Spring Training games are about to start, and that means that some Giant will hit extremely well and put himself on the radar, and even though we'll know it doesn't mean anything, we'll still allow ourselves a little ray of hope that it matters. There have been lots of Giants in history who had excellent spring trainings and went on to varying amounts of success in the regular season. Let's take a look!
If you're wondering why the title says this is a some-time team instead of an all-time team, it's because the Chronicle archives start in 1985, and I couldn't figure out how to research spring training stats from before that. Even those are incomplete and filled with utterly irrelevant details like RBIs, which I have lovingly passed on to you because I had them and why not.
C: Kirt Manwaring, 1992
In 1992, Manwaring had a typically great defensive spring, with Trevor Wilson saying:
"When Kirt's back there, I never have to wonder about what to throw,'' Trevor Wilson said. ``He always calls exactly what I want to throw. It's almost weird the way we work together. In that last game against the Dodgers, it was like we were locked in for nine innings"
He backed that up by hitting .330, and was the unquestioned starter going into the year. He ended up hitting .244/.311/.335 in '92, good enough for an 88 OPS+, which for a strong defensive catcher, is just fine.
1B: Francisco Melendez, 1988
According to a young Ray Ratto, writing in the Chronicle on April 1, 1988:
Francisco Melendez asserted himself into the organization's full consciousness by hitting .560 with eight RBIs in 25 at-bats.
It was a fantastic performance for Melendez, a career minor leaguer who would sadly strain his hamstring during camp and miss the start of the year. Once he came back, he was nothing special, going 1-for-8 with just a single in June, and 4-for-18 with three walks after being called up in September, for a final line of .192/.276/.192 in 29 PAs.
Of course, even without the injury, it would have been difficult for Melendez to find playing time, with Will Clark and Mike Aldrete in front of him in the first base pecking order.
2B: Brock Bond, 2013
Brock Bond's is possibly the saddest story here. After working his way up through the minor league system, posting excellent OBPs at every level, Bond earned an invite to major league camp in 2013 and continued his OBP Monster ways but with some added power, hitting .435/.480/.870 in 25 plate appearances. He won the award for best Giant in his first big-league camp and was even being talked about as a dark horse to make the roster, but near the end of camp he got injured. After recovering, he somehow fell from the organization's graces, getting sent down to San Jose after two years in Fresno.
In San Jose he posted his worst OPS since Rookie League in 2007, got released at the end of the year, and has bounced around indy ball and a couple of organizations since, never making the majors.
SS: Johnnie LeMaster, 1985
He had a great spring, but don't just take my word for it. In the Baseball '85 preview published on April 9, 1985, David Bush wrote:
Shortstop Johnnie LeMaster had a great spring, and maybe can become a .250 hitter again.
I couldn't find any firm stats for how LeMaster performed that spring, but a couple weeks earlier, on March 26, he was hitting .419, and then-manager Jim Davenport declared that if the season started the next day, LeMaster would be the starter. That's really good! Could Boo have turned a corner?
Well, not quite. In 17 plate appearances for the Giants, he hit .000/.059/.000 and was traded to the Indians.
3B: Brandon Hicks, 2014
Yes, in the majors he mostly played second base for the Giants, but in his minor and major league career, he's played enough third base that I can safely put him here. Hicks made the team with a hot spring, finishing with an OPS of 1.142 and a promise that during the regular season he would definitely hit a home run off a 1-2 Clayton Kershaw curveball. He lived up to that promise, and then graciously declined horribly, posting a .437 OPS over the rest of the year until being DFA'd in July.
OF: Darren Lewis, 1995
Lewis was always best known for his defense and speed, but in spring training in 1995, his bat showed up too, impressing everyone with a .450 average. Unfortunately, he used up all his hits during that April in Scottsdale, and went on to post a .252/.303/.314 line for the Giants that year. He was traded midseason to the Reds as part of the deal that brought Deion Sanders, among others, to the Giants, a big eight-player trade that brought the Giants five players, two of whom were still around the next year, and none of whom had any kind of lasting impact on the franchise.
OF: Kevin Mitchell, 1989
After a spring where he hit .455 with seven homers and 21 RBIs, Mitchell slowed down in the regular season, hitting a paltry .291. And just 45 homers? C'mon, man, give it some effort!
