Giants

2019 Giants Position Preview: Plenty of starting pitching depth, for now

2019 Giants Position Preview: Plenty of starting pitching depth, for now

SAN FRANCISCO — During this lifeless offseason, the Giants have at least gone back to the roots of their prior success. They built three title teams on strong starting pitching, and the only two seven-figure deals Farhan Zaidi has handed out have gone to starters.

Derek Holland is back to try to replicate last season’s success and Drew Pomeranz was added to become, well, the 2019 version of Derek Holland. 

They join what could be a crowded group late in the year. Or ... this group could be torn apart at the trade deadline.

For now, starting pitching serves as a potential strength for the Giants, and in the latest installment of this spring training preview, we’ll take a look at the men who hope to keep the Giants from seriously considering “openers.”

Returning: Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Dereck Rodriguez, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Stratton, Andrew Suarez, Ty Blach, Tyler Beede. 

When the Giants signed Cueto, they had two aces, as dominant a one-two punch as there was in the game. Now there’s a decent chance Cueto and Bumgarner will never be in the same rotation again. 

Cueto is doing well in his rehab from Tommy John surgery, is said to be in great shape, and expects to be back in the rotation by Sept. 1 regardless of the team’s record. But Bumgarner may be the best chip available before the July 31 deadline. The Giants took offers on him this offseason and figure to get their best return in July. 

The reports are good on Samardzija, too, but Samardzija consistently felt like he was making progress last season only to have his shoulder flare up when he let loose in a game. Until he's able to make it through 90-100 pitches without pain, it's hard to count on anything. 

Rodriguez is coming off a huge rookie year and Suarez had a good one, too. Zaidi has said he would like to slow-play both young pitchers, but if the Giants want to start fast, their best bet is to have these two involved. 

Stratton has had some dominant stretches in the past and Blach has shown versatility. Both could find new life under Zaidi, who won't be as strict about sticking to a five-man rotation. Beede has fallen off the radar but gained some traction in relief last year. For now, the Giants will let him continue to start. 

The departed: Casey Kelly

The Giants are returning pitchers who accounted for 159 of 162 starts last season. Kelly made the other three. He signed a deal to pitch in South Korea. 

Free agent additions: Derek Holland, Drew Pomeranz. 

Technically, Holland counts as a free agent signing. But you know all about him already. Pomeranz currently stands as the big outside addition of the offseason. The Giants chose him over several others with a similar profile, and he should be a good fit. 

Non-roster invitees: Shaun Anderson, Enderson Franco, Conner Menez, Keyvius Sampson, Garrett Williams. 

Acquired in the Eduardo Nuñez deal, Anderson had a 3.45 ERA in Double-A last season and is the organization's top pitching prospect. He'll begin the year in Sacramento's rotation and should be a big league option in the second half if the Giants need him. 

Franco, a 26-year-old right-hander, comes from the Braves system, where he struck out a batter per inning in the minors last season and reached Triple-A. He had a solid winter pitching out of the bullpen for Magallenes in Venezuela, a club the Giants are very familiar with. Menez, 23, pitched at three levels for the Giants last season, and while he struggled with his command, the lefty struck out 11.4 batters per nine. 

Sampson, a former high pick of the Padres, led the KBO in strikeouts and walks last season. A year ago, Williams was coming off a huge season in A-ball and looked to be the next big thing among Giants pitching prospects. He struggled with his command at Double-A, but the Giants were encouraged by the fact that he bounced back and posted a 1.88 ERA in the Fall League. 

Others: Melvin Adon, Sam Coonrod, Logan Webb. 

These three will be in camp after getting added to the 40-man roster in November. Adon has a 100 mph fastball and could be in the big leagues soon if the Giants move him to the bullpen. Webb broke out in 2018 and is now one of the best pitching prospects the organization has. Coonrod was in camp two years ago before having Tommy John.

[RELATED: Giants give minor league deal to ex-Braves standout]

Outlook

The potential is here for this to be one of the more consistent rotations in the National League, and if Samardzija can return to being an innings-eater and the rest match their highs from the past two seasons, the starters could allow the Giants to hang around in the NL West.

The most fascinating thing about the rotation, though, is not what it will look like when the Giants break camp. It's what it will look like on the day after the trade deadline. Quite a few in the clubhouse wondered why Bobby Evans didn't deal Holland for prospects last season. If the Giants are in a similar spot, you can bet Zaidi will add what he can to the farm system, and 60 percent of his projected rotation can be free agents in November. If Samardzija regains his form, the Giants likely will try to get out from under his deal, too. 

Should Giants be finding more starts for slugging Pablo Sandoval?

Should Giants be finding more starts for slugging Pablo Sandoval?

SAN FRANCISCO -- Pablo Sandoval took fly balls in left field during the spring. He caught a bullpen session. A year after starting at second base, he tried to keep that option open, too. 

