I Do Not Envy Bobby Evans This Spring
Let’s just break down the infield bench prospects, in no particular order:*
- Gordon Beckham: Yes, he was a Giant last year. Former first round pick is only hitting .222, but played short for the first time in his career, and is loved in the clubhouse.
- Orlando Calixte: Giants’ early free agent target, also only batting .222, but he can also play center field on top of pretty much anywhere except the battery.
- Conor Gillaspie: 2016 Postseason Hero, leads the team in Spring Training hitting .455 (5-for-11) with two home runs, and reminded us he can also play first.
- Aaron Hill: Celebrates his 35th birthday in 9 days, longtime vet, batting .316/.409/.421.
- Jae-gyun Hwang: Endlessly intriguing Korean third base free agent. Co-leads the team in home runs with 3, plus a double, while batting .333.
- Chris Marrero: Also can play left field, former first round pick co-leads team with 3 home runs, batting .273 with a double and triple as well.
- Mike Morse: 2014 Postseason Hero, fan favorite, batting .250 with two home runs.
- Jimmy Rollins: 2007 NL MVP, Bay Area hometown guy, working hard to show he can also play second, though he’s only batting .158 with a home run, and three walks against three strikeouts. Great clubhouse influence
- Kelby Tomlinson: Experienced, young backup that has been playing all over. 2nd on the team in Average at .368 (7-for-19).
There are 7 free agents on that list (including Beckham, who did end the season with the Giants but was a free agent), and 9 guys who you could make a solid argument for making the roster. Too that end, Evans sure looks good at finding low-risk, low-cost guys to create competition for backup roles. There is probably not a single guy on that list that would be a disappointment to see on the Giants.
But how many can they keep? Calixte, Tomlinson and Hwang each have options left, which is probably the only reason the latter two may not make it, despite strong springs. Calixte has a good argument for the bench with his versatility, though.
But Rollins, Hill and Morse are all long-time veterans, would they accept minor league assignments? Morse literally came out of retirement after Evans saw him at Hunter Pence’s wedding. Would guys like Marrero or Beckham want to stick around, or see if they could stick with other teams (I don’t know if either of them have opt-out clauses)? If Gillaspie doesn’t make the team, he could be claimed off waivers.
Oh, yeah, don’t forget that Eduardo Nunez, whose roster spot is not likely in jeopardy, is also a capable utility guy and backup corner outfielder if someone else wins the starting third baseman job.
That is a lot of overlapping pieces. Gillaspie and Marrero are the ones I see currently in the lead for roster spots, but damn if I can make any guesses beyond that. One thing I know is that I can’t remember such a wide-open Spring Training for bench roles in a long time.
(Yes, I left out Kyle Blanks, but…I’m sorry Kyle, right now you just aren’t in this same group.)
Is This It? Who Replaces Cain?
Meanwhile, the 5th starter spot’s competition is starting to look like a tough decision in a different way. Saturday saw Matt Cain not-starting either game of a split-squad, and he had his worst day of the spring yet, giving up 5 earned runs in three innings, and has a Spring ERA of 9.58.
That is leaving the door wide open for him to lose his job. Option A is Ty Blach, who did get a start in the split-squad day on Saturday (likely because the vets didn’t want to go on the road). Blach did not grab the opportunity by the horns, giving up two runs on five hits in 2.2 innings. That said, Blach has looked solid otherwise this spring, only giving up one run in 6.2 other combined innings spread over three outings. Meanwhile, Option C, Clayton Blackburn, gave up three runs on 7 hits and a walk in 2.2 innings. His spring ERA is 6.23, and he may be more or less eliminated as a choice here.
But that brings us to Option B: Tyler Beede. Beede last pitched in Tuesday’s game against the Dodgers, but he has been remarkably consistent. He has appeared three times so far, pitching two innings each time, giving up no runs on two hits and one walk each time. Only his strikeouts have changed, going from 0 to 1 to 2 over the three games. Beede may need more than scoreless outings to beat out Blach at the moment for the spot, but if he looks dominant when he throws next (likely on Sunday), this roster spot will be very, very much up for grabs.
Utility Is Important
As mentioned last week, utility may be a big part of who wins bench roles to start 2017. And this week, we saw players take very unfamiliar positions.
Rollins requested work at 2B so Hill finds himself at SS for 1st time in a decade. "Why not? I just need to figure out what glove to use."— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) March 6, 2017
From Monday’s game, Jimmy Rollins requested a late switch to get more work at second base, and Aaron Hill took a very rare opportunity to play at third. Rollins impressed at second, making two diving plays on line drives to his left to get outs.
