Giants

Giants roster breakdown: Familiar names could get pushed by additions

Giants roster breakdown: Familiar names could get pushed by additions

The Giants took the field Sunday afternoon for infield drills, and for a second all looked normal. Well, kind of.

Evan Longoria was at third base, Brandon Crawford was at short, Donovan Solano was at second -- and Gabe Kapler was scooping balls at first base. It was an interesting sight, but Kapler was just helping out as Brandon Belt stood about 15 yards away working on gloving balls hit between first and second.

Move Belt over a few feet and you have the potential starting infield. The Giants are more set here than anywhere else, but they still will have plenty of variations when it comes to their infield. Belt could cede time to right-handed hitters. Solano will be joined at second by Mauricio Dubon, Yolmer Sanchez and Wilmer Flores. Crawford could find himself splitting time with a right-handed hitter, and Longoria could give plenty of starts up to left-handed bats.

The Giants have a lot of options. They also have a lot of infielders who seem locked onto the roster. Here's a rundown:

The Ones You Know

Belt is looking at his 10th consecutive Opening Day in the Giants lineup and Crawford his ninth. This is their first year under Kapler, though, and that could mean a key change. With a new regime fully in place, the Giants are going all-in on platoons. Both Brandons have had years when they've handled lefties well, but last year Belt had a .664 OPS against them and Crawford was at .598. That won't fly under Farhan Zaidi, Scott Harris and Kapler. Belt could lose starts to Wilmer Flores and Darin Ruf, and Crawford has Mauricio Dubon looming. It's a division with a lot of lefty starters, so it'll be interesting to see just how far the Giants go with splitting time.

Longoria could be in the same situation. He hit 14 homers against righties last year but had just a .303 OBP and .419 slugging percentage. Pablo Sandoval is fully healed from Tommy John surgery and could soak up some of those at-bats. Over the weekend, Sandoval became the most talked-about player in camp. He appears to have put on weight since the spring, but Kapler downplayed any concern Sunday.

"In this particular case, what we've all noticed about Pablo is that the ball is jumping off his bat, that his throws have nice carry," Kapler said. "He's demonstrated that he's healthy. That's the most important thing. Look, he's not going to bat leadoff for us (but) the expectation with Pablo Sandoval is he slugs, he drives the baseball, he's a good DH candidate for us, he's got nice soft hands. All of those things are present in camp and those are the things we're going to be focusing on."

Solano hit a very under-the-radar .330 last year and seems headed for more starts at second base, where Dubon ended last year as the potential long-term starter. Now, the Giants want to use Dubon all over the field. He's the best shortstop of the right-handed-hitting second basemen, so he could play a lot there against lefties. Dubon also looks like a good bet to get plenty of starts in center field.

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

The Newcomers

In early March, it looked like Sanchez vs. Solano could be a tough roster decision, but the Giants now can carry both, with the Gold Glove-winning Sanchez a nice piece on a roster that values versatility. He switch-hits and has a lot of big league experience at third base, with the ability to play short, too. Sanchez was just 3-for-26 this spring, but the Giants restructured his deal last weekend to keep him on the roster, and all indications are that he'll be at Dodger Stadium on Opening Day.

Flores became the first player to sign a multi-year deal with the Giants under Zaidi after posting a .317/.361/.487 slash line with the Arizona Diamondbacks last year. He's not a good defender, but he can play second and first, and he looms as a potential platoon partner with Belt. Flores' experience should also make him a nice pinch-hit option for Kapler late in games.

The Sleeper

Look, we've all seen older hitters come into Giants camp and have a huge spring, only to bust once the season started. Remember Chris Marrero?

Ruf was 12-for-28 in the Cactus League with three homers, five doubles and a triple, and he ironically has been helped by the long layoff. While the non-roster invitee waited for this all to get sorted out, MLB added a DH and four more roster spots, making Ruf a near-lock for the opener because of a very specific skill. The 33-year-old has a .921 career OPS against lefties (for comparison's sake, Pete Alonso was at .941 in his magical rookie year) and Zaidi and Kapler have talked him up as a DH option.

Kapler brought up Ruf on Sunday when talking about the day's standouts, saying he had nice at-bats against lefty Andrew Suarez. He later said he wants Ruf to get comfortable at first base and in the outfield. If he hits lefties as he did in Philadelphia for so many years, Ruf could get a lot of at-bats.

The Depth

Abiatal Avelino and Zach Green would have started this season with Triple-A Sacramento and now likely will spend their summer up there as injury replacements. Both have big league experience, but they're still younger than you'd think; Green is 26 and Avelino is 25. There's time for each to still carve out a big league role at some point.

Green is particularly intriguing. He hit 25 homers in 252 at-bats in Triple-A last year and only an injury kept him from seeing time in the big leagues down the stretch. He was right there with Ruf this spring, going 7-for-16 with three homers. 

[RELATED: Cueto, Samardzija lead experienced rotation]

The Future

Over the holiday weekend, the Giants added Luis Toribio and Will Wilson to their player pool. Toribio is a sweet-swinging lefty who plays third base and posted a .433 OBP in his first full minor league season. The Giants chose Hunter Bishop over Wilson last year in the first round, then scooped up the latter in December by taking on the Zack Cozart contract from the Los Angeles Angels. Maybe they would have felt differently had they known Cozart's salary would be so out of whack this year, but they're still thrilled to have Wilson, who is in camp with college teammate Patrick Bailey.

