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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Over halfway through Spring, 25-man roster decisions will go down to wire

We're about halfway through the Cactus League schedule, with just over a couple weeks until the Giants open up their season in LA vs. the Dodgers on March 29th. After the mid-way point of spring training, teams start stretching out their starting players and pitchers a lot more as the season inches closer by the day, so expect to see roster competitions heat up over these last couple of weeks in the desert.

Players in competition for roster spots really make or break it down the stretch, and the Giants have a few of those battles currently in progress. They have a utility infield spot up for grabs, as Pablo Sandoval will likely be the backup guy on the corners, meaning the Giants would need the other guy to be able to play up the middle (man would Eduardo Nunez look awesome right about now), giving guys like Chase d'Arnaud, Josh Rutledge and Orlando Calixte a legit shot to snag that role. They also still have their other two outfield spots, assuming they carry 5 outfielders to begin the year with as expected, very much still up in the air after their main three of Austin Jackson, Hunter Pence and Andrew McCutchen.

As for the infield, d'Arnaud and Rutledge would seem to have the upper hand over Claixte because I believe Calixte still has options left whereas I don't think either d'Arnaud or Rutledge have any, but I'm not 100% sure about that and that could really come into play. Rutledge has been the better of the three though and has more experience than the other two. Anyhow, I like Kelby Tomlinson a lot too as a utility guy as he's a hustler and a gritty player who really fits well in this clubhouse and brings energy, but he hasn't performed as well as his competition this spring, and I don't think Bochy's as comfortable with him at short as he would be with Rutledge or d'Arnaud.

As for the outfield, if we were going off production and ability, Steven Duggar and Mac Williamson should be joining the three outfielders we just mentioned to start the year, but again, players options cloud things up a little. Despite quite possibly being the Giants best and most dynamic hitter in camp, and a guy that Bruce Bochy just a few days ago compared to a young Steve Finley, I think the only way Duggar makes the team is if Bochy's planning on getting the kid at least half the playing time in center, otherwise it would really be a waste to his development and keep him stagnant instead of giving him everyday reps in AAA (at least to star the year). Gregor Blacno's had a solid spring though, the organization really likes Gorkys Hernandez (for some reason cause he's never really impressed me much at all aside from a few nice rundowns in center) and Jarrett Parker, who's been terrible this spring, is out of options and despite his bad spring, the Giants may find it tough to just give away a guy that could go to another team and hit 20+ jacks with regular playing time (see Adam Duvall).

With the way things have gone thus far though, this is the lineup I'd expect to see on opening day in LA vs. Clayton Kershaw, as well as the bench, rotation and bullpen that will be active that game. Again, a lot can change over the next couple of weeks, but if spring were to end tomorrow, I really think this is who the Giants should take north with the big club\.

*Note: This particular lineup is only for opening day vs. Kershaw, as I'm sure Boch will do a lot of lineup experimentation early on to find out what he thinks is the best way to go. The Giants do face lefty's in three of their first four games so expect A-Jax to be the primary CF'er and leadoff guy in those scenarios. Duggar, who IMO should make the team and split time with Jackson until one or the other separates themselves, has proven he can hit lefties this spring too, but there's no doubt that Jackson will be the guy on opening day at least, due to his experience. Not to mention, that dude's tearing the cover off the ball this spring himself, granted in a much smaller sample size than Duggar has had.

