Giants

Analysis: Young Rockies provide latest wake-up call for last-place Giants

Analysis: Young Rockies provide latest wake-up call for last-place Giants

DENVER — When Nolan Arenado’s game-winner cleared the wall Sunday, the third baseman had his 21st homer in 80 career games against the Giants. He also has 32 doubles and 75 RBI, but there’s another Arenado-related number that might be even scarier. 

The dude who has been terrorizing the Giants for the last five seasons just turned 26 years old. 

Arenado is younger than every current Giants starter except for Austin Slater, the left fielder who has been in the big leagues for all of two weeks, and it’s a trend up and down the Rockies' roster.

Kyle Freeland (24), Jeff Hoffman (24) and Antonio Sentazela (22), three pitchers who have helped the Rockies get into first place — and sweep the Giants over the weekend — are all younger than the rookie starter on the other side, 26-year-old Ty Blach. German Marquez is in the Rockies’ rotation at the age of 22. Their injured ace, Jon Gray, is just 25 years old. DJ LeMahieu (28), Trevor Story (24), Pat Valaika (24) and Raimel Tapia (23) all did damage in Colorado's first four-game sweep over the Giants. Both of the team's catchers are under the age of 27. 

The series dropped the Giants an astounding 19 1/2 games out of first place in the division. It’s their biggest first-half deficit since 1985, and it has made the situation crystal clear: The front office needs to move on to the next step, and as they do so, they can no longer just keep an eye on the Dodgers. The Giants have three of the National League’s best teams in their division, and while the Diamondbacks still could pivot and sell veteran pieces at some point in the next year or two, the Dodgers and Rockies look poised to field contenders for years to come. Both have farm systems that were generally ranked in the top 10 before the season. 

“They’ve got all the tools,” Mark Melancon said Sunday, after taking the blown save and loss. “Speed, power, average — all the way through the lineup. You’ve got to tip your hat.”

If you’re Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans, you have to wonder when the same can next be said about your Giants. Speed? The only notable burner in the lineup, Eduardo Nuñez, turned 30 during the series and is a free agent after the season. Power? The Giants are last in the majors in homers, and it isn’t close. Average? They’re 27th there, and they rank 28th in on-base percentage. 

All those numbers add up to the same reality. It’s time to revamp the lineup, and there were rumblings in Denver that some around-the-edges moves could be made soon. Ryder Jones, a 23-year-old having a good year in the Pacific Coast League, is said to be the closest to a call-up. Bruce Bochy has been eyeing Jones for a while, and given what Slater has provided in left, it’s about time to see what Jones — who plays outfield, first and third — can do with his next challenge. Jae-gyun Hwang, the Korean infielder, has an opt-out on July 1. Shouldn’t he get a look as a potential bench bat? 

Christian Arroyo will have an MRI on his sore hand on Monday, so he’s not currently in the picture, but Arroyo will be back at some point and other young players like Joan Gregorio (25), Kyle Crick (24) and Tyler Beede (24) figure to be in line for second-half auditions. Chris Shaw (23) has had a slow adjustment to Triple-A, but he could hit his way into a September call-up. The front office also needs to figure out what Jarrett Parker (28) and Mac Williamson (26) can provide moving forward, because left field is now the least of the concerns in the outfield. 

The Giants were a step behind seemingly every fly ball and line drive over the four-game series, and they talked often of bad luck. Another way of looking at being a “step behind” is that you've lost a step or three. This is a team that regularly starts five players in their 30s -- including 34- and 33-year-old outfielders -- with a matching bench.

The Giants won’t be able to compete in 2018 with this kind of outfield play, and the easiest way to find a fix would be to sell a big piece or two for young outfield prospects. In that respect, the organization has given no hint that a decision to sell has been made. 

Sources say a “we’re open for business” meeting has not been had, noting that the draft was the main emphasis in recent weeks. Johnny Cueto, the most talked-about player in trade circles, has not been approached and asked about his future plans. Cueto is said to be happy in San Francisco, and those familiar with his thinking say he’s in no rush to immediately head back to the American League and he doesn’t have an issue with the clubhouse. His biggest concerns have always been about winning and losing. No matter how Cueto feels, there will be pressure to opt-out and seek a bigger deal, and the Giants need to figure out exactly where all this stands. 

