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Friday, March 31, 2017

2017 San Francisco Giants Preview

Well folks, that time has finally come, opening day is just a few short days away and the butterflies are already starting with me. While this team has plenty of question marks heading in, they still have their solid core that's been a main part of 2 out of their 3 championships and like they've shown so many times, you can just never count them out.

Here's a look at the projected opening day roster as well as some rough estimate stats based on past performance, health and age. We'll also give our expectations for 2017 as far as where they'll end up, what/who they may end up needing to trade for and really what we expect to go down throughout the 2017 season. It's not an even year, which has worked out so well for the Giants 3 of the last 4 times, but this team should still be a contender nonetheless and may be a player or two away from really making a push for a fourth ring in 8 seasons.

Projected lineup with projected slash line (all stat predictions are based on players playing a full season and not taking into account any injuries):

1. CF Denard Span- .282/8/51/.741 21 SB (solid spring, hopefully rebounds from sub-par '16 season)
2. 1B Brandon Belt- .276/22/68/.848 (primed for his first 20+ HR year & Giants need pop)
3. RF Hunter Pence- .281/18/79/.818 (huge key, has to stay on the field for this lineup)
4. C Buster Posey- .303/19/85/.840 (another guy needing to improve off mediocre '16)
5. SS Brandon Crawford- .285/15/86/.779 (has gone from offensive liability to solid run-producer)
6. 3B Eduardo Nunez- .278/16/65/.765 25 SB (hopefully builds off '16 breakout and stays on the field)
7. LF Jarrett Parker- .255/12/48/.735 (will likely share LF but should get majority of ab's vs. RHP)
8. 2B Joe Panik- .262/10/51/.715 (like Posey and Span, Giants hoping '16 was off-year)

Again, these numbers are projecting everyone stays healthy for the season, which we know is highly unlikely, but it will be fun to look back at the end of the year and see how close we actually come. Parker is the one real wild card as he could end up getting a ton of at-bats and running away with the job, or he could find himself in an old fashioned time share with Chris Marrero or even Michael Morse down the road... I really want to see Panik's resurrection in 2017 as I think that would be a huge shot in the arm for the offense. They need his .300 bat back and not the .237 he hit in 2016... Bochy will likely use Nunez in the 2-slot vs. left-handed pitching but seems to be favoring Belt there vs. righties this spring, so I expect that to carry over into the season.

Projected Rotation, set-up man and closer:

1. LHP Madison Bumgarner- 17 W, 3.02 ERA, 220 IP, 217 K's, 1.07 WHIP
2. RHP Johnny Cueto- 16 W, 2.97 ERA, 210 IP, 189 K's, 1.10 WHIP
3. LHP Matt Moore- 15 W, 3.55 ERA, 202 IP, 179 K's, 1.27 WHIP
4. RHP Jeff Samardzija- 12 W, 4.04 ERA, 209 IP, 166 K's, 1.29 WHIP
5. RHP Matt Cain- 5 W, 5.38 ERA, 105 IP, 74 K's, 1.45 WHIP

RH- Derek Law- 80 G, 2.57 ERA, 72 IP, 70 K's, 1.02 WHIP
CL-Mark Melancon- 76 G, 1.75 ERA, 46 S, 74 IP, 68 K's, 0.89 WHIP

The only uncertainty out of this bunch really is Matt Cain. The only reason he's being given a shot at retaining the 5th starter gig is because of his huge price tag in what is his final year of his contract. However, if he struggles out of the gate, I don't think the Giants are going to give him as much rope as they have the last two seasons. Ty Blach and Tyler Beede are waiting in the wings and many feel both are better options right now than Cain and it's hard to disagree with that. Hopefully Cainer bounces back but after a few seasons trending down and all the innings he's thrown the last decade-plus, it seems highly unlikely. As far as the pen, we've talked about how the roles are still undetermined, outside of Melancon closing and Law most likely setting him up, but should become more clear as we get a few weeks into the season.

If your looking for more about the bench and bullpen, we've talked a length about those spots in the last two posts so just scroll down, but overall, this is how we see the roster shaping up and things shaking out throughout the 2017 season. I do think the Giants will do what they have to do to make another playoff run, and if that means making another big deadline deal or two then so be it. The team's core is right in the prime of their career's and they only likely have another 2 or 3 real runs left with this core bunch before free agency and age take factor. I think this team, because of the rotation and strong closer can win 90 games, but they do need the offense to be respectable at least. It's not a high-powered offense by any stretch and will need to string together hits and base-runners in order to score runs.

