Giants

Ex-Giant Javier Lopez recalls vivid details about facing Barry Bonds

Ex-Giant Javier Lopez recalls vivid details about facing Barry Bonds

It took more than a decade, but in 2015, Chase Utley finally got a hit off of Javier Lopez. In their 24th matchup, Utley hit a ball off Lopez's spikes and it rolled into left field, allowing Utley to reach second.

"He asked me to sign the ball while he was staring at me at second base," Lopez said. "We had a little laugh about it."

Their first matchup came all the way back in 2004, when Utley was with the Phillies and Lopez was in his second big-league season with the Rockies. Utley hit into a double play, and it never got any easier. He finished his career with one hit in 23 at-bats against Lopez, with 13 of those outs coming on the ground.

On this week's Giants Insider Podcast, Lopez said Utley was his favorite matchup among contemporaries. But over his entire career, the moment that really stood out in a left-on-left matchup came against a fellow Giant. Lopez soaked up Barry Bonds highlights while coming through the minors and got to face Bonds in his second month in the big leagues. 

Former Giant Bobby Estalella -- Lopez said the massive catcher's nickname was Chestalella -- was behind the plate for the Rockies and came running out to the mound when Bonds walked up. 

"I think he could tell my heart was beating through my jersey. He was like, 'Alright, calm down, just stay with me the entire time. We're going to throw breaking balls, the slower the better, because he cannot stay back. He's a tremendous hitter but he struggles with that pitch,'" Lopez recalled. "I was like, 'Whatever you put down I'm going to throw.' I remember I threw a fastball and they called it a ball and I'm walking back to the mound, I lick my fingers, I'm rubbing the ball, and Barry Bonds has not left the box. That was his thing, standing in there and just kind of wiggling his bat. I was like, 'Oh boy, here we go.'"

Lopez threw a couple of sliders and got a strike Bonds didn't like. Then he tried a fastball up-and-in and watched as Bonds pulled a missile foul. First baseman Todd Helton looked at him with a clear signal in his eyes: Don't throw that pitch again. Lopez went back to his sweeping breaking ball and Bonds swung through it and headed back to the dugout. Lopez watched him go. 

"I'm staring at Barry Bonds not because I'm some cool stud," he said. "I'm just like, 'That's Barry Bonds and I just got him out."

They faced off nine more times before Bonds retired, with the home run king picking up a double and two singles, but no bombs. Lopez struck Bonds out three times overall, something that naturally came up years later when they were both affiliated with the Giants. He recalled telling Bonds he had punched him out three times. Bonds asked how many times he homered and was told it never happened. 

"That's because you threw that sidearm cheating stuff," he replied. 

Lopez had his own legendary Giants career and is now one of the team's broadcasters. Bonds works for the team as an advisor and spends time with players in spring training. Lopez said the two still laugh about their matchups whenever they get together. 

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"He's such a great player," Lopez said. "Just to know that he's a small chapter in my book, my strikeout book -- it's a very short book -- but it's nice that he's got a page in it."

For more from Lopez on his big league memories, the current MLB proposal to the Players Association and his excellent walk-up songs, you can download the Giants Insider Podcast here or stream it here: 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Giants' tentative 2021 MLB schedule includes odd Opening Day quirk

Giants' tentative 2021 MLB schedule includes odd Opening Day quirk

Have you fully digested the 2020 MLB schedule that was released on Monday? Good, because here comes the 2021 schedule! 

MLB released full schedules for next season, and the Giants once again open on the road, but this time in unfamiliar territory. For the first time in club history, the Giants will begin the season in an interleague park with a series in Seattle starting April 1. The Giants play their home opener April 9 against the Rockies. Here's the full schedule:

This will be the 12th consecutive season that the Giants open on the road, something they generally ask for so that they can finish the season at home and have more dates at Oracle Park when kids are out of school over the summer. They will begin the 2020 season in Los Angeles in two weeks (maybe).

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

The 2020 season kept teams in their own region as much as possible, which means that the Giants will play the AL West two consecutive years. They were supposed to play the AL Central this season. The Giants will visit the Texas Rangers' new park next June and also have road series in Anaheim and Oakland, in addition to that opener in Seattle. The schedule includes the usual slate of trips to New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, etc., so MLB is at least planning for the likelihood that society and travel are a bit more back to normal next year. 

If fans are allowed back into Oracle Park, there are a few series that stand out. 

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Mike Trout and the Angels visit May 31, Madison Bumgarner's Diamondbacks come for the first time on June 14, and the Houston Astros visit July 31 if you have a lot of pent-up booing you would like to do at some point in 2021. 

