SAN FRANCISCO — In two weeks, the back fields at Scottsdale Stadium will be humming again.
Pitchers and catchers will hold their first workout on Feb. 13, and soon after that they’ll be joined by position players. Three years ago, all eyes were on Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija as they threw their first bullpen sessions, with the laid-back Cueto stunning observers by essentially playing a game of catch. A year after that, Mark Melancon was the headliner. Last spring, the cameras gathered to see what Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria looked like in orange and black.
This time around? Well, it should be a bit quieter.
The Giants have had a slow offseason — joining much of the league — but there’s a season to be played, and nothing brings optimism like that first full-squad workout.
Before the players take the field, let’s take a look at how they stack up, position-by-position. We’ll start with the catchers, of course, because this is still Buster Posey’s team …
Returning: Buster Posey, Aramis Garcia.
Posey is coming off serious season-ending hip surgery, but he has been on track throughout the rehab process and the Giants have no reason to believe he won’t be there on Opening Day. They’ll take it easy on him early in camp, and Posey will not see much action down in Scottsdale, but that won’t matter; he got just 34 at-bats last spring and 26 the year before. The Giants expect Posey in the squat 110-120 times, and some of his power should return now that his legs are back under him.
Garcia is the wild card here — unless the Giants sign another veteran. The 26-year-old had a .800 OPS in a September cameo, hit four homers, and held his own when moved to first base. He also struck out in nearly half his at-bats, and the big league production doesn’t match some of his minor league track record. Zaidi likes versatility and has pushed young players in the past, so it’s possible Garcia gets a shot from the start this time around.
The departed: Nick Hundley.
Posey’s backup for two years, Hundley is still looking for a job. He hit lefties at a .280/.320/.508 rate last season, so in theory he should be a nice fit for Zaidi’s platoon preferences. But that’s a bit harder to do when your starter is Posey, and Hundley has never played another position, which hurts his cause. Still, he’s an excellent clubhouse presence who could still return.
I should mention here that Hector Sanchez, a longtime member of the spring catching group, recently signed a minor league deal with the Tigers. I will miss watching Sanchez take grounders at second base on a random March morning.
Free agent additions
The Giants have added catchers to the system, but none were immediately put on the 40-man roster.
Non-roster invitees: Joey Bart, Hamlet Marte, Cameron Rupp.
Bart, last year’s first-rounder, is the big name here, but Rupp may be the most interesting this season. He was signed to provide depth for an organization that doesn’t have any at the upper levels of the minors, but he also has more than 1,100 big league plate appearances and currently stands as Garcia’s biggest competition for the backup job. Rupp didn’t play in the big leagues in 2018 but hit 30 combined homers the previous two seasons in Philadelphia. He has a .879 OPS against lefties in his career.
Marte, 24, spent last season in the Dodgers’ system, like many new Giants. He has a .275/.341/.443 slash line in eight minor league seasons. For now, he’s viewed as a depth piece for the upper levels of the minors, where the Giants have lost several catchers, including Sanchez and Trevor Brown.
Bart may be the story of camp, although he is destined to begin his season with High-A San Jose. The second overall pick in last year’s draft, Bart is considered the best catching prospect in the minors and could — with a huge season — earn a September call-up. For now, he’s in camp to spend every second he can learning from Posey and catch a few bullpens with Madison Bumgarner and other big-name vets. Bumgarner always lines up with the young catchers at least once, and you can bet that’ll be one of the highlights of the first week of camp.
This will be a learning experience for Bart, but also a showcase. With Posey sidelined and not much else in the way of depth, he could get some at-bats against big league pitching before being sent to the minors.
The Giants have had all sorts of different looks when their catchers gather in early February. For years, Posey was surrounded by intriguing prospects. In 2017 and 2018, it was clear that the tandem of Posey and Hundley was set from the moment the Giants started playing catch at Scottsdale Stadium. Barring a late addition, it looks like there will be a real competition for the backup spot, but that’s not the story here.
Posey’s health is, and every move me makes will be scrutinized. The Giants don’t look like a contender, but they hope they may surprise some people. That all goes out the window if Posey has a setback of any kind.