Okay, good numbers in Spring Training don't always translate to bad ones in the regular season, I guess. I GUESS.
OF: Andres Torres, 2009
Mitchell was already well known as a dangerous hitter before his breakout year in 1989, but Andres Torres was minor league flotsam when he got his invite to camp, and his performance in Arizona was the start of a pretty dang good couple years for him. He hit .400/.462/.614 in 79 PAs that year, giving the Giants a good, long look, and OPSed .876 and .822 over the next two seasons. The rest of this list is filled with lots of negativity and "Hey, remember that guy?" but Torres and Mitchell are just as important because sometimes spring stats do tell the truth.
SP: Bud Black, 1991
Because of the difficulty of finding complete spring training stats prior to 2006, I don't have Black's full line, but I can tell you that in his last 20 spring innings, he gave up just two earned runs. Maybe he only made four starts that entire spring! Maybe his first one or two were awful! I have no idea!
None of this helped him in the regular season, where he pitched 214 innings with an ERA+ of 90 and also led the league in losses. I know wins and losses aren't stats that actually tell us "information" but it's still not good to lead the league in losses. That's a sign you had a disappointing year.
RP: Armando Benitez, 2005
He had ten straight scoreless outings to end spring training! What a great signing!
IF: Brad Wellman, 1986
Wellman, a career utility infielder, hit a fantastic .350/.381/.400 in 42 plate appearances in Arizona in 1986. At the time, he had a career .226 average in the majors, so that must have been quite the leap for him. Unfortunately for Wellman, Robby Thompson was so impressive that spring that he was relegated to a backup role, just like he had been for his entire career. He would barely play in '86, hitting .154/.214/.154 in 14 plate appearances in April before being outrighted to AAA Phoenix, and released at the end of the year.
1B: Lance Niekro, 2006
Niekro tore the cover off the ball in the spring of '06, hitting .375/.400/.641 with six doubles, a triple, and three homers in 68 PAs. If he could maintain a line even half that good, he would be a productive major leaguer.
Lance Niekro could not maintain a line even half that good. Lance Niekro was not a productive major leaguer.
1B/OF: Aubrey Huff, 2011
Multiple beat writers would later describe Huff's preparation for the 2011 season as practically nonexistent, but you wouldn't know it from his results in the Cactus League. Huff spent the entire month of March killing the ball, hitting .369/.391/.692 with six homers in 68 PAs. His regular season wasn't nearly so productive, as he slipped to a line of .246/.306/.370. But they couldn't take his World Series ring away just because he was bad. Maybe they would have liked to, but they couldn't!
SP: Shawn Estes, 1998
Coming off his All-Star 1997 season, when he went 19-5 with a 3.18 ERA, Estes had established himself in the minds of Giants fans as an ace. His 1998 spring training did nothing to dispel that notion, as he pitched 22 innings with a 1.64 ERA, an oasis in a desert of a rotation that saw Orel Hershiser sport a 7.33 ERA, Kirk Rueter a 4.91, and Danny Darwin an 8.22.
However, in the regular season, Estes disappointed, declining to a 5.06 ERA (an ERA+ of 80). The good news is that everyone else was bad too! Hershiser led the staff with a 4.33 ERA, so Estes, while worse than most of them, was at least not uniquely awful.
Now that I think about it, that might not be good news.
P - Trevor Wilson, 1991
After compiling a 1.17 ERA in eight games in the Cactus League, Wilson went on to have a fine year mostly as a starter, compiling a 3.56 ERA in 44 games, 29 of them starts. He pitched well enough while in the rotation that the next year, the Chronicle's Tim Keown would call him "the present and future ace," which did not exactly pan out, but was a good sign. Still, his strong spring was part of a process that helped him establish himself as a major leaguer, which is just one of the many outcomes possible after a good showing.
RP - John Johnstone, 2001
After two excellent years in 1998 and 1999, Johnstone had a disastrous 2000, brought on in large part by injury. He came back to spring training in 2001 and pitched well in limited playing time, with a 1.13 ERA. But near the end of the Cactus League, his back flared up again, the team put him on the DL, and that was the end of his career.
ANYWAY DON'T WORRY ABOUT JOE PANIK HE'S JUST GREAT.