Giants Mailbag: Could young starting pitchers be headed for bullpen?

Giants Mailbag: Could young starting pitchers be headed for bullpen?

While the Bay Area focused on the 49ers this week, the Giants had their eyes on a different patch of grass. They're currently holding their developmental camp in Scottsdale, giving prospects an early chance to impress before the real fun starts next month:

We're two weeks from FanFest, and a few days after that, the players will actually take the field under new manager Gabe Kapler for the first time. Baseball season is coming fast, so let's run through another round of Giants questions (from my Instagram followers) as we wait for pitchers and catchers to report ... 

"In all seriousness Alex -- why should I watch/spend money on the Giants in 2020?" -- erniepomin

Well, first of all, we have a new state-of-the-art set that'll allow us to do a lot of cool things on the pre-game show next season, so that's a start. Plus, Kruk and Kuip! Come on, that's all you need. 

As for the team, I've long said that I'll never tell people how to spend their money when it comes to the Giants. It can get expensive, so if you'd prefer to sit out a couple years, you have every right to do so. But, I do think this season is going to be more interesting than the past couple. 

I happen to think "youth breaking through" is an intriguing storyline, so shortstop Mauricio Dubon and pitchers Tyler Beede and Logan Webb could provide plenty of reasons to watch early on. Catcher Joey Bart will be up at some point this year, and there's a chance that somebody like outfielder Jaylin Davis or infielder Chris Shaw finally puts it together.

Every Johnny Cueto start has the chance to provide plenty of entertainment regardless of the team's record.

Regardless of your feelings about Gabe Kapler, I do think it'll be interesting watching a different manager pull the levers for the first time in over a decade. If you're tuning in expecting to watch a win, you'll be disappointed more often than not. But if you try and view this as the start of something, I think you'll have a lot more fun in 2020. 

Are the Giants one of the rumored teams to have made a multi-year offer to Ozuna?" -- mgmatter17

I never once heard of any interest in Marcell Ozuna this offseason, and the fit wasn't really there. He's a good player, but not a game-changer, the type you re-arrange all your (rebuild) plans for. And if he was looking to re-establish his value as a power hitter, Oracle Park is a terrible place to play. 

"Is Sean Hjelle going to be one of the main focuses for at least early spring training?" -- aedinbratton18

Hjelle, the organization's top pitching prospect, is always going to be a focus purely because of his height. You can bet that early in camp someone will tweet out a photo of him dwarfing his fellow pitchers. 

But seriously, he will get plenty of attention for what he's capable of. He spent limited time in San Jose so we haven't really seen much of him, and it's going to be fascinating to see what his mechanics look like in early bullpen sessions. Hopefully, he's able to get into a game or two before getting sent to minor league camp. 

"Who will be the Giants' ace now that Bum is gone?" -- dianebertocchinoonan

Cueto has done it before, but he is coming back from Tommy John and there's a decent chance he gets traded before the end of his deal. Long term, this is a hell of a question.

Beede and Webb have the stuff to get there eventually and Hjelle is their top pitching prospect, but the organization is pretty thin on high-end starting pitching. I don't think you can look at anyone the Giants have right now and think, "He's going to start on Opening Day in 2022."

"If Beede or Webb don't make the rotation, do you think they'd let them pitch out of the bullpen?" -- _juanvillaseno_

This is a question we'll legitimately be asking in a couple weeks, because Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Drew Smyly and Kevin Gausman have the inside track on four spots. Either one of these young guys could be a good bullpen piece, but the Giants aren't ready to go there. 

They really made a commitment last year to giving Beede a shot in the rotation, even when he had some brutal starts, and he showed what he's capable of at times. The Giants are going to give him every opportunity to make the rotation his long-term home. As for Webb, there's been enough "innings limit" talk this offseason that it seems likely he starts the year in the minors, but he's definitely still a starter. 

[RELATED: Giants sign veteran Drew Smyly]

The caveat here is that I do think the Giants will try some new things this year, using semi-regular openers and potentially "piggybacking" guys, allowing them to go 3-4 innings at a time. That might lead to some "relief" appearances for young starters. 

"Why will Logan Webb have an innings limit this season?" -- tyler.j.burton

Webb threw 104 2/3 innings in 2018 but was limited to 103 across all levels last season because of the suspension. Ideally, he would have gotten around 130-140 last year, but that wasn't possible, so the Giants will hold him back a bit this season so he's not jumping from 103 to 160-170. 

Remember, he just turned 23. His health is a priority right now, even if that costs him some time in the Majors. 