They have other potential chips in Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore, who despite a poor start is young and still oozing with talent. Trading Nuñez should be an easy decision; he can help any contender with his versatility and speed. Brandon Belt’s name will come up as it always does, and perhaps there’s a contender that sees bench value in the likes of Aaron Hill, Conor Gillaspie or Nick Hundley. While many fans will scream for a complete teardown, the truth is that most of the oft-mentioned names are untradable because of performance, contracts, or age. 

The July 31 deadline is fast approaching, but the Giants have been in the same situation for weeks. The series at Coors Field was never going to change the math, but it did end up being instructive. The Rockies are younger, deeper, and more talented than the Giants, and they’re only going to get better. As the deadline gets closer, it’s up to the front office to figure out some way to try and keep up.

Farhan Zaidi expects Giants to be aggressive with pitching prospects

Farhan Zaidi expects Giants to be aggressive with pitching prospects

All Logan Webb needed last year was 63 innings in the minor leagues for the Giants to call him up to the majors at 22 years old. The front office didn't waste time with the young right-hander, and it has paid off. 

Webb, who struck out four and only allowed one earned run over five innings Wednesday in the Giants' 4-3 win over the Colorado Rockies, has been San Francisco's best starting pitcher early on this season. The Rocklin native often gets overlooked among the Giants' top prospects as Joey Bart, Marco Luciano and Heliot Ramos steal the spotlight. If Webb, with a 2.13 ERA through three starts, keeps this up, that won't happen much longer. 

The Giants were aggressive in getting Webb through the minors, and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi expects to use the same strategy with several other young pitchers in the near future. 

"It's a little bit easier for pitchers I think to demonstrate dominance in smaller samples than it is for position players," Zaidi said Wednesday night on 95.7 The Game's "Damon, Ratto and Kolsky" show. "Pitchers have the ability to move more quickly, and that certainly factors into our thinking as well."

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

When looking at lists for the Giants' top prospects, the farm system appears hitter-heavy. Bart, Luciano and Ramos lead the way. Alexander Canario, Patrick Bailey and Luis Toribio aren't far behind. 

But Zaidi expects a handful of Giants pitching prospects to help the big league club as soon as next season. 

"We've got some guys like Sean Hjelle, Tristan Beck -- who we acquired last year -- Seth Corry, who are guys who could be in our rotation in the near future. I wouldn't even rule out 2021.

"There's certainly guys in the pipeline ... we definitely have some guys we're excited about making an impact for us next year." 

[RELATED: Zaidi explains why the Giants still haven't called up Bart]

None of the above names are at the Giants' alternate site in Sacramento, as they believe pitchers are able to develop easier than hitters without live at-bats. Director of player development Kyle Haines did recently tell NBC Sports Bay Area that Hjelle would be game-ready if needed right now. The 2018 second-round pick made it to Double-A Richmond, and he and Beck are more pro-ready than Corry. 

Among those three, Corry easily has the highest upside, though. Corry, who was only 20 years old last season, went 9-3 with a 1.76 ERA in Single-A Augusta. He was named the South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Year for his dominant season. 

Jeff Samardzija is a free agent after this season. Johnny Cueto could be a free agent after 2021. Plenty of young arms might soon be joining Webb in San Francisco.

Gabe Kapler breaks down parts of Giants' strategy early in MLB season

Gabe Kapler breaks down parts of Giants' strategy early in MLB season

Two things have become clear over the first 13 Giants games. Gabe Kapler and his new coaches are going to make a lot of decisions that are slightly -- or very -- different from what we saw from the previous regime.

But Kapler is also going to be very open about explaining them.

There were a few that stuck out in Wednesday's win and during the series in Colorado. Some of those deciscions hit on bigger themes.

Kapler was happy to dig into the thought process a little bit after Wednesday's game and again Thursday morning.