I do not expect this team to look this way come August however. I think someone else will be in the fifth starters spot and something will have to give in left field. They're going to start with a platoon or Parker and Marrero, at least that's my guess, and hope one takes the reigns, but if neither step-up something will have to get done. Whether that's Michael Morse coming back or going out and trading for a bigger bat, they need offense out of that position and not just another .260 hitter with a below-average slugging percentage. They need run production out of that spot.

While this team is capable of 90 wins, I think they'll come in just under that. I see them going 88-74 and earning a postseason spot, most likely as a wild card. I think the Dodgers still have the slight edge, coming off the brink of a World Series appearance last fall and should be hungry to get back. However, if the Giants stay healthy and that bullpen works itself out between that outstanding rotation and Mark Melancon, then it's going to be one helluva race in the West in 2017.
The Giants Baseball Blog

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Giants bullpen roles still undecided

The Cactus League has officially come to an end as the Giants arrived back in the Bay Area Wednesday. They ended up going 16-16, which means absolutely nothing, but they had some guys really standout and present themselves as options, if not for the opening day roster, then certainly down the road.

The three big things you really hope for each spring is that your squad gets their work in, shows at some point they're ready for games to start counting for real and most importantly, avoids any sort of injury, especially long-term. While the Giants didn't have anyone in their starting lineup or rotation hit the shelf, they did lose their left-handed set-up man for the year. Will Smith's injury was especially unfortunate for the Giants who are still trying to figure out in what order they're going to get the ball from their outstanding rotation into the hands of their new ace-closer on nights their starters only go 5-6 innings. We talked at length about the bench and how it really could shake out in a number of ways to open the year and the bullpen really is in the same boat. Obviously Melancon will be manning the 9th inning, but that's the only role with any certain clarity in the Giants bullpen right now. My guess is Derek Law will open as the primary set-up guy, maybe sharing with Hunter Strickland to see who emerges. Then come the question marks.

Right-hander Neil Ramirez had somewhat of a standout spring with 16 K's in 9.2 innings of work while allowing just 10 base-runners and sporting a 3.72 ERA and I believe deserves a spot in middle relief. The former first rounder sported a 1.44 ERA through 50 games his rookie year with the Cubs in 2014, then ran into some injuries which have set him back the last couple of seasons. George Kontos will to be slotted into mid-relief as well and didn't have a bad spring himself, finishing with a 4.50 ERA, a solid 0.9 WHIP and 15 K's over 10 innings. In fact, if you take away the two long-balls he gave up (that probably wouldn't have been home runs in 90% of MLB ballparks), then his numbers would have looked as good as any reliever beside Melancon. Speaking of whom, the new closer showed he's ready for Opening Day by not allowing a run and only 7 base-runners in 9 innings.

The best non-closer showing of any reliever, right or left-handed, in the hunt for a bullpen slot was Steven Okert. The big lefty pitched well in his brief stint in 2016 and looked un-hittable at times this March, finishing with 0.96 ERA and 7 base-runners allowed in his 9 innings of work. With Smith's injury, Okert has set himself up as the front-runner to take on the primary left-handed role in the bullpen, but Bochy could decide to go with the more seasoned Josh Osich. However, Osich was one of the hardest hit relievers this spring, giving up 13 hits and walking 9 batters in his 9 innings (2.36 WHIP). If Smith's injury happened a month prior than it did there would have been a few options out there on the market but at this point, unless you would like to see them lure Javy Lopez out of retirement and the NBC Bay Area booth for one more go round.

One of my favorite young arms on the 40-man roster and a guy who finds himself in a conundrum these final days of exhibition baseball is Ty Blach. He's shown the ability to pitch well in relief, and pitch well as a starter. The Giants have a big decision on what they want to do with him. My guess is he makes the roster, just on the sheer amount of work that Boch and Rags had him do this month. He threw the third most innings of any Giants pitcher this spring, and for the most part was pretty impressive. I don't think they would have kept him out there so much if they weren't planning on him being a big part of their 2017 plans. However, if they don't feel like he'll get enough work as the long-man or second left-handed option out of the pen, then management may feel better starting him in Sacramento. There he could get regular work in the rotation and on call for Matt Cain if he struggles out of the gate or (fingers crossed) something happens with one of the other starters. I think that if Smith hadn't gotten hurt then Blach would have definitely started in AAA and waiting in the wings on Cain, but now I think he's going to make the roster because the Giants need him. If they want to put their best 25 guys out there and I think there is a fairly significant drop-off from Blach to Osich. Blach's impressive relief outings, his dominance in a start vs. LA down the stretch then his work in the NLDS last fall  alone have that kid ready. Then he iced the cake with a solid spring showing in my book.

So, with the exhibition version of the Bay Bridge series looming with the A's, it will be some of these guys' final chance to show Bochy they deserve to stay with this squad when they head back to Arizona to open up against the D-Backs. So, like I did last post breaking down the bench options for the Giants, I'll go ahead and put up who I think should fill out the Giants bullpen based on a mix of past experience, performance this spring and potential moving forward.