CF Austin Jackson (R)
2B Joe Panik
RF Andrew McCutchen (R)
C Buster Posey (R)
3B Evan Longoria (R)
1B Brandon Belt (L)
LF Hunter Pence (R)
SS Brandon Belt (L)

This lineup will change a lot depending on who's hot and which type of pitcher they're facing. Bochy has already made it clear that, at least to start the year (starting on opening day actually), he's gonna go with Jackson and Pence in the 1-2 spots. The concern I would have in that case though is having all the lefties (Crawford, Belt and Panik) all back-to-back-to-back in the 6-7-8 spots. However, vs. right-handers, I'd expect the lineup to look like the one above. Then again, Gregor Blanco will get some time vs. RH pitching as well, and in that case he could either slot into the leadoff spot, or move down to the 8th spot with Joe Panik and Brandon Belt being the 1-2 guys (the more likely scenario from what we've seen in spring). At lest they have enough lineup depth now that will allow Boch some flexability, but it's always better to let players settle into roles if possible. I think the middle will stay Cutch-Posey-Longo in that order, no matter who they're facing, and that could be the only constant in the lineup until Bochy finds the one he's comfortable with.

LHP Madison Bimgarner
RHP Johnny Cueto
RHP Jeff Samardzija
RHP Chris Stratton
LHP Ty Blach

Pretty cut and dry here. Ty Blach was the one real question mark heading in, but he turned in another decent outing on Sunday vs. the Padres and netted a victory. Unless he completely tanks the rest of the way, and Derek Holland gets some starts and impresses, Blach will be in the rotation to start the year. Stratton, the only other young guy with some question marks, has been one of the teams bright spots this spring and has been untouchable at times as he's really refined that curve ball, giving him one of the better right-handed hooks in the league. In fact he, more than any other starter including Cueto and MadBum, is the guy I'm most excited to see take the ball in presumably the 4th game of the season and see what hos this kid kicks off his first full season in the bigs. The Giants are going to need him to be as good as he can be too, cause this team has always relied on pitching to be their cornerstone, and if Stratton can prove to be the next big arm the Giants develop (not saying to the level of Bumgarner, but becoming a better than average big league starter), and the guys ahead of him all stay on the mound and do their job to their abilities, the rotation should be OK. And if either Blach or Stratton don't work out, but the team is strong otherwise and in contention, then you can bet your bottom dollar that Bobby Evans and Bran Sabean will do whatever they possibly can to bring in the starting pitcher they need this summer.

C Nick Hundley (R)
1B/3B/C Pablo Sandoval (S)
2B/3B/SS Josh Rutledge (R)
OF Gregor Blanco
OF Gorkys Hernandez

So, as you can see in regards to the bench, I believe Rutledge has the upper hand with his age, ability to play three infield positions well, while also being at least somewhat of a threat with the lumber. He's been much better than d'Arnaud over the last 5 seasons with the bat, and I think d'Arnaud is his biggest competition right now. He's younger than d'Arnaud though and I think has more upside. He's hit .265 or better in 4 of 6 seasons and, again, has as decent glove whereas d'Arnaud has hit .190, .240 and .176 over his last 3 seasons (granted, in one of those seasons he did collect only 20 or so at-bats in the bigs). We'll see how things shake out down the stretch of spring and maybe Tomlinson gets back into it and ultimately takes it as we expected heading in, but right now, I want Rutledge aside Panda.

Circling back to the outfield again though as that area is a hot topic this spring (I know this post is sort of all over the place, but there's a lot going on and not much time left before Opening day). Gorkys Hernandez does not have any options left, and could get that spot, but in my opinion, carrying both Hernandez and Blanco would be redundant as both are the same style player with similar skill-sets. Gorkys is a little younger, yes, but Blanco is the better, more seasoned vet who's been an integral part of 2 of the Giants last 3 tittle runs. Mac should clearly be the 5th outfielder as he would provide right-handed punch off the bench that this team doesn't have. Pablo Sandoval is the big left-handed threat off the pine, but especially for that first month of the season, the Giants could use Mac's big right-handed bad on their roster. Austin Slater is another option, but hasn't come close to Williamson's production. I know it's just spring and it's much easier to hit in Arizona than it will be 90% of the other places they'll play during the season, but his .359/.375/.821 (1.196 OPS) line needs to be taken serious. He's collected 14 hits, 8 of which have been for extra bases, including 4 jacks along with a team-high 14 RBI (tied for 3rd in all of baseball this spring). So yes, Mac Williamson deserves a spot, and he deserves to play too, and not just rot on the bench, especially while he's hot.

