north of Jake Peavy's 8.31. Let's hope it's just the thin air fellas cause these guys have got to be a strength and a key start is huge (see 2014), even though the lineup is a top one (this is a team with championship aspirations afterall). They also had that little scare with Cueto's shot off the head but he came out just fine and entrenched his spot as the man behind MadBum in the Giants official starting rotation, announced Friday. The big focus down the stretch and into the preaseason Bay Bridge Series, will be that final spot. Which again, at the moment should belong to Adrianza or Parker. I love the idea of the right-handed Williamson, but Parker showed a lot last year and I think is big power option off the bench and a guy who's already proven he can change games with one swing of the bat. Wiliamson does give you that right-handed option whereas you only have Susac and/or Brown. So that will be it. Could be a guy like Mike Broadway, especially given Cain's worries, but I think that's exactly what Heston is for.

Extras: Bochy announced the rotation Friday with absoutley no surprises. Madison Bumgarner will be followed by necomers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija then Jake Peavy will give way to Matt Cain as the fifth man. However, and not not as surprisingly, the veteran manager has not announced his opening day lineup and likely won't do so until last weekend of the spring. My guess though, it too will be as expected: Span-Panik-Posey-Pence-Belt-Duffy-Pagan-Crawford. Although Duffy could swap into the 3-hole and drop everyone down the spot (possibly including a Pagan/Crawford swap depending on matchups). Those are the only two outcomes I can see and we should know in a matter of days.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Giants monitoring veteran's health closely

The Cactus League is well underway, and so far the theme of things for the Giants and Bruce Bochy is to bring some of the veterans, especially those coming off injury or large work-loads in 2015, nice and slowly.

It's been a couple weeks since our last post here as I've been on vacation for the last 10 days, but I've been keeping an eye on the happenings in Arizona and finally got to tune into my first game of the spring today (Saturday vs. Arizona). First and foremost, the goal for every club's spring training is to break north (east or west) with your full projected 25-man roster in-tact, because it doesn't get a whole lot tougher than losing a key player for any extended period of regular season time caused by a spring injury. So far on the Giants' side, there's been a few guys batting a few small-scale injuries and guys returning form injury last season who Bruce Bochy and Co. will continue to bring along slowly over the new few weeks as Opening Day approaches. Some of the more key players on that "caution" list are Matt Cain, Hunter Pence, Joe Panik as well newcomers Johnny Cueto and Denard Span. The concern levels for Panik (back),  Pence (Achilles), and Span (hip) aren't really all that significant (at the moment at least), but certainly worth monitoring. Bruce Bochy will likely use the first few weeks of spring to bring those guys along slowly to ensure all are a go and avoid any set-backs.

Johnny Cueto and Matt Cain pose a bit of a different obstacle. Cueto passed the physical and has come in healthy and ready to go, but he's had so many little health issues over his career and then tailed down the stretch in '15 for his worst stretch of his career. The issue he ran into last summer and one of the main reason he didn't get that big contract upwards of $200M (a la Zach Grienke and David Price) was some elbow issues, obviously a major red flag pitchers, and the fear that the elbow contributed to his sub-par second half. On the positive side, the injury was never considered serious, didn't cause him any DL time and he proved that he can still dominate deep into the playoffs with that outstanding Game 2 of the 2015 Fall Classic in which he 2-hit/shutout  the Mets.

The Giants' prized signee from this winter had his spring debut pushed back a few days but did take the mound Friday and didn't quite put forth the performance he was likely hoping to for his new squad.It was the plan all along to bring the Giants prized free-agent signee, Johnny Cueto, along slower than the rest because of that huge work load last season, pitching deep into the fall with the World Champion Kansas City Royals. So, the dread-locked ace did make his Giants spring debut Friday afternoon vs. the Rockies and it was a rough one for the right-hander. Cueto wasn't fooling Rockie' hitters, giving up 4 hits (including a CarGo 2-run jack), 5 runs and a couple of walks in just an 1.1 innings. After the game some of the Rockies hitters even mentioned how Cueto didn't have his A-stuff out there and it was no secret as he was giving up some loud contact. With that being said, it was his first start of the spring and I'm taking it with a complete grain of salt. Something tells me he's gonna work on some stuff over the next  few days and I'd expect a much better outing next week.

As for the man who will follow MadBum and Cueto in the rotation in that three spot, Jeff Samardzija, "The Shark" had a decent first two outings for his new squad, combining to go 5 innings allowing a run on 7 hits and 2 walks while striking out 5 in two starts. The Mariners got to him a little bit in his last start scoring 3 runs and collecting 6 hits in just 4 innings off of the big right-hander but so far the big right-hander's stuff has looked pretty good according to Rags and Boch. With him kinda flying under the radar behind the two bigger names ahead of him, it wouldn't surprise me to see Samardzija really bust out of the gate strong this season.

Then we have Matt Cain, who's coming off a different situation than any other Giants' starter and is a guy who I really have no idea what to expect out of in 2016. Cainer's work load over the last 12 months has been at a minimal as the former horse of the staff has run into some injury issues for the first time in his rock-solid career. Everything was looking on the up and up for Cain as he arrived in Scottsdale in great shape and ready to return to that sub-4 ERA, 200+ inning/season workhorse Giants' fans have become accustomed to but early on in Spring a cyst was removed from the the veterans right shoulder. Immediately upon hearing that news I feared that the Giants would once again be without Cainer for an extended period of time. However, the surgery wasn't a major one and there is some outside hope that Cain will be able to avoid starting the season on the DL. I personally would play it safe and let Clayton Blackburn take that first start of the year in the fifth spot, then the Giants theoretically won't need a fifth man until April 18th which would give Cain maybe a start or two in extended spring or low-A before making his debut. I guess we'll see what Boch and Rags decide to do but I would be semi-surprised if Cain is out there for his first scheduled start (assuming he's the 5th guy) vs. LA on April 8th.

Up Next: Now, we've kinda ran down the injury/health situations that have sprung up early on in spring, so next post (which we've already begun) will focus more on the actual play and some of the guys that have really stood out as we approach the halfway mark of the Cactus League.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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