In an ideal world players during Spring Training would take the field padded with bubble wrap, or use wiffle balls instead of baseballs, or better yet, no ball at all. Other than the absurd, there’s not much a baseball team can do to protect themselves from the unexpected bite of mortality. Players drop weights on their toes, get handsy with the wrong end of a butter knife while making a sandwich in the clubhouse kitchen, stand up too quickly, sneeze too violently—we live in a dangerous world and every March, the baseball constituency is reminded of a season’s fragility.
As much as the facilities in Arizona are designed to look like country clubs and desert resorts, spring training is a battlefield of indifference when it comes to injury. Watching Cactus League games is like watching your toddler toddling around on pool-noodle legs—you just have to hold your breath, bite your lip, and pray that during their journey across the living room that the kid falls on their padded behind rather than diving into the coffee table.
The San Francisco Giants have avoided a Gavin Lux type crotch-shot (*knocking head against wood table*) so far, but we’ve had our fair share of reality checks.
At the end of February it was announced outfielder Luis González was dealing with a back strain that would sideline him for 4 to 6 weeks, keeping him from spring training reps and burying the possibility of him making the San Francisco Giants’ Opening Day roster.
Days later, right-handed platoon Austin Slater was diagnosed with neuritis in his right elbow. While an MRI revealed no serious structural damage, the injury has delayed his Cactus League debut by two weeks.
Soon after it was revealed off season outfield acquisition Mitch Haniger suffered a Grade-1 oblique strain, Alex Cobb took a line drive off his knee that left him writhing on the mound in pain.
Cobb was able to walk-off the field and a later examination revealed no structural damage. Haniger, who had suffered an oblique strain in 2017 that benched him for 6 weeks, seemed confident that this one was less severe and he’d be ready for Opening Day. Slater is slated to start in today’s game against Oakland as the DH.
Scary moment in Scottsdale, as Alex Cobb took a hard-hit comebacker off what appears to be his left knee. He walked off under his own power.— Evan Webeck (@EvanWebeck) March 11, 2023
Here is the play: pic.twitter.com/umWTGtw9I1
It’s amazing how quickly a team’s starting pitching depth thins when you watch your number 2 starter leveled by a 100 mph tattoo. Or how close a seemingly well-insulated outfield is to actually having Joc Pederson log significant time in left.
The injury news hasn’t been devastating, but they have been effectively sobering.
Kapler in response to the Haniger injury: “Anything is possible...Obliques are challenging.”
Haniger: “I feel confident I’ll be back by Opening Day...but at the same time you’ve just got to make sure you listen to your body, listen to the trainers and do it right so that this doesn’t come back”
It’s hard to gauge esoteric responses that reiterate optimism lopsided with a heavy-helping of caution, while behind-the-scenes the coaching staff is breathlessly rallying reinforcements. Is this a concern? Is this a thing? It feels like some people are freaking out right now...Should I be freaking out right now?
While Haniger is tasked with rest, relaxation, and sacrificing a lamb on his rooftop to appease the baseball gods, Gabe Kapler and company are starting to put together contingency plans for a outfield if Haniger’s strain takes longer to heal than expected or becomes a more significant/recurring problem.
Heliot Ramos would’ve been nice, but he had another underwhelming spring that sent him to the minor league camp earlier this week. 21 year old Luis Matos, who seems to be reclaiming his power at the plate after an injury-burdened 2022, still hasn’t played higher than the A+ level.
LaMonte Wade Jr. has plenty of experience in the outfield but is busy pivoting to the first baseman role and wouldn’t be able to provide significant time as a replacement. J.D. Davis and Thairo Estrada are other options that hit right-handed but don’t feel particularly tenable given their other roles on the roster.
#SFGiants’ Gabe Kapler sits down with Blake Sabol after his big day. Sabol is hitting .529 this spring, laid down a bunt base hit, stole a base, advanced first to third and homered for the third time.— Evan Webeck (@EvanWebeck) March 11, 2023
Some work in the outfield “might be on the horizon,” Kapler said. pic.twitter.com/QgZ5ZDdHJ5
If Slater’s elbow or Haniger’s oblique prove to be more finicky than not, outfield depth could be a route for prospects like Brett Wisely and Blake Sabol, who have impressed offensively during camp, to make the roster.
A back-up catcher could be a needle’s eye for Sabol, who has had a couple of rougher outings behind the plate—but his 9-for-17 bat, as well as his athleticism on the base paths is making him harder and harder to ignore. Sabol initially came up as an outfielder and is expected to shed the mask and get some reps in a corner outfield position soon.
Wisely getting comfortable in the outfield could give Kapler options for a left-handed bat in the infield, providing a viable back-up for the 36-year old Brandon Crawford at short, Estrada at second, while deepening the outfield corps.
Austin Slater is back in the lineup after missing time with a sore elbow. Also, Brett Wisely starts in center field today. He’s a middle infielder but did drills in CF earlier this week and staff was kind of blown away by how natural it looked.— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) March 12, 2023
Stephen Piscotty, former Oakland A’s outfield who signed a Minor League contract with the Giants, could be a defensive-first ingredient to help thicken San Francisco’s outfield stew. Over 20 PA this spring, he’s claimed an 1.000 + OPS, which is cool and shiny, but maybe not cool and shiny enough to distract from a dismal 2022 which saw him released by cross-bay Oakland. Piscotty hasn’t hit above league-average in terms of OPS+ since 2018. The numbers since then have been…underwhelming.
The 32 year old is 32 years old—his range is limited, arm on the weaker side, though he bats right-handed! He could add a level of predictability and professionalism with 8 years of experience as well adding to the local feel of the 2023 roster being from Pleasanton and a Stanford alum, but beyond that Piscotty doesn’t excite. With those temporary band-aid roles, I’d rather see Giants experiment with young players with a higher upside.
Austin Slater is making his Cactus League debut at DH. Brett Wisely is also starting in CF:— Maria I. Guardado (@mi_guardado) March 12, 2023
Austin Slater - DH
LaMonte Wade Jr. - 1B
Thairo Estrada - 2B
Mike Yastrzemski - RF
Wilmer Flores - 3B
Brett Wisely - CF
Joey Bart - C
Will Wilson - SS
Luis Matos - LF
RHP Ross Stripling
It isn’t March without a bevy of injuries to sweat about. The fact that we’re talking about Stephen Piscotty should elicit a physical response. This recent rash of injuries aren’t a thing now, but that doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t be a thing later on. The troubles LaMonte Wade Jr, Evan Longoria, Tommy LaStella, and Brandon Belt dealt with last spring ended up defining the Giants’ entire season.
Brace yourselves. Harden your hearts. Don’t be surprised if we’re talking about Haniger’s oblique in May, or Slater’s elbow in June, or Michael Conforto’s unproven shoulder a week from now.
Lord help us if they’re on the IL at the same time...
*Resume knocking head against wood table*
UPDATE: I’m cursed.
Three Giants pitchers -- Alex Cobb, Ross Stripling and Tristan Beck -- have been hit by comebackers in the last two days.— Maria I. Guardado (@mi_guardado) March 12, 2023
Beck was just struck on the left ankle and is coming out of the game.