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The Spring Prospect-ish Roundup, 3/6

In which we look at the emerging Super-Utility players, and all the Tampa Bay Rays the Giants signed this offseason.

Spring Prospect-ish Roundup Design by Kevin J. Cunningham

This Is Where We Repeat That Spring Training Results Don’t Count

You know this because the Giants are in an 8-game losing streak after winning their first three.

That doesn’t mean Giants fans should be happy about it…but ugh.

Best Wishes to Jose Alguacil

As most of you know, Giants first-base coach Jose Alguacil was hit in the face by a foul tip in Surprise on Saturday, while he sat on a folding chair next to the dugout (as many coaches do) while the Royals were batting. He was airlifted to a hospital and seems to be doing well.

Alguacil managed the Giants’ Double-A Richmond team in 2015, and was managing Triple-A Sacramento last season. This will be his first season coaching first base in the Majors, replacing Bill Hayes. Shawon Dunston will take over the job for a couple of weeks as Alguacil recovers.

It hasn’t been discussed much since the accident, but this incident might bring up the policy of coaches and managers sitting outside the dugout at Spring games. Crowded dugouts and a better vantage point for evaluating pitchers have been cited as the main reasons for the unusual spot. But, even Bruce Bochy admitted most coaches had been hit, and how dangerous the ball was. He said afterwards he barely saw it, sitting right next to Alguacil.

In July of 2007, Mike Coolbaugh of the Tulsa Drillers was the first base coach when a line drive struck him in the head, and he later died from his injuries. In 2008, MLB ruled that all coaches must wear protective headgear. It’s unclear that wearing helmets would protect coaches in this situation, being much closer and facing batters directly. Also, being in a sitting position leaves coaches far more vulnerable, unable to move, to protect any part of their bodies.

The Super-Utility Guys

With a lot more competition than usual this season for a few bench spots, players are starting to look at ways to expand their value to the team. To that end, a few players are working to expand beyond the IF vs. OF dynamic.

Orlando Calixte, of course, is the headliner among Super-Utility players. Professionally, he has played every position except pitcher, catcher, and first baseman. The vast majority of his playing time in the minors has been at the defensively premium shortstop, but he’s even played 34 games in the similarly premium center field. So far with the Giants in Spring Training, he’s only played right field out there, but the team may also look into his ability to be an emergency backup at center field, especially if neither Gorkys Hernandez or Wynton Bernard force their way onto the major league roster.

1B/Corner OF roles are not particularly new; Michael Morse played that a bit back in 2014, but generally the Giants have been a bit averse to the role…particularly thanks to Brandon Belt keeping first base pretty steady the last few years. Morse is back, though he’s been strictly first base and DH in the spring. But as we mentioned last week, Chris Marrero is looking at exploiting that opening. Marrero has never been an outfielder in the majors, but has spent significant time there in the minors. The first two years of his career, ’06-’07, he was exclusively an outfielder. From ’08-’13, he was exclusively at first base, but since 2014 has played a mix of the two roles. On Saturday, he got into his first Spring Training game of the year in left field, though he didn’t get a single ball hit to him. Since Marrero offers the kind of power the Giants may treasure on their bench, his ability to play left field will be a big boon.

Both Calixte and Marrero were pursued by the Giants early in free agency, and there can be an assumption that their utility may be a big part of their future. But this hasn’t been lost elsewhere.

Gordon Beckham made his first non-high school appearance in the outfield this spring. He hadn’t played there even in college, or the Cape Cod League. He played five innings there, only getting two balls hit out there (Hey, that’s still busier than Marrero). And although Beckham is best known as a second and third baseman, he also can play shortstop (he made 11 appearances there in the majors in 2016, and 24 total in 8 seasons).

One interesting player who has yet to get time at more than one position is Jae-gyun Hwang. Hwang was primarily a third baseman in Korea, but also has a significant amount of time having played at shortstop. With the Giants, however, he has only played third base or batted as a DH. Third base remains a spot of wide-open competition, but the lack of time spent with Hwang to at least show what he can do at other spots may indicate the Giants are looking at him as either a starter or a minor leaguer, rather than a utility role some expected he might compete for. However, with Brandon Crawford leaving for the WBC soon, and two infielders having been sent down (see below), Hwang might get a chance there in the next couple of weeks.

