Giants ready to give young players a shot in left field

Giants ready to give young players a shot in left field

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Bobby Evans kicked some big tires before giving a record deal to Mark Melancon, and he didn’t limit himself to the robust closer market. The Giants checked in on Yoenis Cespedes and they talked to the Pirates when it became clear that Andrew McCutchen was available. 

“You check in on everything,” Evans said. “You have to.”

Cespedes got $110 million to stay in New York and the Giants are no longer in any sort of mix for McCutchen, who comes with an overwhelming asking price. There are other big outfield names out there, but the Giants don’t expect to make a splash. The Melancon deal put the organization over the competitive balance tax, but even before that, the intention was to give Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker a shot to win the left field job next spring. 

“They’re not getting any younger and they deserve an opportunity,” Evans said. “But we also are not going to give them the jobs. They have to come out there and earn them and there will be competition and other options. There may be trade scenarios or other scenarios that allow us to bring in a guy that’s going to be hard to beat, but right now we just have to give them the opportunity if nothing develops. That's really how I look at it. 

“We’ve got to keep our doors open but an opportunity where they’re competing in the spring is a win for us. But ultimately they have to go out and prove it. Part of our organization being strong is giving young players a chance, and again when they get to be past 25 and 26 they’re not as young anymore, and these guys are getting older and they need that opportunity.”

In the lobby of the Gaylord National Resort here outside of Washington D.C., there is often skepticism that the Giants are being truthful. National reporters want to shoehorn them in as a fit for any slugger on the market. When Evans was at the GM Meetings in November, he was surrounded by New York reporters who thought the Giants represented the greatest outside threat for Cespedes. But executives from other teams have conceded that Evans and the rest of the front office have not been aggressively asking about outfielders. 

“You can’t lose sight that your (minor league) system is there for a reason,” Evans said.

Both young outfielders have shown flashes of what might be lurking. Parker hit .347 and slugged .755 in a September cameo in 2015 that included a memorable three-homer, seven-RBI game in Oakland. He had an uneven sophomore year, but still hit five homers in 127 at-bats, showing the front office that he could be a 20-homer guy if given a full-time shot. Williamson has batted just .222 while being pulled back and forth from Triple-A to the Majors, but he was highly thought of as a prospect and scouts marvel at his raw power. During a 26-game stretch before the trade deadline last year, Williamson posted a .277/.382/.538 slash line and hit five homers. 

Evans said others will be in the mix next spring, including Gorkys Hernandez (a likely replacement for speed/defense reserve Gregor Blanco), prospect Austin Slater, and Wynton Bernard, a 26-year-old career minor-leaguer who signed last month and is known for his speed. The Giants also are curious to see what they have in Chris Marrerro, a 28-year-old former top prospect who signed in November. He hit 23 homers last season in Triple-A. 

The Giants are open minded about adding as the market shapes out, and they can be patient now that the heavy lifting in the bullpen is done. There's a chance a power bat is still sitting there in late January, although those players traditionally have not chosen AT&T Park as a place to rebuild value. The price could dramatically drop for a player like Detroit's J.D. Martinez. 

The likelihood right now, though, is that Williamson or Parker starts in left field on opening day. If either sticks, it would be a huge boost for a front office that is trying to control costs in certain spots.

The Melancon deal, with an average annual value of $15.5 million, put the Giants into the tax for the third consecutive season. The penalty for that is a 50 percent tax for every dollar spent over the $195 million limit. The Giants have committed $313 million to free agents the past two offseasons, but that plan isn’t sustainable without the support of pre-arbitration players who are contributing at or just above the MLB minimum of $535,000. Buster Posey won an MVP award in 2012 while making $615,000. Joe Panik made $545,000 last year as a Gold Glove second baseman, and he'll continue to be a bargain this season. Until a pair of extensions, the Giants had Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford in the lineup for about the cost of a middle reliever. 

“When you’re invested (heavily) in the ‘pen, rotation, first base, shortstop, catcher, right field, center field — at some point, you’re going to need your farm system to rise up,” Evans said. 

The Giants hope Williamson and Parker can do that.

“The final stage of development comes at the big leagues,” Evans said. “Until they get those at-bats, you’ll always wonder.”