Marco Luciano, Joey Bart lead Giants' intriguing top prospects in camp

Marco Luciano, Joey Bart lead Giants' intriguing top prospects in camp

The simulated game at Oracle Park on Wednesday afternoon got the Giants a bit closer to being ready for their 2020 opener, and it also gave a huge glimpse of the future. 

Joey Bart and Patrick Bailey served as the two catchers for the early innings, Heliot Ramos was roaming the outfield and Will Wilson played at second base alongside Brandon Crawford. All four also got their turns at the plate.

The next wave is coming fast for the Giants, and they took advantage of the expansion of rosters to get most of their top prospects into camp last week (Hunter Bishop still could be on the way once he recovers from coronavirus). The players will spend the next two months in Sacramento, honing their craft every day and taking part in intrasquad games with plenty of former big leaguers. 

Here's a rundown of the top prospects who will be part of the player pool, and other minor leaguers who have been added to camp over recent days:

Marco Luciano

The most exciting young player in the system, Luciano is widely considered a top-20 prospect in the game and there are some evaluators who think he could be top-five by this time next year. Signed out of the Dominican Republic two years ago, the shortstop made his professional debut last year, batting .302/.417/.564 in 47 games, with 10 homers and 13 doubles. 

Luciano doesn't turn 19 until September, but he's the type of prospect who could hit his way to the big leagues before he can legally enter a bar. He isn't close to big league-ready, but he'll benefit greatly from three months of reps he couldn't get elsewhere, and he should skip a level or two when the minor league season returns. 

Luciano already is turning heads, and he has been one of the most-talked about players in camp the first week because of swings like this one (turn your sound up): 

Joey Bart

Bart is the heir apparent to Buster Posey and impressed in his month in big league camp. He was 7-for-16 with two homers in Cactus League games before getting sent to minor league camp two days before spring training shut down. 

Two hand fractures slowed Bart's progress last year, but he reached Double-A, tore up the Fall League -- a 1.290 OPS and four homers in 10 games before an injury -- and was set to start April in Triple-A. The Giants had planned for Bart to spend a couple of months there at least, but even with no minor league season, he's not really in the mix for an Opening Day job this month. 

"Do I think that it's likely that his best path to his best career is starting with the major league club? I don't think that's his best path," manager Gabe Kapler said on a recent Giants Insider Podcast.

Bart is in a fascinating spot. With extra roster spots and a DH, the Giants very easily could carry him at some point this season. On the other hand, Posey likely will get a higher percentage of starts than normal given how much of a sprint this is, and the organization could opt to keep Bart from accruing service time in 2020.

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Heliot Ramos

Outside of Bart, Ramos, a first-round MLB draft pick in 2017, is the most likely of the hitting prospects to see Oracle Park in 2020. He wasn't in big league camp, but team officials hoped he might go to Double-A or Triple-A and play his way into a September call-up. Those won't exist this season, and Ramos will need a lot of injuries in the big league outfield to get an opportunity. It's hard to see how the Giants would want to start his clock in a 60-game season. 

Still, this is a great opportunity for Ramos, who hit 16 homers across two levels last season and finished his year in Double-A. He's still just 20, but he'll now get a summer to work more closely with established big leaguers and more seasoned coaches. It's possible that Ramos will continue progressing to the point that next spring he heads to Scottsdale competing for a big league job. 

Patrick Bailey 

Taken with the 13th overall pick just a month ago, the catcher was thrown right into the fire. Kapler said there was a lot to like about the way Bailey caught veterans in Wednesday's simulated game.

"Patrick has a lot of energy in his body," Kapler said. "I really, really like his setup, his flexibility in his ankles and hips. I think what is most impressive is his body language and his poise. A lot of people noticed that. It wasn't just my perspective. People were commenting on how poised and natural he was behind the plate and not rattled at all from the first real intense competition."

As an advanced hitter and game-caller, Bailey could start his professional career in San Jose next year and quickly move to Double-A. It might not be long before he's pushing to join Bart in the big leagues:

Alexander Canario

The 20-year-old isn't as well known as some others, but should be. Canario is ranked fifth in the system by Baseball-America and sixth by MLB Pipeline. He has tremendous raw power and bat speed, leading to 16 homers last season in 59 games. 

Canario is raw, and he has struck out a lot in the minors, but that also makes him someone who could benefit more than anyone from three months with higher-quality instruction.

