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2013 San Francisco Giants:
Looking for Three out of Four

BaseballEvolution.com Spring Preview
by Richard Van Zandt, BaseballEvolution.com
March 30, 2013

2013 San Francisco Giants

Catcher

Buster Posey

First Base

Brandon Belt

Second Base

Marco Scutaro

Third Base

Pablo Sandoval

Shortstop

Brandon Crawford

Left Field

G.Blanco/A. Torres

Center Field

Angel Pagan

Right Field

Hunter Pence

Starting Pitcher

Matt Cain

Starting Pitcher

Madison Bumgarner

Starting Pitcher

Tim Lincecum

Starting Pitcher

Ryan Vogelsong

Starting Pitcher

Barry Zito

Closer

Sergio Romo

RH Set Up

Santiago Casilla

RH Set Up

George Kontos

LH Set Up

Javier Lopez

LH Set Up

Jeremy Affeldt

LH Set Up

Jose Mijares

Swing Man

Chad Gaudin

Backup Catcher

Hector Sanchez

Utility Infielder

Joaquin Arias

Utility Infielder

Nick Noonan

Fifth Outfielder

Cole Gillespie

Just as they did in the winter following their 2010 World Series victory, San Francisco Giants management opted to go with a strategy of continuity this past offseason and brought back key free agents from last season’s championship squad, namely centerfielder Angel Pagan and second baseman Marco Scutaro.  Injuries, none more prominent than that of catcher Buster Posey, played a key role in derailing their attempt to repeat as champions in 2011.  It’s also likely that the players encountered distractions and many demands of their time that winter which may have played a role as well, with Aubrey Huff, re-signed that winter to an ill-fated two-year $22MM contract, specifically coming to camp out of shape and unprepared to play.

That’s why this spring feels different. This time, there is no reality show filming every move. The pressure of repeating, and the letdown of having failed to do so, is in the past. Those lessons have been learned. This time, the players are ready. This spring, terms like “hardest working” and “most prepared” have been thrown around by players and press alike in describing the 2013 squad. This time they are primed to repeat as World Series Champions.

Spring Battles

That’s not to say that this team is completely without question marks. Left field for the Giants looks to be the biggest concern for manager Bruce Bochy and GM Brian Sabean, with holdover Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres, a member of the 2010 World Series winning squad returning after a year with the Mets, slated to platoon to begin the year. Both are fleet of foot and cover a lot of ground, and both can play all three outfield positions. Pagan will get most of the starts in center while Hunter Pence is the starter in right, but Blanco’s and Torres’ versatility will give Bochy a lot of options. Their bats give pause for concern, however. Blanco, a left-hander, hit just .244 with a .676 OPS in 2012, while the switch-hitting Torres battled injuries in his year with New York and hit only .230 with a .664 OPS on the year. If they struggle to produce, the team could be forced to look outside the organization for an upgrade, or possibly turn to top prospect Gary Brown. Torres does at least look to be fully recovered from an oblique injury that kept him out of the World Baseball Classic.

Joaquin Arias returns as the primary backup infielder after a posting a .270 batting average and playing solidly in the field in his first year with the team. The competition for the other backup infield spot included rookies Brock Bond and Nick Noonan, Japanese import Kensuke Tanaka, former Dodgers prospect Tony Abreu, and journeyman Wilson Valdez, who spent last season with the Reds.

Second baseman Bond, a 24th round pick in 2007, turned heads at the plate this spring with a .435 batting average and was the winner of the Harry S. Jordan Award, given to player in his first big league Spring Training camp who distinguishes himself the most with his performance and dedication, but he will begin the year at Fresno and likely see more time at third base to increase his versatility. Tanaka, a four-time Gold Glove winner at second base in Japan, struggled both at the plate and in the field – especially at shortstop – but impressed the coaching staff with his desire to improve. He accepted a minor league assignment and could be an option later in the year if the need presents itself. Valdez was ultimately released and later signed by the Marlins.