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

PEORIA — Jeff Samardzija spent a couple minutes after Thursday’s start talking to reporters about how deep he thinks the Giants lineup can be. It’ll be a hell of a lot deeper if Hunter Pence keeps hitting like this. 

After a slow start to the spring, Pence is charging. He had three hits against the Padres: a triple that bounced off the top of the wall in right-center, a hard single up the middle, and a double to center. The more encouraging plays for the Giants happened in left field. Pence chased down a drive to the line in the third inning, leaving the bases loaded. He opened the fourth by going the other direction and gloving a fly ball to left-center. 

"A good game for Hunter, both ways," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's getting more comfortable out there. You can see it with the jumps he's getting right now. It takes a little while when you change positions, but I think he's going to be fine out there."

The Giants appear set to have Austin Jackson and Pence atop the lineup against left-handed starters, and that duo could see plenty of time early. Seven of the first nine games are against the Dodgers, who have four lefty starters. 

--- Evan Longoria had a double off the right-center wall on Wednesday after missing a week with a sore ankle. He had a single the same way in his second at-bat Thursday. More than the at-bats, Longoria has impressed with his soft hands and steady arm at third. The ankle looks fine, too. 

“My ankle feels pretty good,” Longoria said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue going forward.”

--- It’s been a quiet spring for Andrew McCutchen, but we saw the wheels tonight. McCutchen easily stole second after a two-run single in the fifth. When Evan Longoria bounced one to the left side, shortstop Freddy Galvis tried to go to third for the lead out, but McCutchen beat that throw, too. He got up and put his hands on his hips, as if to say, "Why'd you even try that?"

--- Samardzija allowed three homers in a six-batter span in the third. He allowed three homers in an inning in his previous start, too, but he said he’s not concerned. Samardzija deemed it a sequencing issue. He’s working in a new changeup and threw it in situations he normally wouldn’t; Eric Hosmer took advantage of a floating one, crushing it to deep, deep right for the third homer. 

--- With a runner on, Brandon Belt put down a perfect bunt to foil the shift. Belt does that every spring, particularly against NL West teams, but rarely during the regular season. Maybe this will be the year?

Belt later crushed a homer to deep right. That had to feel good for a number of reasons. Belt is fighting a cold and he learned earlier in the day that his college coach, Augie Garrido, had passed away.

Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential


Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For most pitchers, spring training is a time to experiment and add a pitch or two. Josh Osich is using this month to go the other direction. 

Osich spent the offseason watching film of his 2015 season, when he looked like he might one day be the closer in San Francisco, and decided that he needed to get back to his roots. That means the curveball, which he tried so hard to mix in last year, is now far back in the cupboard. The four-seam and two-seam fastballs are once again the focus, with an emphasis on changing eye levels more than he did a year ago. The changeup and cutter will round out his arsenal for the most part. 

Osich’s raw stuff is still as good as just about any lefty reliever in the league, and he hopes to take advantage of that while putting a rough 2017 season in his rearview mirror. He had a 6.23 ERA last season and 1.73 WHIP.

“It’s just one of those learning years,” Osich said. “I tried to live at the bottom of the zone and I was, but I was actually below the zone. So then I would fall behind and need to throw a strike and that’s when guys would hit me.”

Osich, 29, had a 2.20 ERA and 1.12 WHIP during that 2015 season that he keeps going back to. He walked eight batters in 28 2/3 innings, a far cry from the 27 he walked in 43 1/3 last year. While watching the 2015 version of himself, Osich saw that his hands were higher, and that’s something he’s working to replicate. He’s also trying to slow his pace to the plate. So far, the results are nothing but encouraging. Osich allowed one hit and struck out one in a 2 1/3 inning appearance on Wednesday night. Manager Bruce Bochy let him extend himself to keep the good vibes going. 

In six appearances this spring, Osich has allowed just four hits over seven scoreless innings. He has seven strikeouts and one walk. 

“O, it just seems like he’s got confidence,” Bochy said. “He’s kept it simple, he’s not tinkering with different pitches. He’s throwing more strikes, and more than anything he’s just trying to pound the strike zone now with quality strikes. That’s all he has to do. You look at him and he’s hitting 95 with a couple of good off-speed pitches. That works here.”