Giants

Giants prospect Sean Hjelle shines, lights up radar gun in spring debut

Giants prospect Sean Hjelle shines, lights up radar gun in spring debut

MESA, Ariz. -- With the Giants nursing a one-run lead in the eighth inning Sunday, manager Gabe Kapler called right-handed prospect Luis Madero into the game. As Madero faced the A's, Sean Hjelle started warming up in the bullpen. Kapler saw Hjelle getting loose and called down to make sure he knew he was getting the ninth, not part of the eighth. 

"He was the one pitcher today who got loose before we told him to get loose," Kapler said, smiling. 

The 22-year-old, picked one round after Joey Bart in the 2018 draft, was excited to make his spring debut for the big league club and hid any butterflies. Hjelle is known for standing 6-foot-11 and having uncanny command and body control for a pitcher that size. But he came out throwing 95 mph and bumped 96 in a perfect inning, closing out a 5-3 win that clinched Kapler's first handshake line in orange and black. 

"As much as we're excited by his stuff, we're also excited by him pounding the strike zone," Kapler said. "That's certainly encouraging to see him come out there in this situation, certainly a nerve-wracking situation, and fill up the zone with his fastball."

Hjelle, the organization's top pitching prospect, reached Double-A last season and could debut this year. It was one inning and he was amped up, but the ceiling certainly will get a bit higher if he's sitting 95 in the future instead of the low 90s. The Giants always have felt there was more velocity in that massive frame. 

Here are four more observations from the first 18 innings of the Kapler Era ... 

--- There was a new whiteboard up in the clubhouse this morning with a bunch of circles and a spot for each game this spring. A photo of a beaming Austin Slater was glued inside the first circle, making him the "baserunning BOSS" from Saturday's game. The Giants have put a heavy emphasis on leads and turns this spring and the new staff has identified that as one area they can gain an edge. One player will be recognized after every game. 

We'll see if it works. This isn't a roster with much speed, but guys were aggressive Sunday and it led to a couple runs. Kapler credited first base coach Antoan Richardson for his work thus far. 

"We really want them to push the envelope," he said. 

--- Kapler has been hesitant to offer many public criticisms, but when asked about Derek Rodriguez the other day, he immediately mentioned that the staff needed to see more velocity from the starter/reliever heading into his third season. Rodriguez's average fastball dropped from 91.6 to 90.7 year over year. Rodriguez pumped a few 93s in his first inning of the spring and generally sat at 92, a positive sign this early.

"The first day of the spring, I'm happy about that," he said. 

Rodriguez said he took just two weeks off in the offseason -- to plan for his wedding -- and then got to work on mechanical changes. He made three Winter League starts and was encouraged by how he felt there. 

--- When Max Muncy came up early in Saturday's game, Evan Longoria shifted over to the right side but he didn't stand where he would last year. Longoria played kind of behind the first baseman, with Donovan Solano playing up the middle behind the bag. Last year the Giants had Longoria shift over between the second baseman and shortstop; this year he's between the second baseman and first baseman. It makes a lot more sense this way, allowing the actual second baseman to stay close to the bag where he might have to make a turn.

[RELATED: How might the Giants use 26th roster spot?]

--- Some early standouts, aside from Mauricio Dubon and Joey Bart, who homered Saturday: Matt Carasiti, a non-roster invite who struck out the side in his lone inning and got A.J. Pollock and Kiké Hernandez ... Abiatal Avelino, who hit a laser onto the berm in left on Sunday ... Kean Wong, who had two hits and showed his speed ... Finally, Rob Brantly, who has brought constant energy to camp and capped Sunday's game by yelling "Never in doubt!" as the Giants celebrated a spring win. Every team needs a quirky backup catcher, right? 

How D-backs' Madison Bumgarner would've done vs. Giants per simulation

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USATSI

How D-backs' Madison Bumgarner would've done vs. Giants per simulation

Giants fans missed out on seeing Mason Saunders Madison Bumgarner pitch against his former team Tuesday, as the MLB season's suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic delayed what was scheduled to be Bumgarner's first career start against San Francisco.

They didn't miss much, according to Strat-O-Matic's 2020 season simulation.

Bugmarner pitched a gem against his old club, winning for the first time with his new one while the Giants fell to 0-5 in Strat-o-Matic's sim. The lefty struck out 10 in 7 innings, allowing six hits and walking just two.

"When he reached 10 strikeouts, the fans showed him their appreciation with a loud cheer," Strat-O-Matic's write-up said D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said after the game.

Bumgarner pitched for the Giants for parts of 11 seasons, winning three World Series and earning four consecutive All-Star nods from 2013 through 2016. He signed a five-year contract with the Diamondbacks in December.

How have the Giants gotten off to such a poor start sans Bumgarner in the simulation? Strat-O-Matic head of operations and director of research Len Schwartz told Newsday last week that the company is creating its player cards each day for the simulation, utilizing an algorithm including "projections and recent performance."

Losing all five games to start a season literally is, at least in terms of wins and losses, a worst-case scenario, but well within the Giants' expected range of outcomes this season. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections pegged the Giants as about a 94-loss team, while FanGraphs had San Francisco losing 91 games. Either, surely, would have included a few five-game losing streaks.

[RELATED: Crawford creates Giants fan favorites bracket]

Whether Bumgarner dominates the Giants when baseball resumes -- and, when baseball resumes -- remains to be seen due to the spread of COVID-19.

MLB and the players association agreed to a wider deal last week that reportedly included the provisions that the season won't resume until it is deemed medically safe to do so and there are no outstanding bans on travel or mass gatherings.

Former Giants Shawn Estes explains how starters can stay ready during break

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NBCSBA

Former Giants Shawn Estes explains how starters can stay ready during break

Every day seems to bring a new round of terrifying updates regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, and as baseball players sit home and digest the news, they have no idea when they'll be able to play again. But they're staying ready, as many have made clear on their social media pages. 

Evan Longoria recently posted a video of a session in his indoor batting cage and Mauricio Dubon has been working out on his balcony. Dereck Rodriguez's wife posted a clip of a portable pitching mound the right-hander now has. 

The starting pitchers are the ones who have the most work to do right now, and a former Giants starter gave his suggestions on how to stay ready on this week's episode of The Giants Insider Podcast. Shawn Estes, who pitched in the big leagues for 13 years and now is an analyst for NBC Sports Bay Area, said starters should try to replicate their normal routine as much as they can given what they're working with. 

"I would try to keep it as a starting pitcher as close to (my) every-five-day routine," Estes said. "You can still go out and get your cardio in, you can get your lifting in, you can throw a bullpen if you have that opportunity ... On your fifth day go out there and kind of do a simulated game, obviously without hitters there. Throw to a catcher and sit down, and I would probably do that for 80 pitches. 

"You know there's still going to be at worst a three-week spring training that you can actually get your arm ready to throw 100 pitches. I wouldn't overdo it until they announce that there's going to be a spring training but I would try to be at 80 pitches if at all possible. I would try to keep it as close to my five-day routine as I could."

Giants starters were getting into that range just as camp was shut down. If there is a season, the biggest baseball issue for teams will be making sure pitchers are ready to restart and throw at least four to five innings right away without getting hurt. Rosters are sure to be expanded to add coverage, but starting pitchers will still carry a heavier load than others, and they won't have a six-week spring training to ramp back up. Some on other teams have posted clips where they've thrown to catchers recently, although those guidelines may soon be changed. 

Estes talked about what a spring training might look like on the podcast and also touched on how a shortened season might help the Giants, the current vibe in his hometown of Scottsdale, and the possibility of pitchers getting hurt. You can stream the podcast here or download it on iTunes here.