Giants

Giants' Mike Yastrzemski not taking anything for granted after breakout year

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AP

Giants' Mike Yastrzemski not taking anything for granted after breakout year

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants never talked of rebuilding in 2019, preferring instead to put the focus on being competitive as long as possible. But if you asked team officials for their true feelings, the sense was always that this past season was a transition year to 2020 and beyond. 

In that respect, there might not have been a greater development over the course of the season than the emergence of outfielder Mike Yastrzemski. He can be Farhan Zaidi's Northern California version of Chris Taylor or Max Muncy, older prospects who also flourished when given the opportunity to prove that they were everyday big leaguers. 

Yastrzemski isn't looking at it that way, though. 

"I'm trying to take the offseason and understand that there's a lot of work to be done still," Yastrzemski said at the end of his first season. "It's never being satisfied with where you are. You can't take it for granted. It's a time to get healthy and to get stronger and better."

The Giants gladly would take anything more Yastrzemski has to offer because this is a lineup that still has plenty of holes. Yastrzemski was one of just two Giants hitters -- along with Evan Longoria -- to be worth two Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball-Reference. Those also were the only two regulars to finish with an OPS+ that put them above league average as hitters. 

Yastrzemski led the Giants in both categories, which is part of the reason why -- despite what he might say about his offseason approach -- he enters the winter as a locked-in member of the lineup. The 28-year-old tied Kevin Pillar for the team lead in homers, becoming just the fifth big leaguer to do so after making his debut in May or later. He joined Pete Alonso, Yordan Alvarez and Fernando Tatis Jr. as the only rookies to hit 21 homers and post a .850 OPS in 2019. 

[RELATED: Report: Giants do phone interview with Astros coach Espada]

By any measure, it was a breakthrough, and Yastrzemski never slowed. He got really hot in July and matched his .926 OPS that month with another .926 in August. Yastrzemski finished up with a .848 OPS in September and a .376 on-base percentage that was his highest in any 2019 month. 

Yastrzemski said he would take a couple of weeks off to rest his body and mind before getting back at it, and once the work starts, the mindset will be the same as it was in April, when the longtime Orioles prospect was trying to work his way up from Triple-A Sacramento. 

"The only things I can control are what I do this offseason, how I approach it, and how I work," he said. 

Farhan Zaidi knows Buster Posey's backup is big decision for Giants

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AP

Farhan Zaidi knows Buster Posey's backup is big decision for Giants

Joey Bart is not making the Giants' Opening Day roster, no matter how well he does this spring in big league camp. It's simple as that. 

San Francisco's top catching prospect likely will start the season in Triple-A Sacramento. He might be the Giants' most talented catcher behind Buster Posey, but the backup job will have to go to someone else. 

The Giants' battle to be Posey's backup currently consists of 30-year-old Rob Brantly and 28-year-old Tyler Heineman. Both players spent the majority of last season in Triple-A and haven't played many games in the big leagues. That's a huge step down from Stephen Vogt, who had a great season for the Giants last year. 

And Farhan Zaidi knows it. Zaidi, the Giants' president of baseball operations, recently showed belief in the two catchers but made it clear the front office might make another move. 

"That backup catcher role, if you're playing once or twice a week -- having a guy who can give you quality at-bats is really important," Zaidi said Monday on KNBR's "Murph & Mac Show." Both of those guys can do that. 

"They both have legitimate shots, but we also told those guys, 'Hey, we may go out and get somebody else. Either somebody else who's in the competition or maybe even jumps to the front of the line.' So those guys are aware of that, and we'll keep an eye out. We'll keep looking for the best possible option."

With only a handful of spring training games in the book, it seems a move isn't imminent. 

"I don't want to diminish the in-house chances that these guys have to win that job," Zaidi continued. "Again, they're not necessarily the most proven options at the big league level, but we like what we've seen so far." 

