Predicting the Giants 25-man roster-to-be one week into March is equal parts clear and cloudy. Reading the tea leaves, the performances so far and the positions that were never up for grabs in the first place, here is SFBay’s first roster prediction.
Veterans Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija were marked in pen onto the roster before anyone arrived in Arizona, but the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation seemed to be attainable for any number of contenders coming into Cactus League play. That was apparently just an Sonoran Desert mirage, though.
The field was winnowed down almost immediately as Ty Blach and Chris Stratton wasted no time building solid cases for themselves while blowing just about everyone else out of the water. In 8.1 innings Blach has allowed just one earned run (1.08 ERA) with nine strike outs, while Stratton has surrendered two earned runs (2.25 ERA) with 11 strikeouts in his 8 innings of work.
Conclusion: Madison Bumgarner (LHP), Johnny Cueto (RHP), Jeff Samardzija (RHP), Ty Blach (LHP) and Chris Stratton (RHP)
It’s a fierce group of candidates vying for infield positions this spring, and the Giants are going to have some tough calls to make.
Pablo Sandoval and Miguel Gomez, both switch-hitters, are battling it out for the backup gig at third base. The “Panda” is 4-for-18 (.222) in seven games with two doubles and one home run. And surprising no one, he continues to swing wildly at bad balls, with six strikeouts so far.
Meanwhile Gomez, 25, is giving Sandoval a run for his money, batting .318 (7-for-22) with two doubles four RBIs and only two strikeouts. Gomez looks like a frontrunner, but the butts-in-seats factor associated with Sandoval may prevail here.
Non-roster invitee Chase d’Arnaud has been on an offensive tear batting .350 (7-for-20) with four doubles and four stolen bases in just 10 games. His bat alone may be enough for him to elbow his way onto the Opening Day roster but he also benefits from the fact that he is the epitome of a utility man. He’s spent the bulk of his career split between shortstop and third base but he’s also got experience at second base and in the outfield.
D’Arnaud will be battling it out with another guy turning heads at camp, Kyle Jensen, though. Jensen, 29, is batting .462 (6-for-13) in 11 games and leading the Cactus League in home runs with five. He played six games with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in Japan’s Pacific League, batting .083 (1-for-12), last season — his lone hit being a home run — after bouncing around the minor leagues for eight seasons, so there is certain skepticism there regarding his production. His primary experience lies at first base, which isn’t promising for him, but he also has some experience in the corner outfield spots.
The Giants are likely salivating at the thought of Jensen’s power, but d’Arnaud has a better shot of making the roster due to his versatility and experience.
Conclusion: Brandon Belt (1B), Joe Panik (2B), Evan Longoria (3B), Brandon Crawford (SS), Chase d’Arnaud (Utility), Miguel Gomez (3B/1B)
The only group more competitive than players battling it out for the final two infield positions in the Giants 2018 camp are those applying for the last two gigs in the outfield.
The Giants actively sought Austin Jackson’s services this offseason, and they’re holding him back from early strenuous play (he’s only played in four games so far this spring) along with other roster shoo-ins, so it seems safe to say he’s making the cut, alongside Hunter Pence and Andrew McCutchen.
What’s unfortunate is that if Hunter Pence wasn’t Hunter Pence he probably wouldn’t make the team out of camp, but as it stands Pence will block the way for any one of several players competing for spots. He came down with the flu early on this spring, and his illness likely set him back. Pence does bring the clubhouse intangibles — for what that’s worth — but the Giants are hoping to start the season strong and Pence is 1-for-9 in four games with five strike outs.
Mac Williamson is have a sizzling spring after working with hitting instructor Doug Latta this winter. Latta was purported to have turned the swing of a 29-year-old freshly-released-by-the-Mets Justin Turner into the offensive monstrosity that the Dodgers have so enjoyed in recent years, in 2013, and so far Williamson seems to be benefiting from Latta’s tutelage as well. This spring he’s batting .429 (10-for-26) with two doubles, three home runs and 12 RBIs. That said, Williamson has one minor league option left, so there’s a good chance that with the crowded San Francisco outfield the Giants will hold Williamson in reserve for now.
