Giants

Five Giants position battles to watch as Cactus League season begins

Giants

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- As he met with reporters on the first day of camp, Gabe Kapler noticed a few of them trying to read the small writing on his office whiteboard. The new Giants manager laughed and said there was no pertinent roster information written up there. 

Two weeks later, there's not really any more clarity. 

There have been standouts, sure. A home run in live batting practice here, a pitcher lighting up a bullpen's Rapsodo machine there. Kapler has made sure to compliment one or two individual players during nearly every post-workout media session. He likes a positive camp, but also a competitive one. 

The Giants have redesigned basic camp drills to make sure players are competing with each other, but the intensity can't fully ramp up until there's another team on the field. Today, the Giants face the Dodgers (weather permitting), kicking position battles into another gear. Here are five to watch over the next month:

Backup catcher

With Aramis Garcia out for six to eight months, Tyler Heineman and Rob Brantly have been working in the same group as Buster Posey. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi acquired two catchers over the final week of his first spring with the Giants and may do it again, but for now, it's Heineman vs. Brantly in the bid to back up Posey. 

 

Both can hit left-handed, which is a plus, and neither provides much pop, but they're solid defenders who work a count and don't strikeout. Brantly has more big league time and spent last season in Triple-A for Kapler's Phillies, but Heineman can switch-hit. Thus far, it looks like a dead heat. 

Second base

For a guy who came to camp as a non-roster invitee and had two incumbents ahead of him, Yolmer Sanchez sure is getting a lot of time with the other starters during drills. A switch-hitter who won a Gold Glove last year, he looks pretty locked into a spot and could be a nice platoon partner with Mauricio Dubon, who has moved all over the field. 

Dubon is one of the most impressive athletes on the roster, and he has looked remarkably fluid while fielding fly balls. Perhaps that's his ticket because otherwise it gets crowded. Wilmer Flores is a lock to make the team, and with Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria, that makes four infielders before you get to Sanchez, Dubon and Donovan Solano, who had a sneaky-good 2019 but has an option remaining, which could squeeze him out. 

Dubon's ability to play the outfield could allow the Giants to carry all seven infielders, although they'll run into a further crunch when Pablo Sandoval is fully cleared. 

The outfield

Here's what we know: Mike Yastrzemski will be on the team, and Hunter Pence and Alex Dickerson look headed for a platoon in left. But that leaves a lot of dudes fighting for two spots, maybe just one if Dubon becomes more of an outfielder.

Jaylin Davis has been talked about a lot and is showing off his power in BP, but there has been some talk of letting him start the year in Triple-A and play every day. Davis is an option in center, though, and if he tears up the Cactus League, he could end up being the starter there quite often. 

Yastrzemski has spent a lot of time doing drills in center, where the Giants also have Steven Duggar and Billy Hamilton. The latter is a hell of a bench option in a world with 26 roster spots. If Hamilton shows anything at the plate, he should be part of an outfield that lacks experience in center and has defensive question marks in left. 

You can see how the math starts to get hairy for some of the younger players. Duggar is making big swing changes and Chris Shaw is working to close a hole, and both have a lot of depth in front of them. Austin Slater has spent much of his time this spring doing infield drills, but there are a ton of bodies at second and Flores is the right-handed bat for the right side of the infield. 

At the end of the spring, it's often an options game, and Slater, Duggar, Shaw and Davis still have them. It wouldn't be a shock to see the Giants go with Yastrzemski, Pence, Dickerson, Hamilton and one more outfielder to start, knowing they'll shake it up by the end of April. 

 

Fifth starter

The Giants signed Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly as starters, and neither has done anything to lose that status. Gausman had an impressive live bullpen session Friday. 

"What stood out about Gausman's live BP session today was the movement on his breaking ball," Kapler said. "It's a pitch that our pitching coaches are working hard on him to get the shape we want, and he came out firing with that pitch today."

Dereck Rodriguez will start Saturday and Andrew Suarez on Sunday, but Kapler was adamant that nothing should be read into that. Both are internally viewed more as long relievers/bullpen options. 

There are others like Tyson Ross and Trevor Cahill in camp, but after two weeks, it's clear how much this staff thinks of Tyler Beede's ability, and he should enter the spring games as the frontrunner to start one of the first five games of the year. Logan Webb has plenty of fans, too, but he will be on an innings limit this year and those usually are implemented in April, not September. 

The bullpen

The Giants have 31 non-roster invitees in camp and 17 are pitchers. You could literally throw a dart in any direction in the clubhouse and hit a reliever who might make the club. 

Tony Watson is a lock and may become the closer if the Giants have one. The staff is excited about Trevor Gott's stuff and he's out of options, so there's your second reliever. The Giants will carry eight, and after those two it gets hazy.

Farhan Zaidi loves a good roster shuffle, but he also has too much respect for veterans to bring guys in without a real shot. Nearly all of last year's late additions made the squad, including Nick Vincent, who is back. Jerry Blevins comes to mind as someone who has too much experience to simply be here as a camp arm. If those guys throw well, they figure to be ahead of the pack. 

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Jarlin Garcia was picked up late and is out of options, so a solid spring probably puts him on the roster. There are plenty of live arms on the 40-man, but guys like Sam Coonrod, Jandel Gustave and Wandy Peralta have options remaining, and that's a killer in late March. 

Then there's the pack of starters: Rodriguez, Suarez, Ross, Cahill, Trevor Oaks, etc. Could the Giants stash a couple in the bullpen to protect their inventory?

Finally, there's a true wild card, someone who may end up telling us a lot about what's important to the Giants right now. Tyler Rogers had a dominant September, has nothing left to prove in the minors, and is making teammates look silly in live BP. In a merit-based system, he should be headed for the Opening Day bullpen ... but he also has all three options remaining. Will the Giants go with their eight best, or will they prioritize keeping as many arms in the system as they can at the end of camp?