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Friday, January 27, 2017

A closer look at Jae-gyun Hwang

After about 6 weeks of silence on the player movement front, the Giants have gotten a little more active in the new year. None of their recent signings are anything earth-shattering, in fact only one of them is likely guaranteed a spot on the opening day roster, but there's one guy who could end up being a diamond in the rough.

They made sort of an under-the-radar move this week, by coming to terms on a minor league deal with Korean star third basemen Jae-gyun Hwang, who was Jeff Passan's 25th ranked free agent on Yahoo's 2016-17 list this winter. The 29 year-old third basemen is coming off a career year in 2016 with a .335/26/104/.949 slash to go along with 24 swipes and I believe it was also Passan who compared to a Ben Zobrist-type. The Giants feel like he is a real "player" for one of the bench spots because he'd give Boch the flexibility move Eduardo Nunez around, possibly even into left field. Here's a 5 minute video on the newest Giant and his highlights from 2016. His plate approach reminds me very much of fellow countrymen Jung Ho Kong who had a nice rookie year in Pittsburgh and his glove, range and arm look like nobody the Giants have had on the hot corner in quite sometime. The million dollar question will be whether or not he can adapt to big league pitching. Either way, he'll be an exciting watch this spring. There area a lot of guys who will be vying for one starting outfield spot, two back-up outfield spots and a back-up infield spot, (assuming Tomlinson's spot is concrete), but Hwang seems to have upside and flexibility that some of the other competitors don't have.

A few things I found out about the newest Giant that I really like his power and his defense/arm over at third base. Not only does he have big time power your, if you watch that video I posted in the previous paragraph, probably aware of his opposite field pop as well. That's a sign of truly a good hitter and makes me optimistic that he will figure it out over here in the states. Plus, if you see those jacks he's hitting, most of them aren't just skimming the top of the wall on their way out, those things are hit halfway up the bleachers or more, even into centerfield. As far as the defense, that's something that's going to translate anywhere, and by the limited looks I've seen of him he looks like a fine defensive third basemen with a very strong arm. He definitely comes in on the ball well and has good range. Although I haven't seen him play in a game yet, I'm fairly confident he's a better defender than Nunez which, again, would bode well for a possible Nunez move to left should Hwang show the ability to handle major league pitching this spring.

The Giants also brought in a seasoned backup catcher in Nick Hundley which I think was a very smart move. Buster's turning 30 this season and he's going to start needing more and more time off behind the plate. Trevor Brown had a great April last year but really fell off offensively after that and for a team with Championship aspirations, I think they wanted a little more of a sure thing behind Buster. Hundley's a guy who's good enough to start on a number of teams and will be a nice safety blanket for Bochy and make him much more confident on days he has to rest Buster or move him over to first. Not saying Brown was bad, he did an admirable job, but a major issue on this Giants' team last year was lack of experience off the bench and bringing Hundley aboard helps that.

So with the two newest signings, it certainly does change the makeup of what the Giants bench could look like come April. If I were to guess on what exactly it will look like come April 7th (assuming no injuries of course and they go with 5-man bench), I'd go: C Hundley, OF Parker/Willimason (whichever isn't starting), IF Kelby Tomlinson, IF Jimmy Rollins, OF Gorkys Hernandez. Hernandez makes it because of his defensive abilities in center over Morse's bat off the bench. I think Hwang will get his feet wet with American ball in Sacramento but so long as he performs up to his capabilities he should be up in the big leagues sooner than later. Brown (assuming Hundley takes the backup spot) will be there if anything happens to Hundley or Posey but that's how I see the bench unfolding with spring training set to kick off in roughly 3 weeks. If Hwang does produce similarly to Kang did with the Pirates last season, we could see a lot of Hwang at third and Nunez out in left. Then again, we could just as likely never see Hwang appear in a Giants uni a for a single game. Only time will tell, and it's just one story line that should make this one of the more interesting springs in recent Giants' seasons.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Offseason Review: Roster decisions loom

Its been a while and there's a few reasons for our lack of posting, but the main being there simply hasn't been anything in the much of way of big Giants news, really ever since they found their closer back in early December. Therefore, we're going to talk about how the offseason has transpired and how  roles will change come April. I get the feeling this team still has something up their sleeve in terms of left field or even third base (because Nunez is most versatile and can play LF), but anything like that probably isn't happening until games start counting for real.

They've made a few under-the-radar, small minor league level signings by bringing in aging veterans Jimmy Rollins and Justin Ruggiano while reuniting with Michael Morse but none of those guys are sure bets to make the roster on opening day. The Giants front office and brass have been as quiet as a mouse really ever since that Melancon inking well over a month ago. With Spring Training kicking off in just a couple short weeks, it doesn't look like they're focused on bringing anyone else into the mix. That said, I really hope they aren't completely closing their mind all the way just yet because I still think this team can improve before the season.

Obviously, the big move and number one priority this winter was getting themselves a reliable closer who won't make fans endure 9th inning panic attacks on a regular basis, especially down the stretch. They successfully filled that void, but now need their new $62M closer to do his part. Mark Melancon was surely needed and should come and fit right into the Giants clubhouse according to all the reports I've seen and the stuff he's talked about when being interviewed about the move. I was always pretty certain the Giants would find their ninth inning guy one way or another just because of how dreadful that second half was and the contribution that played in the NLDS loss to Chicago coupled with the amount of options that were out there this winter The 32-year old will feature a heater in the lower 90's with some big cut that occasionally gets up around 95. What makes him special though are his secondary pitches including his big 12/6 hook, that hard cutter and slider that really give him his tough-to-hit arsenal. However, despite covering their clear-cut number one need for a top-flight stopper, this team had other issues to deal with, including the outfield.