Nick Noonan was one of six players selected by the Giants in the first round of the 2007 draft. Also selected in the first round that year were pitchers Madison Bumgarner (10th overall) and Tim Alderson (22nd), outfielder Wendell Fairley (29th), Noonan (32nd), catcher Jackson Williams (43rd), and infielder Charlie Culberson (51st). Alderson was eventually traded to Pittsburgh for Freddy Sanchez in July of 2009 while Culberson was sent to Colorado last summer in exchange for Marco Scutaro. The toolsy Fairley was given his release earlier this spring.

Picked up off waivers in the winter from Kansas City, Abreu was viewed as the front runner for the role coming into camp, but he was slowed by a quad injury and played in just one game. His ability to play all three infield positions and switch-hit, coupled with his intriguing career .312/.349/.456 minor league batting line, gave him the inside track on the job, but his injury has opened the door for Noonan, a supplemental first round pick (32nd overall) in 2007. Noonan put himself back on the map with a strong year at the plate for Fresno in 2012, and his ability to play second, third and short proficiently increased his stock. He had originally been optioned to Fresno on March 15, but with Abreu out he was recalled to the big league camp and subsequently won his first big league job. Abreu will begin the year on the disabled list.

In the outfield, 24-year old rookie Francisco Peguero and former Diamondbacks OF Cole Gillespie battled it out for the fifth outfielders spot. The speedy Peguero turned heads in his first big league camp, batting .328 and displaying a rocket arm in the field. Meanwhile Gillespie, 28, also had an impressive spring, posting an .854 OPS in 26 games. Peguero will begin the year at Fresno with Gillespie’s experience winning that battle. However Gillespie’s Opening Day fate will depend on the health of backup catcher Hector Sanchez.

Sanchez had a strong year at the plate in his rookie campaign as the primary backup to Posey, but he has battled shoulder problems all spring which could persist into the regular season. Should he be unable to go April 1, journeyman Guillermo Quiroz will get the call to replace him, although the club could opt instead to go with three catchers to begin the year, with Gillespie beginning the season in the minors. The 31-year old Quiroz has played for six big league teams in his career, the vast majority of his playing time coming in 2008 with Baltimore, and is considered strong defensively.

Veteran swingman Chad Gaudin, a non-roster invite who spent last season with the Miami Marlins, won the final spot in the bullpen. Gaudin’s ability to start or relieve gives the team the longman that was missing from last year’s staff, and his ability to get ground balls gives Bochy the versatility to use him in situational spots as well. It’s a deep bullpen anchored by closer Sergio Romo, and featuring three tough lefties in Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, and Jose Mijares. Santiago Casilla is the primary setup man from the right side, a role he filled for the winning Dominican squad in the World Baseball Classic, while second-year man George Kontos looks likely to see an expanded role. Closer-in-waiting Heath Hembree begins the year at Fresno but seems likely to make his big league debut at some point later this summer.

Around The Horn


The Baby Giraffe

First Base: Brandon Belt - After a 4-for-47 slump left Belt batting just .230 through July 25 and prompted Bochy to sit him for a game, Belt responded with a 3-hit day against the Dodgers and wound up batting .328 over his final 60 games (207 plate appearances). A Gold Glove caliber defender, he led all big leaguers in home runs (8) and RBI (19) during spring training play while also finishing third in the Cactus League in batting average at .448. Primed for a breakout season, Belt won’t turn 25 until April 20.

Second Base: Marco Scutaro – Giants fans should be cautious in their expectations for the 37-year old Scutaro, who is unlikely to replicate the .362 BA/.859 OPS he produced in 61 regular season games before being named the MVP of the NLCS and helping to lead San Francisco to a World Series Championship. On the other hand, he is in tremendous shape physically for his age (bringing to mind former Giant shortstop Omar Vizquel), and it certainly would not unreasonable to expect a batting average in the .280-.300 range with solid defensive play in the field.

MVPablo or MVPosey?