We also could see some kind of trade before the spring ends. I wouldn't expect anything big by any stretch but if Gorkys Hernandez and Jarrett Parker are not going to make the team, the Giants could try and trade those guys to a team in need of outfield depth, possibly in exchange for some bullpen depth. I do like the bullpen's potential with everyone healthy, but with Smith's return date so unclear right now and Melancon possibly being on a restricted schedule or possibly starting on the 10-day DL himself, the Giants could certainly use some more experienced relief depth. Aside from Osich, who will probably keep Will Smith's seat warm until he's back in action, they haven't had any bubble guys assert themselves in that bullpen. One guy who has impressed big time in his 6 outings, giving up just a single and a few walks, is righty Pierce Johnson. He is a former first round pick and had some very nice seasons early on in the Cubs system but once he advanced past double-A ball the 26 year-old has not had the same kind of success. However, he's definitely a guy to keep an eye on over the next 10 days as they start to narrow down the roster further.

CL Mark Melancon RHP (hopefully he avoids DL to start year, and is back in pre-'17 form)
SU Hunter Strickland RHP (pivotal arm in this pen, SF needs him to be legit SU guy)
SU Tony Watson LHP
RP San Dyson RHP
RP Cory Gearin RHP
RP Josh Osich LHP* (LHP Will Smith will hopefully be ready by May 1st for this spot)
RP Derek Holland LHP

*LHP Will Smith has not and will not appear in any spring games and I haven't really heard much about him since February 13th when Alex Pavlovic said the Giants don't expect their top left-handed reliever to make his '18 debut with the team until May (and that's if everything goes well).

Josh Osich seems like the guy who will keep that seat warm until Smith returns but Osich, despite dealing this spring and having very strong stuff, has never been able to succeed with any consistency at the big league level despite numerous chances. With Derek Holland likely slated for the bullpen though too, and Tony Watson now in town, the Giants will have some other options to use in maybe more crunch time situations at the end of ballgames and Osich can pitch more in mid-relief in games that aren't 1 or 2 run ballgames (just to get his confidence going).

Bottom line is the Giants need Will Smith back and pitching like he can, and if we have to wait until May until he's ready to go to ensure that then by all means, keep him out until he's ready. No use rushing him back the first month of the season only to have him hurt himself further and cost himself more time down the line. Giants fans have yet to really see this guy really at his best because he wasn't quite 100% after the trade in 2016 that brought him over and was pretty mediocre for the club down the stretch. Then, of course, it was revealed the following spring that he needed Tommy John Surgery. I'm very much looking forward to finally seeing Will Smith in the form he was in during his time with the Brewers because between he and Watson, the Giants should have a couple of the top-end left-handed relievers in baseball and a duo that should produce in the way that Jeremy Affeldt and Javy Lopez performed for the Giants back in 2010-2014

The last guy I wanted to talk a little bit about in this post is Derek Law. The 27 year-old has really been an enigma in his brief Giants career, looking like a possible future closer as a minor leaguer but hitting some peaks and valleys since. He's likely destined to start the year in Sacramento, coming off a down year in 2017 and having a rough go of it during the spring thus far with an ERA in the mid-8's as of March 14th. I've not lost hope that Law will turn it back around though. He's still the same guy with the same stuff that rocked a 2.13 ERA and 0.96 WHIP while carrying the Giants dreadful bullpen on his back in 2016. He has an option year left though and unless he's lights out the rest of the way and bumps either Holland, Osich or Dyson out of there, then he would probably need a scenario in which someone else, possibly Melancon, would have to start the year on the DL in order for Law to sneak onto the roster.
The Giants Baseball Blog


  • At 8:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Agreed that Duggar needs to be playing everyday, and that's probably gonna be Sacramento to start the year cuz they face so many lefties. I could see them breaking with Blanco and Mac as the backup outfielders to start. Mac gives them the rh power off the bench and Blanco can play all over and pinch run and be the lefty off the bench.