"Will ticket prices drop this season with the current state of the team?" -- rioscristian15

I'm not sure of exact rates -- the Giants usually talk about that side of the business at their media day in March. I will say, it's pretty easy to find a cheap ticket to a game on the secondary market during the season. A lot of fans told me they were getting in for like $6 the last couple of seasons. Take advantage of the lack of interest while you can. 

"Which core veteran player is most likely to have a good bounce-back year?" -- shockmaan

I know the staff is really excited about working with Brandon Belt and there's a belief that Buster Posey will be much more productive after a normal offseason. I don't know which veteran is most likely to bounce back, but I will say I'm most curious to see what kind of season Brandon Crawford turns in. 

He's 33 now, but he's athletic enough that the age shouldn't be an issue yet, and he's not far removed from All-Star caliber play. Crawford hit .292./.363/.462 in the first half of 2018 and basically carried the lineup for weeks at a time. There are newcomers to the organization who have looked back at that stretch to see what the difference was, because it really wasn't that long ago. 

"Any way to find out if they are adding anything crazy to the menu like a 25-inch corndog?" -- takem84

The Giants traditionally unveil new menu items and giveaways at their media day. Last year, I asked my bosses if a cameraman could follow me around as I ate every single thing at the stadium and they somehow said yes. That ultimately led to me standing in the heat at SunTrust Park eating a burger covered in chicken tenders, nacho cheese and tater tots. Life comes at you fast. 

"Favorite restaurant to hit up during spring training?" -- uscgabe

The lock of the spring is that every Giants beat writer and a dozen team employees will be at ChopShop after the first team workout on February 12. That's the go-to for lunch, and The Mission is the place you have to hit up for dinner. I also try to visit Rudy's BBQ a couple of times because it's a Texas treasure that has somehow found its way to Arizona.

(Full disclosure: There's a Chick-fil-A outside half the Cactus League ballparks and a Shake Shack in the Scottsdale mall, so spring training is peak "This place doesn't exist in San Francisco so I might as well go here 17 times while I'm in Scottsdale" season.)

Four Giants named to Keith Law's top 100 prospects for 2020 MLB season


Four Giants named to Keith Law's top 100 prospects for 2020 MLB season

The Giants' rising farm system continues to be recognized. San Francisco no longer is at the bottom of rankings as they now have multiple top 100 prospects. 

Most outlets include either three or four Giants in their top 100 lists. The Athletic's Keith Law released his list Monday before the upcoming season, and four Giants prospects made the cut: Joey Bart (44), Heliot Ramos (52), Marco Luciano (58) and Hunter Bishop (87). 

This, however, is the lowest Bart is ranked among the most popular outlets. FanGraphs has him as high as No. 10, while MLB Pipeline has him at No. 14 and Baseball America ranked Bart lower at 32. Law brings up Bart's history of breaking his hands right away in his scouting report. 

Bart broke his non-throwing hand last season with the San Jose Giants, and then broke his broke his right hand as he was tearing up the Arizona Fall League. He also broke his left hand during his sophomore year at Georgia Tech. 

Law tends to rank players more on ceiling and upside, and says Bart has a "very high floor" because of his power, but believes he must show he can make consistent contact as he continues to face tougher pitching. As for his power, Bart showed that off with his first at-bat this spring. 

Ramos really impressed Law in 2019 after bouncing back from a rough 2018 season and hitting .290 with 16 homers between Single-A and Double-A at only 19 years old. In the near future, Law sees 30-plus homer power for Ramos in the mold of a No. 4 hitter. But he sees a position change for the former first-round draft pick. 

"He’s a solid athlete, but the way his body is filling out eliminates any chance that he’s going to play center in the majors; he should be capable in right, though, and has the plus arm to play there," Law wrote. That's no surprise. Ramos is built more like a running back than an outfielder. A switch to right field shouldn't be any trouble, though. 

Luciano might have the most upside out of any Giants prospect, which makes him a bit of a surprise at 58, even though he was 17 years old all last season. Law is impressed with his patience and power and sees Luciano as the Giants' first homegrown Latin American star since Pablo Sandoval.

There's no doubt that Luciano has a higher ceiling than Pablo ever did. 

[RELATED: Watch Bart, Dubon go deep in Giants’ spring training opener]

And then there's Bishop. Like Ramos, Law envisions Bishop moving off of center field in the future. Bishop has a weak arm, making him a natural candidate for left field. He runs great for his 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame and cover a ton of ground. 

