San Francisco Giants: A Position-by-Position Breakdown at Spring Training
The grass has been cut and the fields manicured—spring baseball is upon us. The smell of hot dogs wafts through the air, as the fan next to you curses the nacho cheese he just dripped on his new jersey. Yes, after a long winter, it's time for baseball.
The San Francisco Giants are hard at work and hoping to rebound from an injury-plagued season, in which they fell far short of the playoffs. The Giants ended 2013 with a record of 76-86, well behind the NL West champion LA Dodgers.
General manager Brian Sabean has made several moves designed to bolster the Giants' roster. He was able to retain the Giants' own Hunter Pence, Tim Lincecum, Javier Lopez and Ryan Vogelsong. In addition, Sabean brought in Tim Hudson and Michael Morse, two veterans who have a lot to prove in 2014.
Unlike prior seasons when Bruce Bochy chose to do a lot of platooning, the 2014 version of the Giants should feature a fairly set lineup. Players will get their rest days, but barring injury, the eight position starters are all set.
The outlook is very promising, so lets take a closer look at the Giants' position players. We will address the pitching next week.
All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com.
Catcher: Buster Posey
The Giants catcher for the 2014 season and foreseeable future will be Buster Posey. He has come into camp in excellent condition and has put on some muscle.
The approach Posey took was to gain strength this winter, as he wore down as the 2013 season progressed. Prior to the All-Star break, Posey hit .325, with 13 home runs and 56 RBI. After the break, Posey hit just .244, with two home runs and 16 RBI.
Posey put on some added muscle and the hope is that he will remain strong all season.
Backing Posey up is Hector Sanchez. After coming into camp last year out of shape and promptly getting hurt, Sanchez is in far better condition this spring.
2013 was a bit of a wake-up call for Sanchez, as he did not show much improvement over his promising 2012 season. In 129 at-bats, Sanchez hit just .248, with three home runs and 19 RBI.
With young catching prospect Andrew Susac gaining experience and improving, Sanchez realizes he must be more of a professional if he is to ultimately hold onto his job.
First Base: Brandon Belt
2013 was a coming-of-age for Brandon Belt. Around the All-Star break, Belt made some modifications in his stance and swing, which proved to be extremely helpful.
The fact is that manager Bruce Bochy, hitting coach Hensley Meulens and even former Giants' star Will Clark had suggested to Belt to make these changes on several occasions. Stubbornly, Belt stuck with his old style of hitting and opposing pitchers knew how to get him out.
Watching Belt closely, it was clear that his swing was flawed.
Belt stood up in the box, had a tendency to crouch as the pitcher was delivering the ball, then uncoiled a long, loopy swing. Opposing pitchers pounded him inside with fastballs, and Belt could not get around on that pitch. He would either foul it off weakly to the left, or miss it altogether.
Then, Belt would start cheating-out early by clearing his hips in order to adjust to that pitch. When opposing pitchers and catchers noticed this, they threw soft stuff down and away. Belt would typically roll-over on that pitch & hit a weak grounder to the right side of the infield.
Finally, after batting a soft .260 over the first half of the season, Belt listened to his mentors and made some much-needed adjustments.
Belt moved to the back of the batters box, minimized the crouch and got his hands in a better position. This enabled him to go much quicker and straighter to the ball, eliminating much of the loop that got him in trouble.
After the All-Star break, Belt was a completely different hitter. He batted .326, with an OPS of .915. His OPS prior to the break was .784.
On the season, Belt finished with 17 home runs and 67 RBI. Based on his stellar second half, Bochy has penciled Belt in to hit in the third spot of the Giants' order.
Look for Belt to have a breakout season, with a batting average in the .300 range. His new mechanics also enhance his ability to turn on pitches and hit them with authority. Expect him to surpass 20 home runs and significantly increase his RBI totals.
The Giants and Belt recently came to an agreement on a one-year deal for $2.9 million. This paves the way for a long-term contract, which could happen later this spring.
The key to the deal was that it occurred just hours before Belt was to go into an arbitration hearing.
Belt is a very sensitive guy, and an arbitration hearing where management dings him would not have been helpful to his psyche. Those negative comments most certainly would have affected him. Fortunately, for Belt and the Giants, they never had to go through that.
On days when Belt is out of the lineup, look for Michael Morse or Buster Posey to get some playing time at first base. Since both players have experience at first, the Giants do not need to carry an extra first baseman on their bench.
Second Base: Marco Scutaro
After helping to lead the Giants to the 2012 world championship and being named MVP of the NLCS, Marco Scutaro endured a very tough 2013.