  • At 12:13 AM, Anonymous Thaddeus Marks said…

    Duggar has been a stud. I know they face the lefties in LA to start with but maybe bring him up after that series? In 2010 Buster Posey came up early in the year and was the reason why they went on to win a world series. NOt putting that kinda pressure on Duggar but I think he's gonna be the next starting position player the Giants develop and he should be up here ASAP.

    I agree with the comment though that he should start in Sac just for the first couple weeks but the Giants need that guy. I don't think Jackson is as good as Duggar vs. right-handers and he definitely isn't as good in center than Duggar. Duggar is the future and the present and the Giants have to give him a look sooner than later so hopefully we do see him in April sometime or at least early May. Jackson looked nice in spring so far too, I think the G's outfield finally has some depth there. No more forcing Gorkys Hernadez and Jarrett Parker and those guys into starting jobs. If Pence gets hurt or hits .190 in April then Duggar definitley should be a starter in CF and move Jackson over to left. At least now they have some options and that's a good thing.

    But yeah, I think this roster is pretty much the one they will open with. JUst not sure Ruttledge makes it over Tomlinson cuz he's a favorite but like you said, Ruttledge has the experience at short and as a starter. I'd be totally happy with Rutt/Panda in the IF backups and Mac/Blanco as the OF backups until Duggar gets up here. Mac attack has been real and I know spring training is spring training and doesn't mean shit, at least he's doing well and hitting the ball hard. He could be their big righty off the bench with Sandoval being the big left-handed power guy who they go to late in games when they need one swing of the bat to put them in the lead or tie the game up. Either way, the Giants bench looks like it's going to be a strength for the first time since 2012 I think. I think in 2014 they got kinda lucky with Ishikawa and such, but 2012 they had some good bench guys,

    I am worried about Melanacon though. No matter how normal they say soreness is, the fact that he's pitched in two games without getting comfortable yet and the seasons 2 weeks away, I highly doubt he'll be ready for a 100% work load to start the year, if he even avoids the DL. Sucks Smith won't be back until May, that guy has been such a pain, and the one trade I wish we could take back. Hopefully Tony Watson is nails in his absence.

  • At 11:10 PM, Blogger SFGiants Blogger said…

    Yeah, the more I hear management speak on the Duggar situation the more I get the feeling he will start in AAA. I mean, so far he's earned a big league spot and I like the idea of rewarding him with that spot for his strong play in the Cactus League, but what's the point if he'll wind up sitting for 10 of the first 14 games? Then again, if he goes down to Sacramento and doesn't do as well as he's doing in Arizona, then we may not see him for a while and it could kill his confidence. It's going to be a tough decision for sure, and probably will go down to the final weekend. I think Blanco and either Hernandez or Williamson pretty much have the other two OF spots locked in ATM, but again, we still have more than a week of Cactus League left and this is when starters start playing more and the competition tightens up.

    Thaddeus, I too am worried about Melancon, but right now all we can really do is hold out hope. He's pitched in just a couple of games and has looked good, but it's going to be an issue if April rolls around and he's still experiencing discomfort. Boch said the idea was to get him up to being able to pitch back-to-back days before the season starts but I'm not sure that will happen. Also, the rest of the bullpen hasn't been too promising outside of Hunter Strickland, Cory Gearin and Derek Holland. All other relievers lined up to start the year with the Giants that have thrown in more than a couple of games have ERA's north of 5 and Sam Dyson has been especially bad.

    So yea, there are still some things I'd like to see straightened out before they open up on March 29th in LA, but you can say that for pretty much any team. The real concerns for me at this point though are Melancon and Smith. THose two are so crucial to this bullpen's success and if we don't see Smith until June and Melancon starts the year with restrictions or even possibly on the DL himself, it will put this bullpen behind the 8-ball right out of the gate.


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