Spring training continues to surprise me, every year, because of my inability to ignore it. Kyle Jensen, a large human being from Walnut Creek, is hitting .400, with six home runs and a .609 on-base percentage, and now I’m trying to figure out how he’ll fit on the roster. Never mind that we’re talking about 15 at-bats, and never mind that he has a career .829 OPS in the minors. Maybe he’s this year’s David Peralta or Travis Shaw, so I’ll spend two hours on his Baseball-Reference page just in case.
Every year I do this. Every stinking year.
So it’s helpful to step back from the intoxicating sample sizes and remember exactly which roster spots the Giants will have open this spring. By my count, it goes something like this:
- fourth starter
- fifth starter
- fourth outfielder/starting center fielder
- fifth outfielder
- backup shortstop
- lefty reliever (for a month)
- final bullpen spot
Who’s leading in these races? It’s early, but so far there isn’t a single danged surprise.
Favorite coming into spring: Chris Stratton
Current favorite: Chris Stratton
The newfound curveball wizard wasn’t just supposed to squeak into the fifth spot in the rotation; he was already anointed the fourth starter before this spring, which seems somewhat out of character for the Giants. They obviously have a lot of trust in him. Him and that sweet, sweet curveball.
So far this spring in three appearances and two starts? Eight innings, two runs allowed, and 11 strikeouts. He probably didn’t need a big spring to win a job, but a ghastly spring where it looked like he forgot how to pitch could have lost him a job. That’s not happening.
Favorite coming into spring: Ty Blach
Current favorite: Ty Blach
It was either Blach or Derek Holland, but I figured the cheaper, younger pitcher had the edge. He hasn’t done anything to convince me otherwise. Blach’s thrown 8⅓ innings this spring, striking out nine without a walk. He’s allowed two runs (one earned), and he’s looked like the sharpest pitcher in camp.
He’s still something of an enigma, having the worst strikeout rate in baseball last year, but he was also rather valuable (worth over a win according to both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference). His struggles against right-handers and against hitters who have already seen him earlier in the game suggest the bullpen will be his eventual home, but the Giants really want him to win this spot, and he’s on his way so far.
Fourth outfielder/starting center fielder
Favorite coming into spring: Steven Duggar
Current favorite: Steven Duggar
This is just me guessing, of course, but I’m still convinced that the Giants’ secret hope was that Duggar would snatch the job away from everyone and return Austin Jackson to a super-fourth outfielder’s gig. It’s why they didn’t trade for one of the Brewers’ 32 different young outfielders.
He’s 7-for-24 this spring with three homers, and he’s looked fine in center field. He’s exactly one cold week away from losing the job, of course, but if the Giants were quietly looking to have their hand forced, Duggar is doing a great job.
Favorite coming into spring: Gregor Blanco
Current favorite: Gregor Blanco
This would be the buffer for Duggar. The Duggar-buffer. If there’s a slow start with the quasi-platoon, it would be nice if the Giants had another left-handed center fielder to help ease the burden and not put too much pressure on the rookie.
It would be harder to find that kind of player if Blanco didn’t make the team and opted out of his contract, so let’s just assume that he’s on the team. He’s currently hitting and running like the Blanco of old, and I will happily ignore small sample sizes for an old friend.
Favorite coming into spring: Kelby Tomlinson
Current favorite: Kelby Tomlinson
He isn’t hitting the ball especially well this spring (though he had a couple of hits on Thursday night), but Tomlinson has been playing a strong defensive shortstop. Considering the Giants are going to have a 40-man roster crunch at the end of spring, it would have to be a pretty amazing performance from a non-roster shortstop to make the team find room for him.
If Kyle Jensen were a shortstop, we’d have a battle. As is, the NRIs are doing well enough, give or take, but Tomlinson is still in the lead. He’ll probably stay there.
Lefty reliever (until Will Smith returns)
Favorite coming into spring: Derek Holland
Current favorite: Derek Holland
Still not sure how the deals for Blanco and Holland will affect the Giants’ efforts to get under the fake salary cap, but I’ve been told that the figures us dolts have been working with aren’t entirely accurate, so it’s possible that there’s room for both.
And if there is room for both, the Giants would probably want to hang onto Holland for an extra month to see if he can contribute anything like he had for the seven seasons before last year. He’s missing bats (nine strikeouts in seven innings) this spring, with all of his appearances coming in relief. The Giants could still prefer to go with Josh Osich or Steven Okert (or D.J. Snelten) and save some money, but putting Holland on the roster as a contingency plan for Blach and as a reliable veteran presence seems incredibly like them.
Final bullpen spot
Favorite coming into spring: Derek Law
Current favorite: Derek Law
This has more to do with a war of attrition than anything else. Law has appeared in three games, giving up two runs, but there isn’t anyone charging up from behind. Julian Fernandez hasn’t done much, and youngsters like Tyler Cyr, Reyes Moronta, and Roberto Gomez have all been wild and occasionally ineffective.
It would be one thing if someone already on the 40-man roster were having a lights-out spring, but that isn’t happening. So Law is still the favorite because of the two most beautiful words in the English language: default. He still has a couple weeks to win the job without attrition, too.
In other words, it’s been a pretty boring spring if you were looking for position battles. You might quibble with some of these favorites, both coming into the spring and right now, but for now, it looks like the Giants are going to start the season with the 25-man roster they were sort of envisioning in the first place. Until 13 different pitchers get hurt at the same time, and we realize that Tyler Herb is on pace for 50 innings pitched in April. But what are the odds of that? Ha ha ha ha.