Gorkys Hernandez, however, is a player out of options. His spring hasn’t been anything to write home about, batting .214 (3-for-14) with one home run and three RBIs, especially next to the offensive clinic being put on by other outfield competitors, but Bruce Bochy has been quick to advocate for Hernandez in the past, telling NBC Sports this offseason:
“[Hernandez] really, the second half, was a pretty good player. Sometimes we forget about him.”
Hernandez did indeed hit his stride after the All Star Break last year, batting .281 with 13 doubles, and offered solid outfield defense, something that may have been lost amid an outfield marred by botched Denard Span plays and the overall dumpster fire that was the Giants’ 2017 season. With all that in mind, the Giants are probably not to willing to risk losing Hernandez through waivers, so despite mediocrity to open his spring he will be saved by the technicality of minor league options and the hope for better days to come.
The veteran outfield utility-man Gregor Blanco came back to camp this year after a 2017 season with the Diamondbacks and he’s been making a very strong case for himself so far. Not only does he look like he’s still got it, batting .538 (7-for-13) with two doubles, a triple and a home run, but he’s the tried-and-true option. And maybe, just maybe, a good luck charm? Either way, the Giants know what he can do on and off the field, and for a team putting a lot of new pieces of the puzzle together this year, he might be just the kind of spackle they need to fill in any cracks and smooth over any rough edges.
The young star of Giants spring training, of course, has been Steven Duggar. He’s made some stunning plays in center field and he’s batting .350 (7-for-20) with three home runs, six RBIs and two stolen bases. As tempting as it is to want to usher the kid onto the big stage toot sweet, barring injury or some other compelling factor, it’s not likely that he’ll be communing with seagulls at AT&T Park just yet. For the reasons mentioned above, the Giants already have two center fielders to start the season. Platooning Duggar when he’s this hot would be silly. He should be playing every day and continuing to hone his skills in Triple-A. The Giants want him available later in the season when fatigue and injuries take their toll in San Francisco, that way everyone can overuse the trite “shot in the arm” metaphor when describing him.
Jarrett Parker is another guy out of options but, unfortunately for him, the Giants will probably let him go. He’s having a dismal spring batting just .174 (4-for-23) with 14 strike outs in eight games, and he never came into his own in 2017. If he makes it past waivers all the better, because he may still be a diamond in the rough, but the outfield is too competitive in 2018 to hang onto such a question mark.
Conclusion: Hunter Pence (LF), Austin Jackson (CF), Andrew McCutchen (RF), Gregor Blanco, Gorkys Hernandez
The Giants are hoping to finally reap the delayed gratification from acquisitions that feel so distance at this point they may have occurred sometime in the Reagan administration. With Mark Melancon’s messy, injury-plagued 2017 season and Will Smith diving head first into Tommy John surgery right out the gate of last year’s spring training, the Giants never really got to enjoy what they paid for in either of them.
But Melancon is healthy in the wake of a 2017 surgery to relieve compression of muscles in his right forearm stemming from pronator teres syndrome.
Meanwhile, Smith, who is still building up arm strength post-Tommy John surgery, is expected to join the team May 1. In order to fill the late-inning lefty role in his absence, the Giants added 2014 All-Star Tony Watson, who has been a more-than-effective hurler since busting into the league in 2011.
Sam Dyson was reeling last year from a train wreck season with Texas only to do an about-face mid-season in San Francisco after being plucked off the pile of broken toys and dusted off.
Other relievers expected to make the roster are right-handers Hunter Strickland and Cory Gearrin. Both relievers are out of minor league options, which might have complicated things but both also came to camp ready to work and it’s doubtful that waivers are in either of their immediate futures. Gearrin has given up just one hit in 3 innings of work, with two strikeouts and Strickland has given up no hits and no runs in his 2 innings of work, with two strikeouts.
Two additional lefties performing well enough to battle for the final spot on the roster are Josh Osich and Steven Okert. Like Gearrin and Strickland, after 3.2 innings of work in four games, Osich is the proud owner of a 0.00 ERA with three strikeouts. Okert has a 3.0 ERA having given up one hit and one run in three innings.
As of now, Reyes Moronta may be the likeliest candidate for the last bullpen spot. The right-hander has admittedly been batted around a bit since the onset of camp — in three games over 3.2 innings he gave up four hits, four earned runs, three walks and a home run — but, and it’s a big but, he struck out seven.
It is important to remember that one of the relievers who makes the Opening Day roster will do so to keep a seat warm for Smith, meaning the competition will continue through April.