Monday, February 13, 2017

Spring Training Update: 5 Burning Questions

Pitchers and catchers reported today which means pretty much nothing happened that could be seen.  Pitchers will start throwing to catchers tomorrow.  It will be awhile before we see any live batting practice.  So, let's take a look at 5 burning questions that need to be answered in Spring Training for the  Giants:

1.  Can an aging core avoid serious injuries in spring training?  Serious injuries to Buster Posey, any of the top 4 SP or to Mark Melancon would likely be fatal to the Giants chances for an odd year championship run.  They could probably survive extended absences from Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt or Hunter Pence, but we've seen them struggle without Pence in the past.

2.  Does Matt Cain have anything left?  The ideal scenario for the Giants is for Cainer to win the #5 SP role which would allow them to use Ty Blach as a long reliever/swingman/3'rd lefty reliever or else stash him back in Sacramento for depth.  If they have to use Blach as the #5 SP puts pressure on Tyler Beede and/or Andrew Suarez to be ready immediately in case of injury to a SP.

3.  Who wins the starting LF job?  Personally, I think if Mac Williamson is healthy, you give it to him and give him at least half a season to lose it.  The Giants need another RH bat in the lineup in addition to power.  Mac gives them both plus tremendous long term upside.  I'm OK with bringing others into the mix, but only as insurance in case Mac gets injured.

4.  Who has the inside track for bench jobs, homegrown veterans from the 40 man roster or veteran spring training invitees?  Again, I don't mind having depth in case of injury, but it seems the Giants have gone way beyond that with multiple high profile players signed to minor league contracts with spring training invitations.  You know those guys did not sign to play in Sacramento as organizational depth, which means for equal or near equal performance in Spring Training, the kids with options will be the ones packing their bags on cutdown day.

5.  Is Eduardo Nunez the starting 3B or are the Giants angling to make him a super-utility guy?  The Giants have insisted that Nunez is the starting 3B for 2017, but Conor Gillaspie has a case to be at least a platoon at the position.  If Jae-Gyun Hwang shows he can hit MLB pitching in spring training, there will be pressure to make him the starter over both Gillaspie and Nunez.

What is your burning question for Spring Training?


  1. Doc, have you read the story on Hwang at fangraphs? Sounds like Hwang is still growing as a hitter and might not be ready for Bigs yet. What's your assessment of his swing?

    1. I don't think you ever really know about these veterans of international play until you see how they perform. Wasn't there a Korean player the Orioles brought in last year who went something like 0 for the spring and then threw a fit when they tried to assign him to the minors? He actually ended up having a pretty good season hitting in the .290's or something like that.

    2. Hyun-Soo Kim: .302/.381/.420, 16 2B, 6 HR in 346 PA. Not exactly close to the 28 dingers he hit in Korea, but a very useful batting line.

    3. As for Hwang's swing, his leg kick is bigger than I like, but hey, it works for players like Josh Donaldson! The swing itself is smooth and quick, direct to the ball. He uses a long bat and grips it down on the knob so the swing path itself is a bit line, but he gets great extension which is what I am sure generates his power. We'll just have to see if he can get around on MLB fastballs.

  2. Hope Mac can stay on the field!
    Including his first short season in 2012, his number of games per year has been marred by injury: 33, 136, 23, 133 (includes 10 with SF), 108 (54 with SF).
    2 big men who go all out. Saw Mac hit a HR last year, go into the OF and hurt his shoulder making a catch.
    Another day, another signee? David Hernandez, lots of K's, lots of walks, more competition for the last bull pen spot?
    Contrast with Hunter Pence (both started at 21 yo): 51, 121, 151, 133, 157, 159 ...

  3. 1. Every player is an injury risk though some few, like Pagan, tend to be higher than average. I don't see anyone, even Pence, on the current roster being a real injury risk beyond any normal injury risk.

    And there is some good news on the injury front. Panik's vision (focus) didn't come back last year after the June concussion. That's likely a great part of why he hit .219 after the beaning. He spent the offseason with a vision specialist and he reports no lingering concussion symptoms and his vision is back to normal.

    2. Matt Cain... According to the advanced stats, the old stats, and eye test of what happened on the mound... Probably not. And the problem, according to all these metrics, is that his two of his main pitches -- fastball & change-up -- are not working for him. On the positive side, his slider and curve still work and are positive pitches though they're not dominating like Bumgarner's.