And of course, talking about the utility spot must include discussion of Eduardo Nunez. Though Nunez is as close as the Giants have to an incumbent at third base, has has significant time as a utility player, both in the infield and corner outfield. If someone, whether Hwang, Conor Gillaspie or someone else wins the third base starting job, Nunez would certainly slide into a utility role.

The Wrong Kind of Spin

Oh, Austin.

If it’s a televised game in Spring Training, someone is going to do something ugly. Sorry, Austin Slater, it was you. A line drive hit off the bat of Chris Taylor of the Dodgers had some weird english on it (No, not Jesse English) and got by him. Not the best first impression for the young outfielder.

Now, to be straight, Slater is not in the mix for a Major League job, and his destination in Sacramento is pretty well set. Plus, that ball came off the end of the bat, giving it the kind of spin that Hunter Pence is well known for giving baseballs (Hey, Cardinals fans, how ya doin’?). On video, it’s clear that Slater jumped one way, and tried to compensate. On the other hand, Slater’s a former infielder, and his reactions have got to be a little better than that, if not on the jump then with the glove. That was a feasible enough ball to at least knock down, not kick up and back.

Slater did everything else right, chasing the ball down and hitting the cutoff man with a strong throw, leading to the Dodgers baserunners having their own gaffe (I’ll let the writers at properly attribute the blame there). He also did a heck of a job keeping his hands in on an inside pitch that he hit it to the base of the wall to the opposite field, which is an impressive feat on multiple levels. So those parts might be remembered by coaches. But if Slater wants to play right field at AT&T Park someday, he’d better learn to take the weird bounces, both before and after reaching the wall.

The Arroyo Watch

In the five days since we last talked, the Giants have played 6 games. Christian Arroyo’s been kept mostly at shortstop, having played third once and shortstop three times. He also didn’t get a single hit in those four games, so maybe we shouldn’t be watching. But there

While playing third, Arroyo really shined in a spot some players might get over-amped and make a mistake (especially against the rival Dodgers). With one out and Yasiel Puig at third, a ball was hit hard to him. Puig ran without looking back immediately. Arroyo neither rushed a throw to third, or home. He bluffed a throw, which may have gotten the third base coach to yell at Puig, because Puig (who hadn’t looked) to stop. Once that happened, Puig was toast in the rundown drill. Even if Puig hadn’t stopped, Arroyo would have had time to get the ball home, and give his catcher a better chance to get in position. Also, a rushed throw home is often an error waiting to happen from any base, as the Giants have watched other teams do in the playoffs (Hey, Cardinals fans, glad you’re still reading!). This play was his highlight for me so far this spring.

In the comments last week, some wondered why I’m focusing on Arroyo and third base. Part of it is that I am in the minority in thinking that Jae-gyun Hwang could be a long-term third base answer for the Giants. He has a skill set that I think the Giants not only love, but really need. The other is about preparing for the position. Arroyo’s been flexible in his career, but the Giants value defense a lot. In the past, they’ve pushed players hard at a position when they see that player’s future there. Seeing how playing time gets divided up, particularly once the regular season starts, I think will be important. For instance, Arroyo won’t get experience handling plays like above the same way at shortstop.

In Arroyo’s absence, third base has again been a mix of guys. In 6 games (including a split-squad set), 8 different players have been at third: Arroyo, Gordon Beckham, Orlando Calixte, Miguel Gomez, Aaron Hill, Jae-gyun Hwang, Ryder Jones, and Kelby Tomlinson. Shortstop, meanwhile, only saw five guys…three of these guys (Arroyo, Calixte and Tomlinson), plus Crawford and Jimmy Rollins. While Arroyo’s unlikely to start the season on the major league roster, I still think this situation bears watching.

The Pitcher B’s Make Their Case

As Matt Cain continues to loosen his grip on the #5 starter role, three pitchers who are in the discussion for that spot have looked good this past week.

