The 2016 Major League Baseball season might as well be here already, with San Francisco Giants fans awash with even-year anticipation.
Giants pitchers and catchers report Wednesday to the club’s Scottsdale, Ariz. Spring Training facility, but a number of players and coaches held court in San Francisco Friday for the club’s 2016 media day.
An arsenal of press, fifty-something strong, packed AT&T Park’s club level to find a group of ball players eager not just to get to Spring Training, but to get the 2016 show on the road.
Among those present was the Giants’ newly-minted Gold Glove shortstop, Brandon Crawford. Crawford, 29, racked up a career best .782 OPS in 2015. Crawford said he doesn’t have any numerical goals for 2016. He said right now he’s preparing his body for a grueling 162-game season:
“I like my offseason. We definitely have needed a break, especially with some of the injuries we had last year. But now I’m definitely ready to get back into baseball mode. I’m ready to get going.”
At Crawford’s right at third base this season will be 2015 National League Rookie of the Year runner-up Matt Duffy. Unlike last season’s media day, where Duffy told SFBay his goal was simply to crack the big league roster, Duffy approaches the 2016 season with the third base spot his to lose.
Duffy said he doesn’t expect any complacency after a positive 2015 to impede his growth:
“I had about three weeks [at the end of last season] where I needed to take a breather. But mentally, I’ve been chomping at the bit, to say the least.”
Duffy added that a goal of his this season is to stay within himself and not get sucked into expectations of what’s often considered a power hitter’s position:
“I’d be lying if I said that doesn’t cross my mind, but at the same time, I know that’s not my game. This park is a big park. … There’s a lot of room for other hits out there. There’s a lot of room for doubles and triples. So I think that’s more of my focus. Yeah, it’s a big park. Yeah I’m playing in a premium hitting position, I guess. But I can flip the script on that and say, ‘Hey, let’s see how many hits we can find out there.’ ”
Duffy was as a Gold Glove finalist in his rookie season but was edged by Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. He said he was proud of what he achieved at the hot corner in 2015, considering it’s not a position he played much in college or in the minors:
“The improvement over the course of the season at third base is something I was really proud of. I’m learning a new position on the fly.”
New arms absent
Players not present Friday included the club’s two biggest off-season pitching acquisitions, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. The two starters will look to make the most of their 2016 starts in what’s considered one of the majors’ most pitcher-friendly ballparks.
The friendly confines of AT&T are known to tilt statistics in pitchers’ favor. Perhaps more importantly though, joining the Giants means having arguably the game’s best backstop in Buster Posey catching most of Cueto’s and Samardzija’s innings.
Manager Bruce Bochy said Posey’s contributions on the field are a credit to who he is as a person, and that Posey’s reputation extends beyond the Giants organization:
“I think Buster plays a critical role with some of these pitchers that decide to come here because they wanna throw to somebody they’re comfortable with. He’s got quite the reputation of game calling back there. I think they’re excited to throw to a guy like Buster Posey who’s considered one of the best catcher’s in the game. … With your good teams and your great teams, I think you have to look behind the plate. It’s usually a really smart guy behind the plate and we certainly have that.”
Another Giant familiar with the Posey Effect is 14-year MLB veteran pitcher Jake Peavy. Peavy turns 35 this season, and still exudes some of the most visible on-field passion in the majors. Peavy said Posey’s energy behind home plate has helped balance his own, and doesn’t see why that wouldn’t extend to Cueto and Samardzija:
“Buster is invaluable with what he brings to the table on all fronts. Having somebody like him, with his mindset and the way he can process the game and slows the game down and his education — not only in baseball but in life, the way he’s mature beyond his years — it really shows on the baseball field. … I can tell you this: He will have an impact in a positive way, and make those guys better than they probably have been in the past. I would expect it.”
Peavy, entering the last year of a two-year deal signed with the Giants ahead of the 2015 season, said he’s not looking past 2016 at the moment:
“I’ve had a blessed career. I’ve had a blessed time in this game. To get ready for year 15 is something I’m excited about. I’ll pitch every start like it’s my last. I was told in 2010 that I’d never play again, so I’ve been on borrowed time for a while. Certainly after you have an injury like I had there you don’t take a lot for granted so I’m just excited to go out and prove that I can do what I did for six months for this ball club and be counted on. That’s really where my head’s at now.”
Posey turns 29 during Spring Training, and said he had spoken to Cueto and Samardzija briefly via text messages. He said he knew their repertoires pretty well from having played against them and from watching them on TV, but that he expects to get to know them better during Cactus League play:
“The main thing for me is just to get to Spring Training and have some conversations with them. Figure out how they like to pitch and then physically get out there, catch their bullpens and catch them in games. I’m always big on guys being comfortable in what they’re throwing. I want them to feel like I’m on the same page as them as much as possible and not try and reinvent the wheel. They’re at this point for a reason. It’s because they’re good.”
Posey, entering his eighth season with the Giants, said he’s learned over the years to temper excitement heading into the spring:
“The baseball season’s so long, you really have to focus on Spring Training right now and getting your body in shape. Trying to be where you want to be on Opening Day. From there you’re going game to game and trying to win as much as you can.”
The Giants open the regular season on Monday, April 4 in Milwaukee. The Giants host their first home series at AT&T Park against the Los Angeles Dodgers three days later.