Buster Posey was the MVP of the 2012 regular season, while Pablo Sandoval won the award in the World Series. Both could be contenders for the league’s most prestigious award in 2013.

Third Base: Pablo Sandoval – The World Series MVP has battled inflammation in the ulnar nerve of his right elbow this spring, as well a bone chip the team already knew about, but is looking more and more likely to be ready to go Opening Day. Arias will start at third if Sandoval is not ready. After winning the Series MVP award, Sandoval was named the MVP of the Venezuelan Winter League final before batting .308 with a .692 slugging percentage in the WBC. As long as he hits, his weight will be mostly overlooked, but in the field the rotund Kung Fu Panda loses range the heavier he plays and will often be subjected to late inning defensive replacement. The 26-year old Sandoval has the talent to be a Gold Glove defender but won’t realize his full potential until he decides drop some weight.

Shortstop: Brandon Crawford – A defensive wiz, Crawford looks to be a perennial candidate for a Gold Glove Award, but he could also be on the verge of a big season at the plate. The 26-year old Bay Area native hit .298 over his final 45 games in 2012 and batted .357 during Cactus League play. Yet it is Crawford’s defense which helped turned the Giants season around in 2012. After committing 10 errors in his first 39 games, B-Craw was charged with just eight more in his final 104 games during the regular year and, according to billjamesonline.com, finished the season tied for 8th among MLB shortstops with 12 defensive runs saved, while also ranking 5th in UZR/150 (9.7, via Fangraphs.com).

Left Field: Gregor Blanco/Andres Torres – The two could end up splitting a Gold Glove Award, but will either one hit enough to be noticed?

Center Field: Angel Pagan – Pagan returns after a strong debut season in Orange and Black, re-signing on a four-year, $40 million deal. He’ll continue to hold down center field until Gary Brown eventually pushes him to left, a move which could happen sooner rather than later if the Torres/Blanco tandem struggles to produce and the speedy Brown makes strides at the plate for Fresno.  Pagan, however, looks more than ready to go after leading the Puerto Rican team to the WBC Final against the Dominican Republic by hitting .364/.447/.485 in the tournament.

“Get in here, everyone get in here…look into each others eyes…now! Look into each others eyes. I want one more day with you. It’s the most fun, the best team I have ever been on, and no matter what happens we must not give in. We owe it to each other, play for each other. I need one more day with you guys, I need to see what Theriot will wear tomorrow, I want to play defense behind Vogelsong because he’s never been to the playoffs…play for each other, not yourself. Win each moment, win each inning, it’s all we have left.”
~ The Reverend Hunter Pence

Right Field: Hunter Pence – Despite batting just .219 in 59 games after the Giants acquired him from the Phillies, Pence drove in 45 runs for San Francisco to finish with 104 for the year. Averaging 24 home runs a year the past five seasons, he represents a potent bat in the middle of the lineup behind Sandoval and Posey. Additionally – as evidenced by his now legendary motivational speech before Game 3 of the Division Series against the Reds – he gives the team a strong and vocal veteran presence in the clubhouse. He had an excellent spring and looks ready to contribute a solid season at the plate.

Catcher: Buster Posey – The 2010 Rookie of the Year Award winner bounced back from a devastating season ending injury in 2011 to win the MVP award in 2012, along with the Silver Slugger Award, the Henry Aaron Award, and the Comeback Player of the Year Award. He also became the first National League catcher since Ernie Lombardi in 1942 to win a batting title. Want more? The Giants cleanup hitter, who turned 26 on March 27, is a two-time World Series champion and set for life financially after signing a nine-year, $167 million contract on Friday.

On the Mound


Cain is Able
28-year old right-hander Matt Cain is the ace of the Giants staff and the horse of the rotation.  He has averaged nearly 220 innings per year over the past five seasons and has topped 200 IP in each of the last six. Over the past four seasons, he has averaged nearly 14 wins a year and less than three earned runs allowed per nine innings pitched. He is coming off of his finest big league season in 2012, one in which he went 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA and a career high 193 strikeouts. He also walked a career-low 51 batters and posted a career-best strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.78. On June 13, he tossed the 22nd perfect game in major league history, striking out 14 Astros in one of the single greatest pitching performances of all-time, and on April 1 he will make his first ever Opening Day start against the rival Dodgers.