    So where I see Cains potential re-birth is for him to develop the two-seamer and cutter to replace the four-seamer and change-up and rely far, far more on his slider and curveball. If he doesn't, I could see him being a good middle-reliever if he gets further away from his fastball/change-up because you don't really need 4 top pitches for middle relief.

    And, who knows, maybe, as the old tale goes, the horse will learn to sing. Or, in our case, Cain regain his pitching form.

    3. I also think it's going to be Williamson.

    4. I like Hwang's chances. Other than that the lustre has come of the rest of the pennies as I looked at them harder over the weekend. I just don't see any of them sticking.

    5. I would prefer Nunez in the Super Utility role and have Gillespie take the starting role. The reason is that Gillespie put up 1.0 WAR to Nunez's 1.0 WAR with half the playing time. Simply put, Gillespie was a far better fielder than Nunez. Not only last year, but career-to-career. With that said, I am hoping Hwang shows out in the field and at the plate and takes the job.

    1. Not sure about Pence. The fractured arm was a fluke injury not likely to recur, but then he pulled a hammy and last year an oblique. Read a recent report that the oblique my still be barking at him.

      I could see Nunez and Gillaspie in a some sort of platoon arrangement. The Giants have never really traded away veterans in spring training or during the season, but I could see them looking at trades to thin out the crowd here.

    2. The oblique is not a good thing to have barking. Especially with his contorted swing. So now I'm a little more worried about Pence and his ability to avoid injury.

    3. I thought Nunez started to play a lot better D at 3rd towards the end of the season. Given his speed and quickness shouldn't he have a better range than Conor?

      If you compare Nunez's D metrics with the Twins and the Giants you can see he improved with regular playing time at 3rd. With additional Spring Training time practice don't you think Nunez has a good shoot at be a plus defender at 3rd?

    4. I think that the recent report said that it's not the previously injured oblique but rather the other side...Not sure if that's a good or a bad thing...

    5. It really seemed like Cain was turning a corner in may before he got hurt. 1.71 ERA with a reasonable .293 BABIP and 17:4 K:BB In 21 IP. I'm still hopefully.

    6. @Anon:

      Three things --

      First, and maybe he spoiled me, when Duffy came in he had no MLB experience at 3B (and not much in the minors if I remember right) and played it like a boss, exceeding everyone's expectations at the plate and fielding at the hot corner. Neither Nunez or Gillespie has come close to what he did. So I'm not enamoured of either. Which lets me step-back a bit more than I can with certain other players.

      Second, Nunez was a All-Star for the Twins last year. But 29 is kind of late for a break-out and I feel that last year was probably more like one of those fluke seasons marginal players can sometimes have than any true break-through. And none of this is to say that Gillespie is vastly superior, an All-Star-candidate or is even the 'average 3B' of the future. He's also tended to be poor at the hot-corner. But of the two, he was more productive in his play time (plus demonstrated a better UZR/150) so I'll give him the nod.

      Third -- I think the Super Utility Role is something Nunez can do (he's done it before) and Gillespie can't (he hasn't).

      So I look at Nunez as someone who would be playing as many as four-to-five games a week -- 1 day LF, 1 day RF with some occasional starts at SS, 2B & 3B. And while he wouldn't be my first pick at 2B (that'd be Tomlinson) there would be times that they could rest Crawford AND Panik with Tomlinson at 2B and Nunez at SS. And by working together as a team, they could perhaps develop a bit of synergy together.

      So it's not that I envision the lack of a role. Or lack of contribution. It's just a different vision for a player. Sort of a poor-man's Ben Zobrist.

  4. @moses

    maybe you're right and i'm putting too much stock into one very good month of september from Nunez. I do like all the SB he can bring to the table, which is something the giants doesn't have a whole lot of.

    Nunez's ability to hit may not be as much of a fluke as you think-this is his second year in a row with a .758 OPS. So there's something there with 30-40 SB per year. Plus I don't see Conor and Nunez as good platoon players. Both of them hit righties better lefties. Conor actually has a career sub .600 OPS (yikes)!

    I might be one of the few who's more positive on Nunez. But for the giants and all the fan's sake I do hope Nunez continue to improve.

  5. The Giants signed David Hernandez too. This is a big pick up.

  6. No burning question, just glad to get it underway.