Giants

2019 Giants Position Preview: Nothing changes at the infield corners

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USATSI

2019 Giants Position Preview: Nothing changes at the infield corners

SAN FRANCISCO — The dirt around first base might be the busiest spot on the diamond once players begin full-squad workouts at Scottsdale Stadium next month. Because so many infielders need to get their arms into shape, there’s an endless stream of throws to first, with a seemingly endless supply of coaches and fill-ins on the receiving end. 

Brandon Belt gets his work in, of course. But others — from catchers to trainers to Madison Bumgarner — find their way over to first to catch a few balls and throw some variety into the spring. This time around, there won’t be many new faces in that mix. 

First and third base are like every other group on the roster. There haven’t been significant changes, so the Giants will head to camp with Belt at first and Evan Longoria at third and not much new behind them. 

Yesterday we looked at the catchers. Today, in Part II of this preview series, we look at the corners of the infield, where nothing has changed … 

Returning: Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, Pablo Sandoval, Ryder Jones. 

Belt is said to be doing well after minor knee surgery in September, and as always he enters camp as a good bet to lead the Giants in most hitting categories … if he can stay healthy. For the first time, he’ll be in camp as a 30-year-old. Longoria, 33, appears to have survived a winter of whispers. The Giants contacted other teams about a salary swap, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Bay Area, but could not find a match. 

The hope is that these two can bring some pop and consistency back to the lineup. Longoria’s offensive numbers took a slight dip after the All-Star break, but the Giants are hopeful he’ll hit better in his second season at Oracle Park. He was strong defensively late in the season, and the gloves at the corners should be one of this team’s few strengths. 

Sandoval is in the final year of his massive Red Sox deal but the Giants are on the hook for just the minimum. He has the potential to be one of the most interesting players on the roster given Farhan Zaidi’s affinity for versatility. Could Sandoval platoon with Longoria at times? Could he again play second base? Would the Giants let him become a two-way player of sorts after his successful pitching debut in 2018? Stay tuned. 

Jones, 24, suffered a brutal break in September when his knee gave out, costing him a chance at significant playing time given all the other injuries. He has dabbled with the outfield in the past, and perhaps Zaidi will give him more time there this spring. 

The departed

Nothing of significance. 

Free agent additions

Nope.

Non-roster invitees: Zach Green. 

The Sacramento native is intriguing. Green is just 24 and a former third-round pick, so he certainly does not fit the profile (think Kyle Blanks, Kyle Jensen, etc.) of corner guys brought in recently. In Double-A last season, in the tough Eastern League, Green hit .296/.375/.578 with 17 homers. His slash line dipped to .248/.312/.432 in Triple-A, where he figures to start this season. He’s the type the Giants should be taking a chance on. Perhaps they’ll strike gold as Zaidi did a few times in Los Angeles. 

Outlook

It’s no secret that the Giants hoped to drop some salary from this position group, but having failed to do that, they’ll enter the season relatively strong in the corners. The most interesting aspect of first-and-third is just how much versatility Zaidi demands. The Giants, as currently constructed, may be served well by letting Belt play some left field again, if his knees can handle it. Buster Posey will need to play plenty of first after hip surgery and others like Aramis Garcia and Austin Slater can slide there if that’s best for the lineup. 

Longoria had a .669 OPS against righties last season and Sandoval was at .816, so there may be a bit more platooning there. That would be a huge adjustment for Longoria, a star and everyday player since the moment he broke into the big leagues. 

MLB rumors: Giants-Twins Madison Bumgarner trade chatter ‘premature’

MLB rumors: Giants-Twins Madison Bumgarner trade chatter ‘premature’

It's possible that Madison Bumgarner made his last start for the Giants on Saturday at Oracle Park.

Charley Walters, a columnist for The Pioneer Press in Minnesota, reported that the Twins are "moving closer to a trade with the Giants for left-handed starter Madison Bumgarner."

Don't get too worked up just yet.

Darren Wolfson, a sports reporter for KSTP-TV in Minnesota, isn't ready to say a deal between the Giants and the Twins is close.

Bumgarner is the Giants' biggest trade chip, and he's expected to fetch them a haul of prospects before the July 31 trade deadline. A deal this far away from that deadline would be a surprise, though, as the team might want to wait longer for more suitors and richer offers.

