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.
Nothing of significance.
Free agent additions
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.
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.