Giants Mailbag: Which veteran players have best chance at resurgence?

Giants Mailbag: Which veteran players have best chance at resurgence?

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.

[RELATED: Kapler deems "misunderstanding" with Crawford as "bulls--t"]

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. 

Giants add four more to player pool, including two top infield prospects

Giants add four more to player pool, including two top infield prospects

It was a poorly kept secret that catcher Chadwick Tromp and shortstop Will Wilson would be part of the Giants' 60-man player pool. Both had posted on social media this week that they were in San Francisco. 

The Giants officially added both Saturday morning, along with two of their more intriguing prospects: Luis Toribio and Camilo Doval. Their pool is at 56, leaving three more spots with the likelihood that Hunter Bishop also gets added once he recovers from the coronavirus.

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Toribio, a 19-year-old third baseman, becomes one of the youngest players in a big league camp this summer. Signed out of the Dominican Republic, he has a .282/.428/.467 slash line in 118 games but has not played above rookie ball yet. He likely would have started this season at Low-A Augusta. 

Wilson already is somewhat known by Giants fans because he came over in a December trade, when the Giants took on Zack Cozart's $12.6 million -- now their most expensive contract -- to get a player they had considered taking with the 10th overall pick last June. Wilson had a .768 OPS in 46 games after getting drafted by the Los Angeles Angels last year. He joins former North Carolina State teammate Patrick Bailey in camp. 

Doval is an intriguing addition, and he was officially added on his 23rd birthday. He has a fastball that has reached triple digits and has averaged nearly 13 strikeouts-per-nine in the minors. Doval was in San Jose last season, and he's the type who should move quickly through the organization as a hard-throwing reliever.

Tromp was in big league camp this spring and gives the Giants additional catching depth. He put up good OBP numbers in the Cincinnati Reds' system before the Giants added him as a minor league free agent. 

[RELATED: A running diary of Giants' first day back at Oracle Park]

Toribio is the organization's No. 6 prospect per Baseball America, and No. 7 according to MLB Pipeline. Wilson is ranked in the top 12 on both lists.

With the addition of Toribio and the possibility of Bishop being added, the Giants would have much of their top 10 in camp. Alexander Canario, Luis Matos, Sean Hjelle and Seth Corry stand out as prospects still waiting for the call. 

Giants return to Oracle Park, embrace 'new norm' on first day of camp

Giants return to Oracle Park, embrace 'new norm' on first day of camp

The first nerve-wracking moment came at home, soon after I had finished my coffee. For the first time this season, reporters were allowed at Oracle Park, and that meant wearing a real outfit. 

No more writing from the couch in Lululemon sweats or basketball shorts. The ballpark requires real pants, a test that thankfully was passed.

As for the rest of the day? Well, it was weird. Good, but weird.

The general consensus among reporters was that it was great to be back at the ballpark, watching players and discussing actual baseball, not labor wars or health possibilities. But there's no getting around how different everything is right now. 

A team official was driving into the Oracle Park lot Friday morning when he suddenly hit the brakes. He reached down and grabbed a mask, putting it on before being around other team employees. There were masks everywhere Friday, and that was a huge positive. The Giants are taking this extremely seriously, as they must. They worked out in three different groups, with an equal split of pitchers and position players in each. They used both clubhouses to dress. Players elbow-bumped manager Gabe Kapler as they walked in, keeping their distance. 

In the three hours I was there, I didn't see anything that looked at all reckless. The Giants are trying to embrace their new normal.

"I think we need to stop kind of holding onto the past and understand what the new norm is and adjust to that new norm," pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. "Until we're told differently that's the way it's going to be. I think you have to put all the excuses aside and do what you need to do."

Everyone involved did that Friday, from players, coaches and staffers, to the media and the PR employees running the show, to the security guards stationed all over the yard. It was a weird day, but a positive start. Here's a running diary of it all from a beat writer's perspective (there's a picture version on my Instagram, which is linked above):

10:45 a.m. -- While waiting in line on the Embarcadero, I scan a QR code held up by a team employee and my phone loads a health questionnaire. This is the first step toward getting into the park every day. Later, as I walk through the gate, a security guard checks to make sure there were no red flags in my answers.  

11:03 -- A Giants employee drives past reporters on a golf cart, the back full of packages. He's trying to figure out where to go because his usual gate is closed. There were a few team employees who got lost because so many traditional walkways and doors are now blocked off to limit how many areas have to be cleaned. (By the way, this probably is not the season to send cards and balls to the ballpark hoping for a signature.)