CL: Mark Melancon
SU: Derek Law
RH: Hunter Strickland
RH: George Kontos
LH: Stephen Okert
RH: Neil Ramirez
LH: Ty Blach

Notes: We're just a few days away from the opener, and like we always do about this time, we've got our Giants 2017 preview and predictions on the way. We've already begun working on it and hope to have it up Thursday as well as our divisional predictions for the rest of the National League. Opening Day is sort of an un-official holiday in my book, it's easily my favorite day of the year and if your reading this then it's likely right up there for you as well. I could go on for days about spring performances but in the end they really are meaningless and I'm about ready for the real thing to begin... Only about 72 hours and counting folks...
The Giants Baseball Blog

Monday, March 20, 2017

Will depth be an issue?

We've got a little over a week left in Arizona until the Giants break north for their three exhibition games on the doorstep of the 2017 MLB opener. Then it's right back to Arizona to open up vs. the D-Backs.... For real this time!

As we enter the final stages of the Cactus League schedule, the Giants and Bruce Bochy have to be generally pleased with what they're seeing from their squad since early February. From what I've seen, this Giants squad seems a little hungrier to me. I mean, they have proven veterans like Gordon Beckam, Aaron Hill, Jimmy Rollins and Nick Hundley fighting for the minimal bench spots that currently exist and all seem to be portraying great attitudes in the process pf making their cases. I mean, J-Roll has been an All-Star starting SS in his career and has been in the MVP discussions multiple times and has plenty of experience deep in playoff baseball. Even though he's inching closer to 40 years of age, he still knows the game well enough to provide value so long as his body holds up and he can continue to contribute a few times a week. Hill, a notorious Giants' killer, has had a pretty nice spring and could provide legit backup support for the fragile Joe Panik at 2B as well as Eduardo Nunez at third (the Giants are also trying him out in left field as well). Then there are returnees Kelby Tomlinson, Mac Williamson and Gorkys Hernandez along with standout Chris Marerro (who's arguably had the best spring of any Giants' hitter).

So, how are things going for the Giants as we've hit the home stretch of the Cactus League? I'd say all in all, pretty darn good. The one guy who's really stuck out this March and someone who looks like they're set to run away with that starters left field job is Jarrett Parker. Barring some major fall off or injury between now and April 2nd, Parker should be your starting left fielder vs. Zach Grienke and the D-Backs on the nationally televised opener. The major improvement I've seen and been reading about regarding his approach at the plate which results and waiting out better pitches to hit, which in result, gets him pitches he can put the bat head on the ball and drive it. It's been pretty evident for the 28 year-old slugger that he's determined this spring to make this roster out of spring and not only that but be a key cog in the lineup. As of March 17th, Parker has had 36 spring at-bats, resulting in 12 hits (.333 BA), 4 HR, 12 RBI a .455 OBP and a 1.15 OPS.

Once I realized the Giants weren't going to be upgrading left field around mid-December, Parker immediately became my choice just because I remember how hot he can get when he filled in during those stints in both '15 and '16 (I think both times in which Pence was shelved). He showed he can hit balls out of the park with consistency and it's carried over to the spring. If you take what he'd done combined over the last two seasons at the big league level in limited duty, it doesn't look too shabby whatsoever. The left-handed slugger has collected 178 at-bats and has slashed .267/11/28/.371/.494 (.865 OPS), scored 33 runs and walked 24 times. The walks and ob-base percentage are really what really impresses me because most young players are over-anxious and want to swing at everything. He's not just up there hacking for McCovey Cove every time he steps into the box, I just really hope that holds up in a full-time gig come April. I don't know how it will wind up for Parker, but so far we have nothing but positive thoughts based on what we've seen. It wouldn't surprise me to see him become Fred Lewis-type talent, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him become a  Brandon Belt-type talent. I'm leaning more toward Belt though, just because I think his power can translate at AT&T whereas Lewis could not hit there.

Mac Williamson certainly had his moments in Pence's absence last summer as well, especially in the outfield. He and Chris Marrero are the two other candidates for the starting LF job but Parker has better than 50/50 odds to be out there April 2nd vs. Zach Grienke. The issue the Giants have to deal with now is what to do with Williamson. He has options left so many believe they'll start him in AAA where he can play everyday. With the way Chris Marrero has played this spring, the Giants may feel comfortable enough with him being Parker's primary backup. I personally would like to see Williamson on the big league roster because I think he can still get a lot of bats as a role player but Marrero has earned it.