Scutaro dealt with a troublesome back that often kept him off the field. In addition, Scutaro was hit on the left pinkie finger in June, which caused a fracture and severe tendon damage. Although he tried to play through it, Scutaro ultimately went on the DL.
In 2013, Scutaro played in 127 games and had 488 at-bats. He hit .297, with two home runs, 31 RBI and 57 runs scored. His OBP was a solid .357, to go along with an OPS of .726.
Limited due to the back issues, Scutaro also did not play particularly well defensively. He committed 13 errors, the second most in his 12-year career. He was also limited in his range, so there were many other balls that he could not get to.
Scutaro has reported to camp and stated that his back feels good and his finger is healed, following surgery.
Also, Scutaro is 38 years of age, so manager Bruce Bochy will be focused on giving him periodic rest to keep him as fresh as possible.
The result is that the Giants' backup second baseman will see significant action. At this stage of the spring, the primary backup to Scutaro appears to be Tony Abreu.
Abreu has played parts of five seasons in the majors and has the inside track to being Scutaro's sub. In 2013, Abreu was slowed by soreness in his knee for much of the season.
Abreu was limited to 138 at-bats, hitting .268, with two home runs, 14 RBI and 21 runs scored. His OBP was .301 and he had an OPS of .743.
The knee also slowed Abreu defensively. Like Scutaro, his mobility was compromised.
Now, in the spring of 2014, Abreu's knee appears healthy, and he is the first in line for the backup second base job.
Abreu's experience and stronger track record as a hitter puts him in front of other candidates, Nick Noonan and Ehire Adrianza.
Noonan saw action at all of the infield positions in 2013, except for first base. Defensively, he was solid, but his offensive game needs improvement.
In 105 at-bats, Noonan hit only .219, with no home runs and five RBI. His OBP was a dismal .261 and his OPS was also too low, at .499. Noonan, who has minimal power, had only two extra-base hits, both doubles.
Noonan has also never distinguished himself with the bat in the minors, so these offensive struggles are somewhat to be expected. He has a career average of only .266 in seven minor league seasons. Do not look for Noonan to make the Giants roster, barring injury to one of their other infielders.
Adrianza was a September call-up last year and impressed the Giants with his defensive ability and speed. He also did something Noonan didn't—hitting a home run in his 18 at-bats.
In 2013, outside of his September promotion, Adrianza split time between Double-A and Triple-A. In 395 at-bats, he hit .266 with two home runs and 35 RBI. He also collected 17 stolen bases.
Adrianza showed good plate discipline, with an OBP of .360. His OPS was .720. These are both significantly higher than Noonan's Triple-A stats. Noonan's OBP was .323 and his OPS was .668.
At this point, unless something goes wrong this spring, both Noonan and Adrianza are destined to open the season in the minors.
Third Base: Pablo Sandoval
Pablo Sandoval is in the final year of his contract with the Giants, and the realization that he needs to be in shape and have a big year has hit him.
Sandoval reported to spring training looking better than ever. He worked hard this winter, and he also made wiser meal choices. Sandoval's brother is a chef and now cooks meals for him on a regular basis.
By losing the weight, Sandoval will be able to play much better defense, and his bat speed should also stay quick. The Giants are also hoping that the improved fitness will help Sandoval avoid the nagging leg injuries that have plagued his career.
He is a tremendous athlete, and the trimmer body will enable him to keep up his energy level and play deeper into games. There were many times over the past season that Giants manager Bruce Bochy was compelled to remove Sandoval in the late innings, as his defense was lacking due to the increased weight.
Giants GM Brian Sabean has a tough decision to make: whether the Giants should try to sign Sandoval to an extension now, or wait until the end of the season. If Sandoval has a big year, he will command much more money.
The question the Giants must answer is, how much do they trust that Sandoval will remain in good physical condition if they sign him to an extension now? My gut feeling is that they will come to terms with Sandoval on a three- or four-year extension, prior to the start of the season.
In 2013, Sandoval hit .278, with 14 home runs and 79 RBI. His OBP was .341 and OPS .758. Look for him to significantly improve on those numbers in 2014.
Sandoval has proven that he can hit well into the .300s and he can do it again this year. His power numbers should also be much improved, as his bat speed will be quicker based on his improved conditioning. 20-25 home runs and 85-100 RBI are definitely within reach for Sandoval.
Sandoval's main backup at third base is Joaquin Arias. He is an outstanding utility player for the Giants. In 2013, Arias played every infield spot and is a good defensive player.
In 225 at-bats, Arias hit .271, with an OBP of .284 and OPS of .627. He is a line-drive hitter, without a lot of power. Arias had one home run and 19 RBI in 2013.
Shortstop: Brandon Crawford
Brandon Crawford became the Giants' starting shortstop in 2012 and solidified his spot last year. He is a fine defensive player and is improving at the plate.
