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10 surprises from the first 10 Cactus League games

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All Spring Training articles are about small sample sizes.

MLB: Spring Training-San Francisco Giants at San Diego Padres Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants began 2019 Spring Training last Saturday against the Los Angeles Angels and with some split squad games mixed in over the course of this past week, they’ve played all of 10 baseball games. That’s the perfect number for a list and Spring Training is the best time to jump to wild conclusions based on really small samples.

The team’s official Cactus League record is 4-4-2. Ties are bad, but it’s also Spring Training, so these games don’t matter. But the stats totally do! At least, for the sake of this article they do. There has to be something good or positively surprising left in this squad. Here’s my attempt to find ten of them.

10. They’ve already hit 16 home runs

That’s 1.6 per game, and already a third of the 2018 team’s total! Chris Shaw hit one of them and it sounded amazing.

I listened to this while sitting on a plane and the crack of the bat startled the flight attendant. So, it’s good to see Shaw hitting the ball with authority. My pick for Farhan-purchased lottery ticket breakout star Yangervis Solarte has a home run, along with Mac Williamson, Joe Panik, Brandon Belt, Gerardo Parra, and even Joey Bart, but Chris Shaw has two home runs and is tied with our next surprise —

9. Zach Green

He was signed as a minor league free agent at the end of January after six years in the minor leagues with the Phillies. So, it’s a bit of a Dereck Rodriguez situation here. Did the Giants just pick up another minor league free agent who can win a prominent role? Well, again, it’s Spring Training. Green is a first baseman now, though he was drafted as a third baseman, and despite hitting 20 home runs last year between AA and AAA (and 64 total for his minors career), he has just a .766 OPS in his minor league career (498 games) and turns 25 in a few days.

Last year’s surprise slugger first baseman, Kyle Jensen, was cut last June after being assigned to the River Cats out of Spring Training, so as these things go, surprise sluggers in Spring rarely become surprise sluggers in Summer, but unlike Jensen, Green’s right-handed power might translate to Oracle Park just fine and if he can demonstrate the ability to play left field even a little bit, then he could see some time in the majors down the road.

8. Ty Blach has pitched better than Madison Bumgarner

Both have thrown 4 innings, both have struck out six batters. Blach, though, has allowed just 3 hits and 2 runs. Bumgarner has allowed 8 and 7. Small sample sizes are amazing, aren’t they? Bumgarner also hasn’t walked anybody, while Blach has walked 2 and allowed a home run. He’s been working on reshaping his slider so that it can hit the back foot of right-handed batters... sort of like how Randy Johnson used to do it only, you know, he’s Ty Blach. Then again, as noted last week:

Oh man, just hook this Spring Training stuff to my veins.

7. Trevor Gott has looked good

Six strikeouts in three innings of work for a reliever the Giants traded for just a couple of weeks ago from the Nationals. I noted at the time:

To that point, as hard as Gott throws — averaging 95-96 with the sinker and 93-94 with the fastball — his spin rates all show to be just a bit below the major league averages, and Statcast’s expected stats based on the quality of contact batters have made against his stuff suggests that he has a little ways to go in terms of mastering his stuff.

To that point, he has three walks in his three innings and allowed four hits along with an unearned run. Still, that’s a trade that looks promising right away.

6. Drew Ferguson is struggling

Although he’s tied for the team lead with 3 walks, the Giants’ first Rule 5 pick of this past offseason has an OBP of just .294 in eight games and one hit in 13 at bats. He does lead the team with two stolen bases and he’s made some nice plays on defense — he made a nice catch in his Giants debut — but it’s probably not a stretch to say that he’ll need to start showing them something in the next 7-10 days before the team starts to consider whether or not they’ll offer him back to Houston.

5. Travis Bergen has flashed his potential

The other Rule 5 pick of the offseason has allowed just one hit and two walks in his three innings of work while striking out three.

At the time of the draft, I linked to this:

Baseball America says:

Bergen’s high spin rate fastball baffled hitters, especially as he matches it with a solid curveball. He’s able to handle righthanders and lefthanders and could be more than a matchup lefty. Statistically he’s one of the best pitchers available in this year’s class.

Farhan Zaidi has said he’d like to have three lefties in the bullpen...

4. The team hit leaders are Mike Gerber, Evan Longoria, Yangervis Solarte, and Joe Panik

They each have five hits and are a combined 20-for-39 (.513 batting average)! Ahhh yes, just chop this sample stuff onto a mirror. Gerber was the first “big move” of the Zaidi era, and even though he was designated for assignment after being claimed, he’s still with the org and doing numbers.

Evan Longoria was a panic trade made last offseason that didn’t quite work out, but getting off to a great start in Spring Training is a great way to build some momentum to start the season. The Giants are going to need people to play baseball effectively.

Yangervis Solarte looks like he’s swinging without a troublesome oblique. He has a triple and a home run in those five hits.

Joe Panik’s only extra base hit is a home run, but hey, five hits and a walk in just four games is something I’ll take. I and Kenny spent most of last season talking about how Joe Panik would be fine. Ultimately, he was not fine, but maybe he’s preparing to be fine this season?

3. Tyler Beede has regained his confidence

The once top prospect fell so far down the team’s prospect rankings that it looked like all hope was lost. That’s the fickle, cruel nature of baseball. His reemergence this spring has certainly turned heads.

His five strikeouts in four innings have already compelled St. Louis Cardinals fan trolls to drum up fake trade news:

2. Melvin Adon is getting a long look?

The 24-year old righty reliever has appeared in three games and handled himself quite nicely. He’s struck out five and walked zero and impressed the Twitter scouts:

In previous years, the Giants might not have thought about advancing a player this young up to the big leagues very quickly, preferring to work with veterans or making sure someone who’d already earned the spot, had a similar skill set, and was older — Ray Black — kept his spot. I suspect we’re not going to see that same program this year and that Adon has a chance to keep advancing.

1. Aramis Garcia appears to be cementing the backup catcher job

Let’s start at the beginning:

Now look at these two swings:

Doing it under game conditions will certainly look better than doing it in the cage, and a baseball exec seeing a player repeating that power has to help the player’s case.

Garcia has also seen the most play behind the dish, so getting four more innings than veteran Rene Rivera. Spring Training stats don’t offer much in the way of advance fielding numbers, but just on the surface, Garcia has allowed 1 wild pitch to Rivera’s 2 and just two stolen bases to Rivera’s three, while catching one base stealer (Rivera has zero caugh stealings). That looks like the key battle of Spring Training.