In the same game, we also saw another first: Jae-gyun Hwang, who played third base and shortstop in Korea, made an appearance at first base very briefly. I could not find any instances of Hwang playing first while in Korea, but I admit my skills at navigating stats sites from there are not very strong.
On Tuesday, the third-string catcher on the roster, Trevor Brown, played second base. This isn’t out of his comfort zone, Brown has 97 games at second base in his minor league career, with 9 coming most recently in 2014 at San Jose and Fresno (the then-AAA Giants affiliate). He also played seven games at first base in his first pro season at Salem-Keizer in 2012.
Meanwhile, Orlando Calixte continues to play almost everywhere: 1 game at second, 2 at third, 6 at short, 2 in CF, and 3 in RF (in several games, he played more than one position).
These players are attempting to show off every way they can contribute, in a tight, tight race for these bench spots.
Don’t Forget About The Defense Against The Dark Arts Position Battle
Just when you thought, one position up for grabs in the Spring Training was going to be an easy decision…
Left Field, also known as the position where the Giants are just going to have a new player every year since Barry Bonds “retired,” seemed to be strongly leaning in the favor of Jarrett Parker, who hit two home runs in the first four games of the Spring. But beware smaller sample sizes than Spring’s already small sample sizes. On Saturday, Parker broke an 0-for-13 streak with a single, but his spring average is down to .208.
Meanwhile, Mac Williamson has come on strong. Williamson has collected hits in six of the nine games he’s been in, including home runs in back-to-back games this week. Now, Mac is batting .308 with two home runs, and left field is really confusing.
None of the other regular outfield options have done much to have an impact, like Gorkys Hernandez (batting .136 with three doubles) or Wynton Bernard (.100 with a double). So it’s coming down Williamson and Parker. Parker has the tiebreaker, since he is out of options, while Williamson can still go down to make room for others.
We Heard You Wanted Power
If Giants fans were left wanting for power, this week in Spring Training was something to enjoy.
12 home runs! 12! Count them! Including a walk-off home run by Chris Marrero against Puerto Rico!
Although the home runs against Puerto Rico didn’t count, so it’s only 10 officially…but let’s not get into that.
Ranking the top home runs of the week:
T-#5: Michael Morse hits two home runs in two-at-bats against Cincinnati, giving him two that count, finally. It’s hard not to look at Morse and see a really big kid. I don’t know that he’s going to make the team, but he’s welcome on the Prospect-ish Roundup any day of the week.
#4: Jimmy Rollins hits a 2-run home run against Cleveland. This inning was already a relief to @carmenkiew because Brandon Belt hit his second home run of the spring, but then Rollins came up later in the inning, and the 38-year old got his first of the spring. Rollins had 2 in 41 games with the White Sox last year, but it’s nice to see a little pop in that bat.
#3: Conor Gillaspie hits a two-run home run against Cincinnati. I’m not saying that I liked seeing a young-ish Giants guy hit a home run with Adam Duvall over on the other side, but…
#2: Jae-gyun Hwang hits his 2nd home run of spring against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Okay, part of this was just because it was against the Dodgers. But Hwang had been spraying the ball a lot this spring. His first home run was an opposite field poke, which was nice. But this home run, into the left field bullpen, showed Hwang can pull with some power as well.
#1: Chris Marrero walks off against Puerto Rico. Don’t tell me that this game counts less than the other games that don’t count. A walk-off home run is always awesome, always.
While the Prospect-ish guys have really taken over this report, the actual prospects haven’t been disappointing.
One of the early impressing youngsters is the athletic Steven Duggar. Duggar has been one of Bochy’s top late-inning players, making 10 appearances for the Giants so far. Although he doesn’t get a lot of at-bats, he’s 4-for-11 (.364) with a double, four walks against five strikeouts, and two stolen bases to lead the team in the spring. Duggar right now is neck-and-neck with Jae-gyun Hwang for the Barney Nugent award.
However, Duggar isn’t the only non-contending outfielder who has impressed. Austin Slater hasn’t had a bad spring either, batting .313 with a double in 11 games, and a stolen base on top of it. Slater is likely ticketed back to Triple-A, while Duggar could go either to Triple-A or Double-A, but the Giants have to like the young outfielders at the top of the system, alongside Parker and Williamson.
Meanwhile, Ryder Jones has looked good at the corners of the infield as well. Jones is 3-for-10 with a double and a walk, and while he has four strikeouts, he has looked good at the back end of major league spring games as he has often gotten lost in the shuffle of Giants Prospect lists. He hasn’t shown his power yet, but he’s had some troubles in the minors, and this spring could give him the right momentum into the season.