Another guy who may force his way onto the roster like Marrero is trying to do is Korean free-agent signee over the winter, Jae-gyun Hwang. He's made a very strong impression with the Giants' brass with surprising power and bat speed, a strong arm and the ability to play multiple positions. Another flexible asset that could make Bruce Bochy's life easier. The only thing wit Hwang is that this is his first few months in the states playing baseball and management will likely want him to work his way up the ladder a bit to get a good idea for American Baseball. He's certainly a guy I'm excited about as he's gotten off to a nice start in spring and he should continue to get acclimated even more as he enters his prime at age 29. He's slashed .320/.310/.989 with 3 big flys and 8 driven in.

Some reasons, however, why he may not quite make the opening day roster is his defense. He's got to polish  that up a little but it seems like that's already happening. He's got good baseball instincts so I do expect him to settle in over here just fine and continue to imrprove. He looks like a legit bat speed and the athleticism (things you can't teach) and that should translate into the Major Leagues. Will he hit .320 with 25 jacks and a .950 OPS like he did overseas? I sure hope so, but no, probably not. Nonetheless, he obviously has natural talent, has played well in spring and is still very much in the running for a roster spot with Opening day 11 days away.

I could keep going on for every and ever about guys that have surprised, young guys (Ryder Jones, Tyler Beede, Chris Arroyo etc...) on the rise and more, but I'm trying to keep it more Major League related. My final prediction for the bench heading into the season (as of March 20) looks as follows: Nick Hundley C, outfielders Justin Ruggiano/Williamson/Marrero and Gorkys Hernandez (because they have nobody else who can man center field the way he can) look like the lead dogs for the 4th and 5th Outfield spots. Then there's some guys who look like they still are trying to prove themselves in the infield before spring ends, an infield where there's still plenty TBD. Connor Gillaspie should be there, especially after the spring he's had but that's the only given. The downside to having those guys is that neither of those two can play shortstop naturally like the Giants really need, which is why they;re giving Jimmy Rollins every chance at making the team. I personally like the idea of having the veteran in the clubhouse but if he does make the squad and is still contributing nothing at the dish, he'll be doing more bad than good at that point.

While I would have liked to see them pay a little more attention to the bench this winter,  there are things I do like about it. Barring any injury, unforeseen trade or addition, I think the unit is pretty much set already. My picks as to who deserves a spot based on their spring performance/team necessity (not necessarily the five that Bochy will go with) are as follows:

C: Nick Hundley (He will be Busters backup this year)
IF: Jae-gyun Hwang (Has earned it, but Hill or Rollins likely get nod here)
IF: Connor Gillespie ('16 postseason hero having strong spring, if only could play ss)

OF: Chris Marrero (One of offensive stars of spring, although his defense is still hit-and-miss)
OF: Justin Ruggiano (Not Hernandez in CF, but can handle it and bat is much better)

On the bubble: OF Gorkys Hernandez, OF Mac Williamson, C Ted Federowicz, IF Kelby Tomlinson, C Trevor Brown and IF Aaron Hill, IF Rollins

Again, these are the players who've had the best spring out of all reserve candidates and not at all necessarily what I think Bochy will go with. Hundley was brought in to give Buster that veteran back-up who knows how to handle a staff which should help keep Posey fresh as he's now 30 years of age which is like 35+ in catchers years. So that along with his streaky bat I think make him the clear-cut favorite there and I don't think it's closer. As for Gillespie, he pretty much solidified his spot with his big (albeit brief) 2016 postseason and also leading the team in hitting this spring so far. He'll get regular time at third when Crawford needs off days and Nunez shifts to short as well as be the Giants' primary bat off the bench (after last October).

They have some other catcher and infield options, but as I mentioned after they were eliminated by Chicago last October, this team tends to overlook their bench often and I would have loved to see them put more money into bringing in at least one big bat or proven pinch-hitter... Easier said than done, sure, but the Giants had the resources to go out and add another positional role player but maybe nobody really grabbed their eye. I, however, would have thought someone like Carlos Gomez would have been a perfect fit as insurance for left field and if anything happens to Span (granted I don't know Gomez's clubhouse rep).

Notes: We've always done our annual MLB division-by-division preview here at the Giants Baseball Blog, however, this year we're going to stick to the National League only. 95% of the Giants' games come against NL teams so there isn't necessarily a reason to preview the AL. It also will free me up more for what matters most, and that's more Giants talk. OPENING DAY IS 11 DAYS AWAY people, and I am extremely stoked to see how the squad comes out of the gate.... On a negative note, Will Smith continues to be plagued with arm problems and will miss the foreseeable future with elbow issues. That could mean a month or that could me the season. Either way it's a huge blow and could have the Giants on lookout for left-handed reliever.
The Giants Baseball Blog