One of the most tenacious left-handers in the game (and well known for his mighty snot-rockets), it can be easy to forget that Madison Bumgarner, with 534 career innings pitched under his belt in just over 2 ½ seasons, is still just 23-years old. Even more remarkable for his age is his career World Series pitching line: 2-0, 15 IP, 5 H, 4 BB, 14 K, 0 ER. Bumgarner went 16-11 with a 3.37 ERA in 2012, and he’ll take the second spot in the rotation, bridging the gap to Ryan Vogelsong, the number two starter for the USA squad in the WBC. Vogelsong has won 27 games while pitching to a 3.05 ERA in his two seasons since rejoining the Giants and rejuvenating his career. He went 14-9 with a 3.37 ERA during the regular season in ’13 while going 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA in the post-season.

In the first five seasons of a then-record $126 million, seven-year deal, Barry Zito won 43 games and lost 61. His earned run average in those first five years as a Giant stood at 4.55. He was left off the postseason roster altogether in 2010 and spent much of the 2011 campaign on the DL. However, he began what would play out to be a remarkable 2012 season in stunning fashion with a complete game, 4-hit shutout of the Rockies in Colorado. Despite that glimmer of hope, he would go on to win just two more times in his next eight starts, and only five times in his next 15. Things began to turn around in July, though, and Zito would go 9-2 in his last 16 regular season starts. More importantly, the club began to view him as their good luck charm, winning his last 11 starts as Zito went 7-0 with a 3.92 ERA down the stretch. In the postseason, the club won all three games he started, none more important or more improbable than his Game 5 start against the Cardinals in the NLCS. With their backs against the wall for the second time in the postseason, the club turned to the often-maligned veteran, and Zito delivered the biggest start of his Giant career, tossing 7 2/3 shutout innings as the club began yet another remarkable comeback and its way to another World Series Championship. For the year, Zito went 15-8 with a 4.15 ERA in 32 starts, by far his best season in San Francisco.

Heading into the final year of a two-year, $40 million deal, and with free agency looming, no Giants starter is facing more uncertainty that two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. The 28-year old righty suffered through the worst season of his life in 2013, going 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, and he was ultimately left out of the postseason rotation. He took the demotion in stride, however, and while working out of the bullpen in the playoffs Lincecum allowed just one earned run in 13 innings (0.69 ERA), walking two batters and striking out 17. It's often overlooked that Lincecum bounced back in the final 2 ½ months of the regular season, posting a 3.83 ERA over his final 15 starts, in which he went 7-5. In the offseason, he worked extensively on conditioning, especially his legs, and physically appears more prepared to handle the grind of a 162 game season. Still, after battling a blister early in camp, Lincecum struggled in exhibition play, posting a 10.57 ERA in 15.1 innings. All eyes will be on him from the opening bell.  If his struggles continue, the question in everyone’s mind will be if he might, at this point in his career, be better suited to pitching in relief. On the other hand, if he bounces back and pitches well, the question will be whether or not the Giants can afford to bring him back.

Conclusion and Prediction

Pitching has been the cornerstone of the Giants success over the past three seasons and that pitching staff remains largely intact, which is a big reason why the team will once again contend in 2013. The path won’t be easy, though, as both the free-spending Dodgers and the gritty Diamondbacks can be expected to vie for a spot in the postseason as well. Still, this club has not only solid pitching, but also an improved lineup to go along with the kind of veteran experience you can only get from winning the World Series twice in three seasons. Can they make it three out of four? Call me biased, but here’s betting they can. You can put it on the board here and now, San Francisco over Melky Cabrera and the new-look Toronto Blue Jays in five games.


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