SF Giants: 5 Potential Breakout Candidates to Watch in Spring Training
Pitchers and catchers reported to spring training on Valentine's Day, and the rest of the squad joined their teammates on the diamond February 18.
New Giants, like pitcher Tim Hudson and left fielder Michael Morse, are looking to prove themselves to their new teammates, but their spots on the roster are secure.
Returning players such as pitcher Tim Lincecum and third baseman Pablo Sandoval will use their spring to re-establish their former MLB dominance.
Young stars Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner will reacquaint themselves with veteran mainstays Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro.
For a few players, spring training is do-or-die. For them, it's either break out from the pack or miss a chance to play on an MLB roster.
Here are five players who could become those breakout candidates.
Juan Perez, Outfield
Juan Perez is a player to watch this spring.
One of the few roster spots the Giants need to fill is an outfielder off the bench. Perez served that role at times in 2013, playing in 34 games for San Francisco. In that span, the then-26-year-old posted a respectable .258/.302/.348 line.
Perez does not necessarily need to break out during his time in Arizona, but he does need to show improvement at the plate in order to solidify his role along with Gregor Blanco.
The Giants need a player like Perez to bolster their bench should they face another injury-plagued season. Right fielder Hunter Pence showed perfect attendance, center fielder Angel Pagan was injury-riddled for much of the year and left field remained a mystery.
Perez is an early favorite to make the roster of the on-the-bubble players.
Nick Noonan, Infield
Depth was a huge issue for the Giants in 2013. Infielder Nick Noonan could be part of the solution this coming season.
While Chris Haft of MLB.com believes Joe Panik is the future second base option for the Giants, Noonan could take his current stopgap status and breakout this spring. Panik is a top prospect and joins the Giants as a non-roster invitee, but Noonan is fighting for an MLB job this year.
Noonan's MLB outlook is that of an everyday second baseman, and he possesses the skills at the plate to field the modern position. Noonan's stock might have fallen after only batting .219 in his brief appearances at the MLB level, but if he can show improvement, he could turn a few heads and change a few minds.
Jake Dunning, RHP
The fiercest competition this spring will be among right-handed relievers for the Giants. The G-men are looking for a right-hander or two to fill a void in their bullpen, and a bevy of younger and older arms are looking to fill those spots.
Somewhat under the radar is Jake Dunning, who made a number of MLB appearances in 2013 and fared well in his opportunities. In 29 games, Dunning posted a 2.84 ERA. In 25.1 innings pitched, Dunning only allowed 20 hits and 11 walks.
Dunning could develop into a much-needed innings-eater, and he already has the ability to pitch multiple innings at the MLB level. The Giants trusted his skills enough to bring him up last season, and if he continues to impress, Dunning should separate himself from the pack.
Heath Hembree, RHP
One of the most touted prospects the Giants have in their arsenal is right-hander Heath Hembree. Right now, he has an impressive minor league career under his belt and loads of potential.
This spring, Hembree will look to turn his potential into production.
In Hembree's minor league career, the pitcher has impressed. In four seasons, Hembree has posted a 3.15 ERA along with 206 strikeouts in 162.2 innings pitched. As soon as the right-hander gets his control, well, under control, he could become a major weapon in the Giants bullpen and bring it back to its not-so-long-ago glory.
The Giants have given Hembree time to develop and mature in their farm system, with only limited action in the majors. This spring, Hembree could make the leap to MLB.
Gary Brown, Outfield
Outfielder Gary Brown faces a make-or-break situation this spring for the Giants. When Brown was drafted, the Giants considered him an everyday outfield option with the potential to hit for power. However, since then, Brown has disappointed in his minor league career.
Brown struggled in Triple-A in 2013, posting a mediocre .231/.286/.375 line. However, it wasn't too long ago (2011) when Brown took the minors by storm with a .336/.407/.519 line in San Jose.
Brown has the tools to be an MLB-caliber, leadoff-type hitter. The Giants currently have an MLB-caliber, leadoff-type hitter with Pagan. But again, the Giants need depth, and if Brown can turn the potential at the plate into real results, the Giants' brass might move the prospect up through the system.
Brown has a lot to prove, and if he can truly break out this spring and remind the Giants of his bright future, he could make some waves in the coming months.