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Here's how he broke it all down. 

Why was Donovan Solano, not Brandon Crawford, the only player on the left side of the infield in some shifts Wednesday? The Giants have generally left Crawford to patrol the whole left side when they shift, knowing that he has more range and a better arm than their other options. But Crawford was playing a bit to the right side of the bag in those situations Wednesday, and Solano booted a grounder to "short," costing Logan Webb an early run.
"We've spent a lot of time looking at spray charts to determine where the ball is most likely to be hit, so where the biggest clusters are," Kapler said. "We feel like oftentimes Craw is going to be on the other side of the (second base) bag because that's where the ball is most likely to be hit. I understand the thought, which is that Craw is very comfortable on the left side of the diamond. 

"He's in that position naturally, but we really want to catch as many balls as possible, so you kind of put your better defender, the one that's the general of the infield, in the spot that you think the ball is going to be hit."

Why are the Giants playing the infield in so often with a runner on third, especially at Coors, where you try to avoid the big inning?
"It's trickiest at Coors, obviously, because it's such a high-run-scoring environment, and because outs are at such a premium," Kapler said. "It's an easier answer for me when we're at Oracle or other ballparks around the league, and that answer is you actually don't lose as much of an advantage as you think when playing the infield in and you record almost as many outs. And, you guys know how win expectancy changes pretty dramatically based on the score. One of the things that you'll likely see from us is that if we're up a run, in a tie ballgame, down a run, those are opportunities for us to play aggressively and bring our infield in. 

"You'll also see us from time to time bring our infield in if we have two strikes on a batter and we started with our infield back. One of the reasons we do that is because we're maybe anticipating weaker contact on the ground and any time we can wipe out a run at the plate or record an out and keep a runner at third base, we want to do it. In Colorado, it's really context-dependent and there's just some gut feel to that. It's less perfect, I'll just say that. I think you saw how we played (Trevor) Story specifically. We waited until he got a couple of strikes on him and we're always trying to apply a little pressure."

Why did Tony Watson pitch the seventh when Nolan Arenado, who was 6-for-13 against him, was due up first? Arenado hit a solo homer to cut the lead to 4-3.
"We know that he's not just going to face Arenado, and I know that Arenado has done damage against Watty in the past. But given the stretch of left-handed bats that were coming up and the likelihood that you're not just going to face three (batters), you might have to face four, you might have to face five -- and we have three innings to cover at that point, the seventh, the eighth and the ninth. I have three really high-quality leveraged arms to go to. Watty, Gott and Rogers, in no particular order. 

"If you think about each one of those relievers having to take down a different portion of the lineup, we felt that stretch through lefties was an optimal spot and then that would give us Rogers and Gott at the top of the lineup. That's sort of how it played out. We didn't have the best matchup there with Arenado, we know that, but we really liked the matchups coming behind him and we thought we had to make the tradeoff somewhat."

This one really was a tradeoff for Kapler and the Giants, and it worked out. Arenado did homer, but Watson did end up facing three lefties after that (plus pinch-hitter Matt Kemp) and he got out of the rest of the inning. Rogers and Gott closed it out from there. 

[RELATED: Zaidi explains why Giants haven't called up Bart]

Why not pinch-run for Pablo Sandoval after he singled with one out in the ninth? The Giants had a one-run lead.
"The concept was you pinch-run for Pablo there with Pence, but in Colorado, you have to assume that there might be a run scored and you might be facing extra innings, and with the extra innings looming you still have Pence as a bench bat knowing that they have a couple lefties looming and some other matchups for Pence. Given the fact that we deployed Longo on defense, we deployed Dubon on defense, we know that that game might have gone quite a bit longer. We just didn't feel like the upgrade was going to be meaningful enough at that point."

That one was the right call, too. Crawford hit into a double play, so ultimately it wouldn't have mattered who was on first base. It was a solid night for the staff, which spends hours before and after games discussing these decisions (Kapler said he watched that botched throw to home five times with Ron Wotus and Kai Correa the other night before meeting the media). Hopefully this gives you a little insight into the process.