The Twins aren’t one of the eight teams on Bumgarner's no-trade list, so that would make it easier for the Giants to facilitate a trade with Minnesota, which has surprised everyone this season and owned the best record in baseball through Saturday.

In 14 starts this season, 29-year-old Bumgarner has a 3.83 ERA and struck out 84 batters in 87 innings.

[RELATED: Will Smith remains focused as trade rumors swirl]

With the Giants in last place in the NL West, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi could start trading off his valuable pieces to restock the farm system. Along with Bumgarner, you can expect veteran relievers Will Smith, Tony Watson and Sam Dyson to be traded by the deadline.

Stephen Vogt's speed vs. Brewers leads Giants to fourth straight win

Stephen Vogt's speed vs. Brewers leads Giants to fourth straight win

SAN FRANCISCO -- Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey first worked together in the minors, and for a decade in the big leagues, more often than not, Posey has been in the squat when Bumgarner digs in and looks in at the plate in the first inning. Posey has caught nearly 80 percent of Bumgarner's big league starts, a number that would be much higher if not for a couple of season-ending injuries.

But when Giants manager Bruce Bochy sat down this week to plan out playing time, he made an interesting decision. With a day game Saturday, Bochy knew Posey, coming off a hamstring injury, would catch just one of the first two against the Brewers. He chose Friday, pairing Posey with Drew Pomeranz. That meant Stephen Vogt caught Bumgarner for a third straight start, and the left-hander didn't mind one bit. 

"That's definitely the fastest and easiest transition I've had with another catcher besides Buster," Bumgarner said. "The first game, it just clicked."

Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that the partnership found smooth waters so quickly. Vogt is apparently all about speed these days. 

The 34-year-old catcher had two triples and an infield single Saturday, providing much of the energy in an exciting 8-7 win over the Brewers that was the fourth straight for the Giants. Vogt, popular in every big league stop, has quickly become a favorite of longtime Giants, including Bumgarner. 

"The guy's a ballplayer," Bumgarner said. "He's fun to watch. He gives it all he's got. Everybody really appreciates that. He's a guy that's easy to pull for."

The two triples got most the attention, but Vogt's most impactful sprint may have been the one he made in the bottom of the eighth. With runners on the corners and two outs, Vogt hit a slow roller up the middle and beat Orlando Arcia's throw to first, reaching 27.6 feet per second, his second-fastest sprint of the season. 

"I like to joke that the fastest human being on the planet is a baseball player that smells a hit," Vogt said, smiling. 

All kidding aside, those four and a half seconds told the Giants a lot about their backup catcher. After being in the squat for nearly three hours, Vogt busted it down the line, providing a necessary insurance run. Will Smith would give up a solo shot to Christian Yelich in the ninth but held on when Mike Yastrzemski made a diving catch for the final out. 

"It ended up being a huge run," Bochy said of Vogt's final hit. "In the eighth inning, for a catcher to get down there like that, that's impressive."

Vogt's day was historic in a way. He became the first Giants catcher since Steve Nicosia in 1984 to record two triples in one game and just the third catcher in the last eight years to do it. The Giants had not had a two-triple game from any player in three years. 

Vogt's first triple, just the 10th of his career, came when he lined a 2-0 fastball from former teammate and friend Jimmy Nelson off the fourth archway. The ball would have been a home run in 18 ballparks, but it ricocheted into center field and Vogt cruised into third, his helmet flying off, as Yelich chased it down. With a sprint speed of 26.4 feet per second, Vogt reached third in 12.4 seconds, a tenth of a second faster than the MLB average this season. He would score on Kevin Pillar's single. 

The second triple was a bit more traditional by the ballpark's standards, as Vogt lined a Junior Guerra splitter into Triples Alley and hustled into the bag in 12.14 seconds. Again, he scored on a Pillar single. Afterward, Vogt briefly took on a serious tone when noting that he hopes the ball won't be able to roll that far in the future. Vogt joined the chorus of players who want the bullpens moved off the field and into Triples Alley. He said it's a safety issue, pointing out that Chris Taylor toppled over a mound earlier this homestand. 

"If that's how we have to get that done, let's do it," he said. 

[RELATED: Will Smith focused despite trade rumors]

That's a conversation for the future. In the present, the Giants are just trying to put a positive stretch together. They remain eight games under .500, but this is their best run of the season, and on Sunday they have a chance to sweep a contender. 

"That's a big win," Vogt said. "A big win for us."