In the same game on March 1st where Cain struggled, Ty Blach got in and had an efficient two innings. Blach needed only 11 pitches for two innings, getting two strikeouts and not giving up a single baserunner. Blach looked less steady his first time out this spring, giving up a run on four hits in two innings, but that last outing looked very good.

Not to be outdone was Tyler Beede, who got a start as part of two split squad games. He also went two scoreless innings, although he did give up two hits, a walk and got a strikeout. Beede, one of the top Giants prospects, combined that with two scoreless innings in his previous outing, and has yet to give up a run this spring.

Clayton Blackburn also got a start this week, taking Saturday’s game in Surprise against the Royals. It was Blackburn’s third outing of the spring, and he was coming off a rough one against the Padres, in which he’d given up three runs on four hits, including a home run, and a hit batter. Blackburn bounced back with three strikeouts in two scoreless innings, alongside three hits and a walk. Blackburn also had three strikeouts in two innings in his first appearance.

Blackburn is a longshot to be in the 5th starter role, but he had a chance at the bullpen. However, he will compete against Blach and potentially Cain for that role, as there is no way Cain would be headed towards the minors.

Who Are These Guys, Part II - Do You Know The Ways From The Tampa Bay Rays?

Juniel Querecuto - (Yes, I know Querecuto has already been sent to minor league camp. I wrote this before then, and he’s still in the Giants’ system!) The 24-year old Querecuto comes to the Giants from the Tampa Bay Rays system. Querecuto made his major league debut late last season, adding depth to the Rays team in September, and went 1-for-11 with a triple and six strikeouts. He hit .241 across Double-A and Triple-A last season, and is a career .253/.311/.319 hitter in the minors. Querecuto has been primarily a shortstop, but also has played a lot at second and third.

Wynton Bernard - Bernard comes to the Giants from the Tigers organization, where he has hit well in Double-A Erie the last two seasons, with a .308/ .381/458 slash line there in 104 gams last year, although he struggled to a .235/.286/.302 line in 45 games with Triple-A Toledo. The 26-year old outfielder has yet to make the Majors. He started his career as a 35th round draft pick with the Padres in 2012, but left as a free agent before the 2014 season. Bernard plays all three outfield positions, but has played slightly more games at center than either of the other two.

Jose Dominguez - The 26-year old right-handed Dominguez has spent parts of four seasons in the majors, but only really got regular time last year with the Padres, posting a 5.05 ERA in 34 games out of the bullpen. Dominguez earned his way to the majors with a 3.79 ERA in Triple-A El Paso last season, though he owns a 4.34 career minor league ERA. Dominguez started his career in the Dodgers organization in 2009, making his Major League debut with them in 2013, and was traded to the Rays after the 2014 season, and finally moving to the Padres as a free agent after the 2015 season. Dominguez is primarily a fastball-slider reliever, though he’s increased use of his change-up recently. His fastball has sits around 96, though he threw as hard as 99 as a Dodger.

Roberto Gomez - Gomez is a 27-year old right-handed pitcher who hasn’t played professional baseball since 2014. I couldn’t find much about him in that time. But before that he was in the, you guessed it, Rays organization. Working primarily as a starter with the Rays, Gomez has a 3.58 ERA over five minor league seasons, reaching as high as Double-A. Gomez had some injury problems in the middle of 2014, but thought he did come back to continue pitching at the end of the year, he was released after the 2014 season, and didn’t play until the Giants picked him up in the offseason.

Sent To Minor League Camp

Here are those who got sent down on Sunday:

  • RHP Carlos Alvarado
  • RHP Ray Black (Optioned to Sacramento)
  • IF C.J. Hinojosa
  • IF Juniel Querecuto
  • LHP Andrew Suarez

None of these moves were particularly surprising. None of them were expected to be competing for major league spots. That said, seeing both Hinojosa and Querecuto go down right now is a little surprising with SS Brandon Crawford (along with Buster Posey) about to leave for the World Baseball Classic. But the Giants do have a lot of options in the middle infield with Brandon gone, and call-ups from minor league camp do happen on short days.

The Giants now have 65 players left on the Spring roster.