The Giants' switch-hitter has embraced versatility over the last year, or tried to, in order to get extra time on the field, but thus far his role has been as traditional as it gets. He has made two starts at third base and one at first, and in both games of this series, he was the designated hitter. Otherwise, Sandoval has 17 appearances off the bench. 

That's the role that was expected as the Giants broke camp, but Sandoval has put his own twist on things: He has been more dangerous than any Giants hitter through a month, making a strong case that he should be more of a fixture for one of the worst lineups in the majors. 

"There's no real good way to do it except give Longo the occasional day off," manager Bruce Bochy said before Wednesday's 4-0 win over the Blue Jays. "The thing that I like about Pablo is he's able to sit and maintain his swing and go up there and give you a good at-bat, so whether it's Belt or Longo taking a day, Pablo will start occasionally. If you're talking on a daily basis, it's just hard to do."

Perhaps the Giants need to find a way, though. 

Sandoval's homer Wednesday, his second in two games in Toronto, left the bat at 112 mph (he later had an out at 111 mph). It was the hardest-hit ball of the season by a Giant, and by the end of the day Sandoval had a .333 average and 1.027 OPS. He would easily lead the team in OPS if he qualified, and he currently leads the Giants in doubles (7) despite starting just five games. 

The problem is that Sandoval can't really be anything but an emergency option at any position but first and third. First baseman Brandon Belt is the team's best hitter overall and locked into the lineup, although perhaps the Giants will give him more time in left to clear some playing time. The staff has shown no inclination to give Sandoval more time at third, where Evan Longoria has a .655 OPS and three homers. 

Sandoval enjoyed two days as a starter in Toronto, picking up four hits. But it'll be back to the pinch-hitting role when the Giants return home Friday, and it's a role nobody is doing better right now. Sandoval leads the National League with six pinch-hits, five of which have been doubles. He has scored three runs and driven in two as a pinch-hitter, repeatedly kickstarting late-game rallies. 

[RELATED: Belt not a fan of robot umpires despite frustrations]

"A lot of Pablo's hits are coming off the bench, too, so that works," Bochy said. "It's nice to have a batter sitting on the bench and when you need a big hit, he's ready to go. A lot of those at-bats come with men on base and later in the game, and I've got a pretty nice weapon there."

Giants prospect Heliot Ramos reflects on recent hot streak with San Jose

Giants prospect Heliot Ramos reflects on recent hot streak with San Jose

Everything felt right. There wasn’t anything off with his swing, he wasn’t pressing mentally, and yet, he only had one hit in his first 17 at-bats. 

All it took was a home run on April 9 to get Heliot Ramos, the Giants’ No. 2 prospect, back on track. Since then, he's hitting .349 (15-for-43) with five home runs.

“I knew that I was doing everything right,” Ramos said on Tuesday’s Inside The San Jose Giants Podcast. “In my mind, everything was right. My confidence was good. My swing was good. I just needed the ball to get down. I just keep on swinging.” 

As he kept swinging, hits started to show up in the scorebook. What has been just as important, however, has been him not swinging. 

Ramos registered just 35 walks last season as a member of the Augusta GreenJackets and finished his first full season in the minor leagues with a lowly .313 on-base percentage. He worked all offseason tracking pitches longer and laying off breaking balls in the dirt while playing Winter Ball, and it has paid off big time. 

Through 18 games in High-A with the San Jose Giants, Ramos already has 14 walks and his on-base percentage is over 100 points higher than last season (.418).

“I can see the ball well right now,” Ramos said. “I feel good. I’ve been feeling good. I learned a lot from last year. I hope this is something that can keep going good for me.” 

Not only has Ramos shown improved patience at the plate, but the center fielder is also driving the ball all over the yard. He’s batting .262 with a .991 OPS, and 11 of his 16 hits have gone for extra bases. Despite being the fifth-youngest player in the California League at 19 years old, he’s second in home runs (5), fifth in slugging percentage (.574), fifth in on-base percentage, fourth in walks, and third in OPS. 

San Jose was supposed to be a preview of what’s to come for years in San Francisco this season with the duo of Ramos and top prospect Joey Bart. A fractured hand for Bart has derailed those plans, but it hasn’t slowed down the younger of the two. 

Ramos no longer has the protection of Bart hitting right behind him. The teenager is seeing more off-speed pitches and is now the primary threat offensively to opposing teams. And yet, he’s flourished at the plate. 

[RELATED: Heliot Ramos' advancement 'really encouraging to see']

Since Bart broke his hand on April 15, Ramos has gone 8-for-26 (.308) with two home runs, two doubles, three RBI, and four runs scored. He’s growing every game as a player, both mentally and in the box score, and it could all be thanks to a disappointing season where he hit .245 with 136 strikeouts in 124 games last year. 

“Stay positive,” Ramos said when asked what he learned from last season. “That was the main thing I learned. Stay positive and never give up. Keep working hard and everything’s going to be okay.”