Denard Span came over on a three-year deal prior to the seasons and left a lot to be desired after year one in the Orange and Black as he wasn't exactly terrible, but wasn't his explosive self we saw over in Washington years prior. Hunter Pence was fine, when he was out there, but hit the shelf a few times because of nagging injuries and was pretty much banged up all year in some form or another. Then there was left field, where Angel Pagan was actually one of the more steady Giants, especially early in the season, but he's on the wrong side of 35 and tailed off pretty well in the second half. It was pretty clear early on that he wouldn't be back and now here we are on the door-step of February Pagan is still searching for employment. The Giants have said they want to go younger and give Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson a legitimate shot to take over that slot. But who knows, if they find someone on the real low via trade or somehow find themselves back with Pagan on some sort of agreement to let the young guys get a shot too, then maybe they still add to that spot, but it's not likely.

In addition to Morse, the Giants brought in another veteran presence in Jimmy Rollins. As far as the expectations for J-Roll, I'm sure the Giants will be happy with whatever they get out of the 39 year-old shortstop. I think he's there more of a mentor for the younger guys like a Christian Arroyo and Joe Panik and should be a great guy to have around camp. He'll have to beat out some tough guys to make the team as a utility infielder (including Connor Gillaspie and Kelby Tomlinson) but his ability to play shortstop at a decent level still could bode well for his chances. All those roster decisions will come down to spring, including the starting left fielder (assuming they don't add one via trade over the next 2 months or Michael Morse reverts back to 2012 Morse) and the bullpen set-up roles.

Needless to say, Bochy and co. will have their hands full this spring deciding those roles and it's going to be one of the more important March's this team's had in quite a while. It's the first time since the World Series run started that the team will enter spring with a starting position spot up for grabs. Many anticipate that gig going to Mac Williamson, because of the defensive prowess and ability to get on base, but Jarrett Parker possess one of the more explosive bats in the system. Then of course don't forget the 35 year-old Morse who is just 2 seasons removed from his 16/61/.811 line he put with the Giants in '14 and I'm sure the Giants are hoping to strike lightning in a bottle twice with the big fella. He also had some really big hits in the postseason that year and helped immensely during the Giants championship run. Heck, the Giants even gave Justin Ruggiano a try-out deal to see if he's healthy. He too is up there in age but has proven to be a valuable guy off the bench when healthy and if nothing else may provide depth at the Triple-A level and be called upon if Pence pulls a hammy or something of that nature.

So no, if you were hoping for that big thumper in left and Aroldis Chapman closing games for the Giants in '17 and beyond then maybe you were a tad dissapointed. However, they did get themselves one of the better closers in the game and a guy who should hold value throughout his deal and lock down that 9th inning for the Giants into 2020. As far as the thumper for left field, they just couldn't find anything that made sense, so, again, they consolidated a bunch of guys who they hope they'll be able to coax at least one into having a big year and taking over left and even improving it. Otherwise, Bobby Evans will be spending plenty of time the first couple of months of the season on the phone searching for that illusive left fielder they can never seem to find.

After two years without a return to even the NLCS, the Giants' faithful are going to start demanding some changes as they've become somewhat spoiled with the 3 tittles in 6 years. Everyone's going to want them to get things back in order and something tells me they powers that be will pull out all stops to ensure they give themselves the best shot to win in 2017. They know that pitching staff won't be in it's prime and together forever and that core lineup (Posey, Pence, BCraw, Belt, Panik) are in right in the middle of their primes so they have to focus now. If that means they part with a Chris Arroyo and Tyler Beede for a CarGo or someone of that elk that will help this team win for the next few years, then I wouldn't be surprised at all if they pulled that trigger this summer.

Now all that being said, and if I were have to give the Giants an offseason grade I'd have to give them a C+. They got themselves their number one need and although it wasn't the guy I really pinned for in Kenley Jansen, Melancon was clearly my number two choice as he has some crazy stuff too and knows what he's doing out there. Not to mention, there was no way I wanted to find myself rooting for the arrogant, overrated Aroldis Chapman (essentially a younger, harder throwing left-handed version of Santiago Casilla without the guts and team spirit) for the next 4/5 years. I really think Chapman will not be closing by the third year of his deal as the league is going to figure him out and he's to hard-headed to adapt.

But enough pointless Chapman bashing. I wanted to give them a straight B or even B+ and would have had they just made one more move. The bullpen was clearly their downfall last year and it wasn't all Santiago Casilla so how are they going to expect just one guy, the closer that is, be the one to change it all. They didn't bring in more bullpen help that would defy more roles within that group. Also, of course, they failed to really fix the left field problem. I really didn't anticipate them doing anything big in the winter do essentially to lack of options so I get why nothing was done. I figure that move will come via trade in-season if one is to be made at all, so I could have lived with rolling into the year with the guys they have. I did, however, hope they would have spent a little more to help solidify that pen and not rely on Josh Osich and Cory Gearin to be pitching season-changing type inning late in September, but I hope for all our sake, those guys are ready.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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