Crawford was off to a hot start in 2013, when he injured his right index and middle fingers while diving into second base. He was hitting up near the .300 mark, but the injury effected the way he swung the bat.
Crawford tailed off over the second half of the year and finished with a .248 batting average, identical to what he had in 2012. He has a career-high of nine home runs and also drove in 43 runs.
Now entering his fourth season with the Giants, Crawford has the experience to show significant improvement in his offensive numbers. At the age of 27, he is also entering the prime years of his career.
Backing up Crawford will be the Giants' super-utility man, Joaquin Arias.
Left Field: Michael Morse
If the first few days of training camp are any indication, Michael Morse seems rejuvenated and genuinely excited to be with his new team. He already seems to be fitting in well with his new teammates and could be poised for a big year.
Morse battled a wrist injury in 2013, which sapped him of his power. Morse began the season in Seattle, then was traded to Baltimore for the stretch run. Unfortunately, Morse never found his groove at the plate and 2013 ended dismally for him.
In 312 at-bats, Morse hit only .215, with 13 home runs and 27 RBI. He found himself out of a job when the Giants came calling this past winter.
Morse signed a one-year deal for $6 million and will be the Giants' primary starter in left field.
The Giants are hoping Morse can approach his 2011 season, when he hit .303, with 31 home runs and 95 RBI. The upside for the Giants is very high, and since Morse came to San Francisco on a very reasonable, one-year contract, there is no long-term risk involved.
The Giants will also utilize Gregor Blanco in left field, especially in the late innings as a defensive replacement. Blanco will also see action periodically against certain right-handed pitchers. This is not a true platoon, however, as Morse will see the bulk of the playing time, as long as he can stay healthy.
Center Field: Angel Pagan
Angel Pagan was a catalyst at the top of the Giants' batting order when they won the World Series in 2012. Unfortunately, in 2013, he suffered a hamstring injury that short-circuited his season.
Pagan missed over three months and the Giants offense struggled without him, igniting the top of the order. Now healthy, Pagan will start in center field, and the Giants need him to ignite their offense once again.
The Giants have several options to back up Pagan in center. Gregor Blanco can play all three outfield positions and will be the Giants' fourth outfielder.
In 452 at-bats, Blanco hit .265, with three home runs and 41 RBI. His OBP was a solid .341 to go along with an OPS of .690. Blanco has excellent speed, but needs to utilize that asset better on the bases. He had 14 steals, but was caught nine times.
Blanco is an outstanding defensive player and will see plenty of action. The role of fourth outfielder is ideal, as Blanco showed that he is not an everyday player. Last season, when given the chance to play regularly, Blanco noticeably wore down when he was starting in place of the injured Pagan.
Juan Perez will battle Tyler Colvin for the fifth outfielders job. Perez is a young player with plenty of speed, but no power. Like Blanco, he is also a tremendous defensive player.
Perez held his own at the big league level last year, although, as the fifth outfielder, he will need to improve some of his fundamentals, such as bunting and base stealing.
Perez played in 34 games and had 89 at-bats. He hit a respectable .258, with an OBP of .302 and OPS of .650. Often used as a pinch-runner, Perez only had two stolen bases.
Tyler Colvin will also get a chance to earn the fifth outfielder job. He is entering his sixth year in the majors and has experience playing all three outfield positions.
Colvin has much more power than Perez, having hit 20 home runs in 2010 and 18 in 2012. Colvin spent the majority of the 2013 season in the minors, garnering only 75 at-bats for the Rockies last year.
If Colvin shows he has his batting stroke this spring, he will have the edge over Perez because of his power and his overall experience.
Right Field: Hunter Pence
Hunter Pence joined the Giants at the trade deadline in 2012 and quickly became a fan favorite in San Francisco. His enthusiasm and never-ending hustle endeared him to Giants' players and fans alike.
Pence had a tremendous year in 2013, playing in all 162 games. He led all Giants with 27 home runs, 99 RBI, 91 runs scored and 22 stolen bases.
Pence finished the season with a .283 batting average, an OBP of .339 and OPS of .822. He also played a very good defensive right field at the treacherous AT&T Park.
Pence will undoubtedly want to be in the lineup every day, but Giants manager Bruce Bochy will likely opt to give him a day off periodically. In those rare instances, the Giants have several options for right field.
Two out of three players—Gregor Blanco, Juan Perez or Tyler Colvin—will make the roster and can spell Pence if necessary.
The only other outfielder with an outside chance of making the Opening Day roster is Roger Kieschnick. However, he did not impress when given the opportunity to play last year, so he will need a huge spring to have any chance.