It was just a spring game, but there was no wiping the smile off Gabe Kapler’s face last Sunday. Kapler watched his Giants play good, clean baseball and pitch well, and he stood on the second step of the dugout after nine innings and took part in his first handshake line in orange and black.
How many of those are to come during the season? We’ll see. The Giants are optimistic and have had an encouraging camp so far, but they also know there’s a ton of work left to do.
Before they start their second week of spring games, let’s run through some questions from my Instagram followers ...
Between Posey, Belt and Craw, who has the best chance at a resurgence? — @jzandhatt
Of those three, Brandon Belt really does seem to be the most rejuvenated by this new staff, and he’s the one that I think they believe they can get the most out of. He is their ideal hitter in a lot of ways, working counts and putting up high OBP numbers even in down years.
Plus, Belt is fully healthy. I’m not sure fans realized last year just how much that knee was bothering him, but he’s moving well now.
Do you think there are any trades in the works? Longo, Belt, pitching? — @coach_omar67
You know, it has been remarkably quiet from Farhan Zaidi lately. This is a time of year when teams generally settle in and figure out their rosters, although the Giants will probably be busy in about three weeks. Zaidi took advantage of the waiver wire in the days before the opener last season.
Some of that was because the Giants didn’t have a very deep 40-man roster, but they’re still certainly in a position to tinker. Between waiver claims and the fact that there are are so many non-roster invitees with a shot to make the team, this is not a comfortable time for the guys on the fringe of the 40-man.
I know there’s been some speculation since the Yankees lost Luis Severino to Tommy John, but I don’t see the Giants matching up with anyone until closer to the trade deadline. Someone like Jeff Samardzija will have to prove last year is repeatable, and Johnny Cueto needs to show he’s back to being his old self.
Will Joey Bart be the starting catcher at some point this season? — @mr_30twenty9
A lot of fans seem awfully quick to turn the page from Buster Posey, no? Look, I get it. Bart is impressive, from his powerful BP sessions to his advanced defense to the mature way he carries himself. The excitement is warranted, and I’ve said many times that I think he’s going to force his way up to the big leagues this summer.
But ... Posey is still an elite defensive catcher and should be able to recapture some offensive production now that’s he’s further removed from hip surgery. His swing is a lot more fluid than it was a year ago. I don’t think the power is coming back — I’ve always thought that’s more about catching for a decade than the hip — but there’s no reason he can’t hit .300 with a high OBP and a bit more pop.
We’re a year away from having a serious conversation about the starting catcher job.
Is Yaz really going to play center? If so, how much? — @johan_kia
You shouldn’t take too much away from spring training, but I’m a firm believer in watching where guys line up when the starters are doing drills and Mike Yastrzemski has spent a lot of time working in center with Steven Duggar and Billy Hamilton. We’ll see how efficient he is out there, but he’s comfortable and has nearly 2,000 minor league innings in center, so the Giants are confident.
The ceiling for the outfield gets a lot higher if you can stick Yaz in center and platoon in the corners, so the Giants are right to try it. It’s not a long-term solution, but it makes sense for April and the Giants can always carry a better defender on their bench for the late innings.
Speaking of such a player ...
How likely is Billy Hamilton to make the team? Seems more like a luxury, not a need. — @russkent22
Last year, Yangervis Solarte and Gerardo Parra joined the roster late and there was never any doubt they were on the team. Hamilton isn’t quite as locked in, but team officials sure do like to talk about what he can bring during the regular season. I think he has a really good shot, especially with a 26-man roster.
If the Giants go with Hunter Pence and Alex Dickerson in left and plan to play Yastrzemski in center a lot, they’re going to need an elite glove coming off their bench so they can shore up the defense late in games. This is also a coaching staff that put a pinboard up in the clubhouse to honor the best baserunner from each game and Kapler has talked a lot of how important running the bases will be.
There are a lot of reasons for Billy Hamilton to be optimistic.
Do Jerry Blevins and Nick Vincent make the team? — @jaiden_marble
Sometimes I think we overthink these things. Vincent, like Parra and Solarte, signed late last year and didn’t have to pitch much to make the Opening Day roster. I think he’s in a pretty good spot, especially after he put up a 1.93 ERA and 10.9 strikeouts-per-nine for Kapler’s Phillies late last year. The Giants believe his issues with them early last year were health-related.
Blevins is interesting because the three-batter-minimum should hurt him, but Kapler has talked of how teams will still have lefties stacked up. There’s really not a whole lot ahead of him on the roster in terms of lefty relievers, particularly with Tony Watson possibly closing.
I think Blevins and Vincent both make the team.
What is the best case scenario for the Giants this year? — @weinbergjoshua
I suppose you could hope they’re hanging in the Wild Card race through August, but as we saw last year, that can kind of be a nightmare when you’re trying to sell veterans for prospects. Plus, there’s just not much talent compared to the other teams atop the NL West.
Maybe no one in the building will say it out loud but it’s true. The Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Padres just have much better rosters.
So, here’s the best case scenario. A couple of guys like Jaylin Davis and Mauricio Dubon duplicate what Yastrzemski did last year and become building blocks. A strong future pitching staff starts to form behind guys like Tyler Beede and Logan Webb, and some guys settle in and become dominant cost-effective bullpen pieces. Joey Bart arrives. Heliot Ramos takes a leap and Hunter Bishop and Sean Hjelle show they’re nearly ready. Marco Luciano becomes a top-15 prospect in the game and the farm system vaults into the top 10.
Oh, and Kapler shows that he was the right choice. So much was made of the Dodgers incident when Kapler was hired that the Giants kind of skated for hiring a guy who was fired a month earlier. He will be under the microscope when it comes to decision-making.
All of that, to me, is the best case scenario.
Have your thoughts about what this team can accomplish (wins) this year changed? — @atp_andrewp
I am more optimistic about the future than I was a month ago. The coaching staff is really smart and inventive, and I think they’re the right group to get the most out of players. Kapler has won over a lot of players thus far and bench coach Kai Correa has really brought a fresh approach to the organization, along with the others. Go watch the YouTube video of him working with Austin Slater and Kean Wong.
Having said all that, there are major holes on the roster and major question marks about a lot of the key players. Maybe they’ll gut out a few more wins than we thought, but this roster is not ready for much more than what’s projected.
What restaurants do you recommend in Scottsdale? — @omg_arianah
We’re doing another set of Alex Eats videos so spring training is a nice time to keep it healthier. I love Chop Shop and also Farm and Craft. The Mission, Culinary Dropout and Carlsbad Tavern are three of my favorites for dinner, and The Montauk is sneaky-good. Go there for happy hour.
Also there’s a Shake Shack in the mall. That’s really my most important recommendation.