One last prospect to mention is Miguel Gomez. Gomez has gotten a fair amount of time backing up third base, and getting past the first round of cuts, despite all the infielders mentioned above, not to mention Jones also getting time there. And this even though Gomez has only had a half-season as high as High-A ball. Gomez has only had nine at-bats, going 2-for-9 with a strikeout, but the amount of time he’s getting is notable. The Giants like the 24-year old, and for good reason.
Oh, let’s not forget that top prospect, Christian Arroyo.
The Spring Training wonder was a wonder in February, but he’s struggled a bit in March. He started the season 3-for-4, but since then, he’s been 1-for-7 in the month of March with three strikeouts and no walks. Still, small sample size and all, Arroyo’s got a .364 batting average, tied for third-best on the team…even if it’s empty with no walks or extra-base hits. Then again, the only hit in March came against the Dodgers, so there’s that.
Meanwhile, other than his one game last week at third base, Arroyo’s been exclusively at shortstop. Between Jones, Ryder, and the gaggle of major league roster candidates, there hasn’t been much time at third base.
Arroyo got a couple of days off this week, between an off-day and simply a day off for him for the team. It’ll be interesting to see how he responds this week…but ultimately, how he performs and what he does, will probably be less important than the many decisions the major league candidates are forcing.
Who Are These Guys? - The Journeyman Edition (some more recently journeyed than others)
Neil Ramirez - This 27-year old right-handed reliever had quite a 2016. He started the year with the Chicago Cubs, where he’d been since 2013 and he first broke into the Majors with. But the Cubs designated him for assignment in May, and the Milwaukee Brewers picked him up. After two rough games in June, the Brewers DFA’d him to make room for a returning player, and was picked up by the Minnesota Twins. He stuck with the Twins until July, when the Twins DFA’d him due to a returning player in a situation that manager Paul Molitor said “wasn’t particularly good in terms of fairness”. This time, Ramirez cleared waivers and went to Triple-A Rochester, where he stayed until joining the Giants on a minor league deal in the offseason. Ramirez had a 6.00 ERA in 2016 at the major league level, but after reading all that, it’s kind of impressive in context. He had a 3.10 ERA in Rochester as well. Ramirez is a Fastball-Slider pitcher, who has a curve he throws occasionally and a show-me changeup. His velocity has dipped from 94 MPH to 92 MPH over the last three seasons, and his curveball usage nearly disappeared. Perhaps he can bring the curveball back into the mix and return to efficiency.
David Hernandez - The 31-year old reliever Hernandez almost doesn’t deserve to be on this list, as he’s had a fine major league career. He had his best seasons in 2011 and 2012 with Arizona, but after struggling post-Tommy John surgery, he had a nice bounceback year with Philadelphia, with a 3.84 ERA in 70 appearances. Hernandez throws a solid 94 MPH fastball and a slow curveball. One big change in Hernandez’s career has been his use of his changeup, which has gone from being 6 percent of his pitches in his earlier years to nearly 1 percent last year. Hernandez signed a minor league deal with the Giants, and could bring some veteran presence to a bullpen that is depending on a fair amount of youth.
Justin Ruggiano - The 34-year old Ruggiano has played in 8 Major League seasons over his career, but has appeared in over 100 games just once, with the Miami Marlins in 2013. In the last two years alone, Ruggiano has played in four organizations: The Mariners and Dodgers in 2015, and the Rangers and Mets in 2016. Though his 2016 only consisted of 9 major league games, Ruggiano hit .333/.385/.625, but his career line is a more understandable .258/.322/.439. But while Ruggiano’s hitting has had ups and downs, he can play all three positions in the outfield, including a decent center field, which is the Giants’ shallowest position in terms of bench at the moment.
Aaron Hill - Hill only recently really began his travels, having spent the first 11 years of careers with just two teams: Toronto and Arizona. But Hill was traded twice in 2016: in the preseason, he went to the Milwaukee Brewers in the Jean Segura deal. Halfway through the season, the Brewers sent him to the Red Sox. Hill had been thriving in Milwaukee (batting .283/.359/.421), but struggled in Boston to the tune of a .218 batting average. Hill has played a solid mix of second and third base with all his teams in the last few years. He joins a crowded infield picture in San Francisco this Spring.
* - The Asterisk
Every stat in this article has one asterisk to remember: the game against Puerto Rico didn’t count.
Don’t tell Chris Marrero’s walk-off home run that, though.
Aren’t you tired of talking about Arizona?
No, of course you aren’t. But just in case you want to know what’s going to be happening in the minor league cities once the season begins…well, let’s talk about what is a close second about what you’ll find in Sacramento behind the prospects….THE FOOD
Let me know when Krispy Kreme installs a full booth, complete with one of those donut-making machines, though. If we’re talking fresh food….mmmm….fresh donuts.