"He hasn't played at a high level yet, there's a lot of development yet to occur," Kapler said. "With Canario, it's much more about getting the experience and being around the instructors."

Luis Toribio

Ranked sixth in the organization by BA and seventh by Pipeline, Toribio is yet another teenage prospect with huge potential. A third baseman, Toribio has the "best approach in the system," according to Baseball-America. In 118 minor league games, the left-handed hitter has a .428 OBP and 98 walks to 121 strikeouts. 

"He has plus defensive actions with a chance to hit for power and average," farm director Kyle Haines said of Toribio, who won't turn 20 until the day after this season ends. 

Will Wilson

The Giants considered taking Wilson with the 10th overall pick in last year's draft, but they took Bishop and the shortstop from NC State ended up going 15th to the Angels. When the Angels later wanted to dump Zack Cozart's $12.6 million, the Giants were happy to take it on -- with Wilson being the cost of doing business. 

The 21-year-old had a .275/.328/.439 line in 46 games last summer and comes to camp hoping to join former Wolfpack teammates Bailey and Nick Swiney en route to the big leagues. 

"He is a well-rounded player with versatility," Haines said. "A chance to be a plus offensive contributor while playing the middle infield."

Camilo Doval

Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2015, Doval hasn't been considered a top prospect, but he appears to have had a breakthrough. The 23-year-old has a fastball that reaches triple digits and a good slider, and while he hasn't pitched above A-ball, he came to minor league camp this year and opened eyes with his bullpen sessions. 

"He was lightning in minor league camp," Kapler said.  

Giants officials have continued to gather around Doval over the past week. A right-handed reliever can zoom to the big leagues with two good pitches, and Doval might have that in him. Kapler compared him to Seranthony Dominguez, who was Philadelphia's closer for part of the 2018 season. 

"It's really a big arm," Kapler said of Doval. "Our minor league staff is especially excited about Camilo and we've all spent a lot of time watching video. It's a fastball-slider combination that, from a stuff perspective, is going to play at the major league level. He needs more experience in a camp like this and that experience is not limited to what he does on the mound, but also his ability to work with catchers, know our bunt plays and prepare to help us. 

"Whether that's the outset of the season or another time down the road, it's really good for us to get eyes on him. I don't anticipate anything more than what I just said, which is seeing what happens and what transpires through camp. But a lot of people on the minor league side are really excited about him."

Caleb Baragar 

A lefty reliever who was taken in the ninth round of the 2016 draft, Baragar is coming off a solid season with Richmond. He had a 3.57 ERA and about a strikeout per inning across three levels last year and pitched for Sacramento in the Triple-A postseason. Kapler said Baragar's fastball is what stands out.

"It's the ability to compete, it's the ability to get in the zone and stay in the zone," he said. "And it's adding another left-hander to our mix."

Sam Wolff 

You probably recognize Wolff's name, and not just because he was in big league camp the last two springs. The 29-year-old right-hander came to the Giants in the Matt Moore trade with the Rangers after the Winter Meetings in 2017.

Wolff had flexor tendon surgery that year and was still rehabbing when traded, and he missed some time last year, too. When on the field for Double-A Richmond, he had a 1.78 ERA and 10.7 strikeouts per nine. As an advanced reliever who piles up strikeouts, Wolff is possibly more likely than anyone on this list but the next guy to debut in this weird season. Kapler said the Giants considered naming him to the initial player pool list that was released last week.

"He's older but is an established minor league pitcher with really good stuff," Kapler said. "One of the things that we thought about with our bullpen is that, because we don't have a lot of established veteran relievers with long track records of success, we wanted to open up the pool. That's why you're seeing Caleb and Wolff here. We want to see if we can catch somebody kind of hot with really, really good stuff and we want to create as much competition as possible."

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Tyler Cyr

The 27-year-old Bay Area native has been in big league camp twice and made three Cactus League appearances this year before getting reassigned. He was back as part of the initial player pool and has jumped into the bullpen competition. 

Cyr looked like he would debut in 2018 but an elbow fracture cost him a season. He returned to Double-A last year and had a 2.05 ERA and 10.6 strikeouts-per-nine before joining the Sacramento River Cats for their postseason run. 

Chadwick Tromp

One of six catchers in camp, Tromp, a native of Aruba, was a minor league free agent who signed after seven seasons in the Reds organization. The 25-year-old had shoulder surgery in 2018 but came back last year to post a .389 OBP and hit seven homers in 26 Triple-A games. He has shown improved plate discipline at the upper levels of the minors, and provides catching depth that's always needed.