[RELATED: Bochy praises Bart, will have large role in minor leagues]

Posey caught 101 games last season, and 88 the year before. He still is one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, but as he turns 33 years old in one month, manager Gabe Kapler would be wise to limit Posey's innings behind the plate. Quietly, backup catcher is one of the most important positions on the Giants. 

Bart, meanwhile, is expected to be in San Francisco at some point this season. That won't be right away, though. Either Brantly or Heineman figure to be on the roster next month. That is, unless the Giants make a move. 

Help eventually is on the way, but the Giants have a big decision to make in order to get the best out of Posey and the rest of their roster right now.

Giants excited to see Yolmer Sanchez's revamped swing, fun celebration

Giants excited to see Yolmer Sanchez's revamped swing, fun celebration

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When Derek Holland was designated for assignment last July, the Giants lost their best celebration. Holland’s water jug became a staple of walk-off wins, so much so that a couple of teammates grabbed jugs to cap the walk-offs that occurred after Holland had been let go. 

This year’s team will have a new set of signals and celebrations, and the Giants have a new infielder who seems well-positioned to earn fan-favorite status. Yolmer Sanchez takes walk-off wins to a different level:

Sanchez said he started dousing himself because he simply likes to have fun, and he pointed out that you never know how long your big league career will last. You have to make the most of it. 

“I try to enjoy my time and enjoy everything that we do as a group,” he said. “I did it and the fans liked it so I continued to do it.”

The Giants are hoping Sanchez is doing more than just celebrating big hits. They are confident in his bat and the adjustments he’s making, and they’re counting on him to add production to the infield. 

Sanchez won a Gold Glove at second base last year -- he said his goal is to repeat and also win the Platinum Glove given to the league’s best defender -- and the Giants already have seen his slick feet and quick hands in action this spring. But they were more encouraged by what they saw in an early live BP session, when he pulled a homer comfortably over the wall. 

“That was kind of cool to see him square up a fastball and be on time with his swing and drive the ball to the air on the pull side,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “One thing we always know about Yolmer is his defense is always going to be there, so to the degree that some of those swing changes can take effect, we see him as being a really impactful player for us.”

Like most in camp, Sanchez is making subtle changes with a new Giants hitting coach. But his version of the story has a twist. He started working with hitting coach Justin Viele earlier this offseason when Sanchez was still with the White Sox and Viele was a minor league coach for the Dodgers. The two have reunited at Scottsdale Stadium, continuing to work on a new swing path that ideally will have Sanchez hitting more balls up the middle and to the gaps.

“I think that’s one of the things that was exciting about coming here,” Sanchez said of Viele. “He knows what I can do. If I feel good, if I feel comfortable, I believe in my talent and I believe I can do way better than last year, and I’m going to prove it.”

The 2019 numbers were low enough that the White Sox, who spent heavily over the offseason, non-tendered one of the league’s better defenders. Sanchez had a .638 OPS and just two homers, and his OPS+ was below league average for the sixth consecutive season.

But the Giants see some stretches in Sanchez’s past that could make him a good fit for their infield. He had a .738 OPS against lefties last year and was at .724 with eight homers the year before against righties. If the switch-hitter swings that way from either side, he would fit the platoon-heavy roster. 

Regardless, the glove work is so elite that Sanchez has been worth 8.2 WAR over the past three seasons. That should put him in the middle infield mix with Brandon Crawford, Mauricio Dubon, Wilmer Flores and Donovan Solano.

[RELATED: Bochy praises Bart, will have large role in minor leagues]

Sanchez turned down big league offers to come to San Francisco as a non-roster invitee. He’s hoping to win an everyday job and provide some production for the lineup, but if he’s in the dugout when the winning run is scored, Sanchez will be ready to contribute in a far funnier way. He smiled when asked if the Gatorade dumps will make a comeback. 

“We’ll see, that’s something that I don’t practice,” Sanchez said. “But I think at the right moment, I will do it, yeah.”