There are strikeout concerns for Bishop -- he had a 37-percent K rate last year after being taken with the No. 10 pick -- but the power is for real. Also like Ramos, Law says Bishop can consistently hit 30 long balls in the bigs. 

As the Giants set their eyes on the future, the spotlight will shine on these four players throughout this season. 

Madison Bumgarner's D-backs teammates ready to follow three-time champ

Madison Bumgarner's D-backs teammates ready to follow three-time champ

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- On the first day of Diamondbacks camp earlier this month, Archie Bradley found a crowd waiting at his locker. Bradley is entering his sixth big league season, and with his energetic personality and bushy beard, he has become a fan favorite in Arizona. He is expected to be the closer for a dark horse in the National League, and when he checked into Salt River Fields he also had an arbitration hearing hanging over his head. 

In other words, there were a lot of different ways Bradley could have gone with his first interview of the spring, and yet, within 15 seconds he was excitedly talking about someone he had never before played with. 

"MadBum, not to put any pressure on him by any means, but as a fan and a teammate, he sets the tone," Bradley said, his eyes lighting up. "He's got a presence around him. I think he has a lot left in the tank. You bring a guy like him in the clubhouse and it sets a presence and it sets a tone."

The Giants, with a new manager and coaching staff, have spent much of the spring focusing on culture. Fifteen minutes up the road, a division rival is counting on a longtime Giants star to help create their own winning culture. 

The Diamondbacks had a fun-loving and competitive team last year, and they'll benefit greatly from the addition of Stephen Vogt, as good a clubhouse guy as there is in the game today. Young players raved about their early interactions with Vogt, who signed a few weeks before Bumgarner did. But the big lefty is the one the Diamondbacks were really looking forward to watching. Much of their staff has grown up watching Bumgarner dominate in the postseason. They believe he can set the direction and lead them back there. 

"He's just a super competitor," 24-year-old lefty Zac Gallen said. "It speaks volumes what he did those three years in the playoffs. He brings a lot of experience, especially in an area that people don't have a lot of experience in. I'm going to try to pick his brain."

Gallen, who had a 2.81 ERA in 15 starts as a rookie, has hoped for a situation like this for a while. He grew up in North Carolina and attended UNC, where he said the coaches still tell stories of recruiting Bumgarner as a teenager and talk about how disappointed they were when he went pro out of high school. Gallen recalled watching Bumgarner snarl and grind against the Diamondbacks late last season even though the Giants were out of the race. 

When Gallen had his exit meeting with general manager Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo, they told him they wanted him to take the next step by watching veterans like Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw. A couple of months later, Gallen found out he would be in the same rotation as Bumgarner. 

"It's a little tougher when they're on the opposing side, but to hear he was coming to this locker room, I was fired up," Gallen said. "I was super pumped. I had a big smile on my face when I heard that news."

Just as the Giants have talked of what Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval can do for their next generation, Diamondbacks execs and coaches have noted that Bumgarner's leadership was part of what made him so appealing and led to a five-year deal. Bumgarner said on his first day in camp that he was ready to take on that role, but that he also wanted to learn from the staff already in place. He forever is tinkering, even after all these years. 

It is potentially one of the best staffs in the National League, with Bumgarner joined by Robbie Ray, Gallen, Luke Weaver, Merrill Kelly and others. The Diamondbacks expect that pitching to help them give the Dodgers a run in the NL West. They have put together a strong roster, one the Giants will get their first look at on Monday at Scottsdale Stadium.

[RELATED: MadBum has rodeo alias, which he used with Giants]

Bumgarner won't face the Giants on Monday and almost certainly won't this spring. He is expected to make his Diamondbacks debut Thursday against the Reds and he said earlier this spring that as in past years he doesn't plan to face any NL West clubs until the season starts. 

Bumgarner hasn't said much about the Giants to this point, but he has spoken to former teammates and stopped by their new facility at least once. Those who have spoken to him say he was disappointed by the lack of contract discussion late last year, and once he got to free agency and met the Diamondbacks, he hit it off with Lovullo and owner Ken Kendrick. 

The Diamondbacks felt strongly enough about the pairing that they gave Bumgarner $85 million. A few hours later Bradley's phone buzzed. He had a text from Bumgarner saying he wanted to win. Months later, Bradley was still buzzing. Bumgarner came up repeatedly as he spoke to reporters for the first time.

"I keep bringing him up because I feel like when he's in the clubhouse, he brings a little rise out of guys," Bradley said. "He's a guy who has won three World Series, he's a World Series MVP and he just competes. That's the one thing about Bum that I've always loved. He doesn't care who you are, he's going to compete. That's what we need here."