11:07 -- I sign a waiver and get my daily credential. A hand sanitizer station is a couple of feet away from all of that. I've been covering the Giants full-time since 2012 and for the first time, I enter through the Second Street Gate. This is the media entrance this year, and my temperature is taken as my bag is checked. That's part of the daily routine for everyone entering the park. 

11:10 -- After walking up a few ramps I see the field for the first time and immediately hear Flo Rida's "My House." It's somewhat comforting to know that even in a year where the whole world has changed, baseball players still go back to their staples for workout music. 

11:24 -- As we all walk to the press box -- which now has seats that are more than six feet apart from others and an auxiliary area in the stands -- I stop to take a picture of a group heading from the cages to the clubhouse. You can see the Brandons, Evan Longoria, Donovan Solano ... uhh, I think also Joey Rickard and a couple other guys? It becomes apparent that it's going to be harder than ever to identify players doing drills far from the press box. 

12:00 p.m. -- Reporters are taken out to Triples Alley to get a better view -- and some sun! We get a good look at the scoreboard, where Kai Correa's daily schedule has moved from clubhouse TVs to a $10 million screen. There are cages in the left-field corner and also Triples Alley. The Giants might run drills in all three corners of the park at some point to maximize space. 

12:05 -- A group of relievers comes out to play catch. They're all wearing masks while walking, although they are taken off as they throw and run sprints. 

12:34 -- Ron Wotus meets with some coaches in center field, which answers one question that reporters have had. Some older coaches in other camps have been told they can't work on the field because of health concerns, but the 59-year-old Wotus looked to have no restrictions. Kapler said Wotus and Correa briefed the team during a Zoom call Thursday to go over how they're going to handle drills in a new environment. 

12:45 -- Pablo Sandoval arrives and brings his trademark energy as he crosses the field. The Giants will have to figure out a new way to celebrate with high-fives and hugs banned. Brandon Crawford said he's confident Sandoval and Hunter Pence will come up with creative solutions. 

12:55 -- In the concourse behind the press box, a security officer starts chasing after two guys walking up a ramp. They're not allowed to be there, he yells. Turns out the two are high-ranking members of the front office who are headed back from the field. I'm telling you, security is TIGHT. 

1:05 -- Samardzija becomes the first Giant to hold a Zoom press conference. He sits in front of a black tarp with an amused look on his face as reporters try to unmute themselves to ask questions. One asks him which habit is going to be the hardest to break.

"The spitting is going to be tough," he said. "When you're working and you're athletic, everyone knows there's a film that builds up in your mouth. That'll be tough, but again it's nothing that's hard. For some guys, it will be tough to not lick your fingers."

MLB is allowing pitchers to carry a wet rag to the mound to help with moisture.

"Water doesn't really help anyway," Samardzija said, smiling. 

Later, he drops a hell of a quote when asked about playing in front of fans. 

1:35 -- Crawford follows Samardzija on the call. 

"It definitely didn't feel like a normal day at the ballpark," he said. "I guess I'm used to this because I've been working out down at Scottsdale Stadium. This is kind of the schedule we had been working with down there in small groups, down there it was groups of four players at a time, throwing, hitting, running and taking groundballs. Basically what we did today other than groundballs."

Crawford confirms that the ban on spitting is going to take some getting used to.

"After we were running, that's something me and Longo and Belt were all talking about," he said. "We all kind of wanted to but we had to hold it back."

1:57 -- As I walk out of the park, I see some players from the second group heading down the street back to their hotel. They look like they've had a normal day, although there were other adjustments behind the scenes. Some found out Friday that while showering is allowed, you have to bring your own soap to the ballpark. Wall dispensers that were shared by multiple people are all a thing of the past. 

4:05 -- Kapler does his usual press conference by getting on Zoom from his office. He's wearing a mask still because other players and coaches are around the clubhouse. 

Kapler informs the media that Luis Madero has tested positive for COVID-19 and that Buster Posey missed the day for personal reasons. He says Tony Watson, who was said to be a little behind others because of spring shoulder tightness, "looked great."

[RELATED: MLB virus test results show importance of Giants' measures]

The day was unlike anything Kapler has gone through in his career, but he was happy with how it went. 

"One of the things that we asked of our players is to be flexible and understand that this camp is not going to be perfect because we don't really have any precedent for what we're all experiencing," he said. "It was much different than anything I've ever experienced, and at the same time, there was a lot of excitement about stepping on the field. It was a beautiful day at the ballpark. I think everybody was really genuinely happy to be there. We got a lot of good work done."