The final infielder in camp might be the most exciting player in the whole organization. Marco Luciano is just 18, but after posting a .302/.417/.564 slash line in rookie ball he stands as a top 20 prospect in all of baseball. You'll find evaluators who think Luciano will be a top-five prospect next spring.

Luciano will spend his season working on his game in Sacramento, but he's apparently making the most of a couple of weeks at Oracle Park. Someone who was at the early workout (media wasn't allowed) Sunday told me Luciano put on a show in BP, prompting a couple of older players to ask who the guy in the batter's box was. Bench coach Kai Correa confirmed that the display was electric:

Why Giants' Gabe Kapler pulled Kevin Gausman after 80 pitches vs. Dodgers

Why Giants' Gabe Kapler pulled Kevin Gausman after 80 pitches vs. Dodgers

The Giants coaching staff spent weeks preparing for the opening series against the Dodgers, and while some of the pitching decisions looked strange at the time, there's no doubt that overall they worked. The Giants came out with a split, a great result for any team that visits Dodger Stadium these days. 

The second time through called for a bit more spontaneity, coming in the middle of a tough three-city trip. For the second straight night, a decision made when a starting pitcher was nearing the end of his leash backfired. This time it cost the Giants the game and a chance at a series win. 

On Saturday night, Johnny Cueto was allowed to extend to 93 pitches, but a three-run homer on his last one nearly proved costly. A day later, Kevin Gausman was pulled after just 80 pitches, and he watched from the dugout as Tyler Rogers gave up a three-run homer, blowing the lead in a game the Giants would go on to lose 6-2. 

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Gausman had an outstanding fastball going on an 82-degree afternoon, averaging 97 mph for the first time in four years and hitting 99 mph several times. His final pitch was his hardest of the day, a 99.3 mph heater that Cody Bellinger redirected into center field for a one-out single. Kapler came out and held up his right hand as he got to the mound. 

"I think it was just a hot day, seventh time up, third time through the toughest part of the order," Kapler said of the decision. "He had done a tremendous job. He had carried his stuff into that inning, he had carried his location into that inning, and it just felt like the right time to keep him healthy and strong and safe all the way through the season based on getting into the seventh for the first time. 

"At the same time we had a reliever ready who we felt confident could get us a groundball with a runner on first base and get us out of that inning."

Rogers gave up a single to Justin Turner and then struck out Max Muncy. He was on the verge of getting out of the inning, but he grooved a 3-2 curveball to A.J. Pollock and it sailed into the empty bleachers in left. 

Rogers had pitched two strong innings the night before, and the Giants feel he's someone who can bounce back. But the Dodgers were seeing Rogers for the fifth time in 17 days. Pollock had faced him a night earlier and flown out on a curveball. 

[RELATED: What you might've missed as Giants blow lead vs. Dodgers]

Kapler disagreed with the notion that the novelty had worn off when it came to the submariner. 

"I think it's not just novelty with Rog, it's the ability to throw strikes with two pitches that are unusual. It's an unusual look. He can attack the strike zone with those two pitches and they're actually just flat-out good pitches," Kapler said. "Pollock made a nice adjustment, got to two strikes and two outs, and he was able to elevate the ball."

The blast cost Gausman a win on a day when he became the first Giants starter to record a quality start this season. Gausman gave up just three hits in 6 1/3 innings and struck out six. He made a sour face as he came off the field and threw his gum, and said later that he would have liked an opportunity to finish the seventh. 

"I definitely felt like I had more in the tank. My limit is not 80 pitches, but Kap's job is to make those decisions. That's his job description," Gausman said. "I'm not the one that's calling down to the bullpen and getting guys loose, that type of thing. Obviously I thought I pitched well enough to warrant getting a couple more guys out, but we're trying to win the series and it's a hot day. Maybe those were factors in his decision."

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 6-2 loss vs. Dodgers

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 6-2 loss vs. Dodgers

BOX SCORE

Kevin Gausman had the best start of the year by a Giant, and one of the most dominant we've seen from any starter early on this season. But it wasn't enough for the Giants, who dropped a heartbreaker in the late innings and lost a series at Dodger Stadium.

Gausman was sitting in the upper 90s all afternoon but was pulled after just 80 pitches. He watched as Tyler Rogers gave up a three-run homer to A.J. Pollock and the Los Angeles Dodgers got another blast later from Mookie Betts, walking away with a 6-2 win. 

The Giants fell to 2-5 on this road trip with three games coming up against the Astros. Here are three things to know from one that truly hurt ... 

Made of quality

The bar to clear for a quality start -- six innings, three earned runs -- is not a high one, but the Giants had not had one through 16 games, which is pretty remarkable. Gausman sailed past that mark in his fourth appearance as a Giant, but took a brutal no-decision. The right-hander left with a 2-0 lead and a runner on first in the seventh. A few minutes later, the Giants trailed. 

What was so notable about Gausman is how he did it. He was throwing gas, hitting 99 mph three times -- including 99.3 on his final pitch -- and averaging 97 with his four-seamer. That was his best average fastball since 2016. The final pitch was his hardest since June 9, 2018.

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Maybe pump the brakes a little?

Rogers had a huge spring and was just as sharp in the second camp, but manager Gabe Kapler might be playing that card a bit too often. To be fair, Kapler doesn't have a lot of great bullpen options, but Rogers' appearance Sunday was his fifth against the Dodgers in 17 days, and even pitching two innings in Saturday's win.

At some point, that submarine delivery isn't as much of a surprise, and Pollock swung the score with a three-run shot on a hanging curveball. One pitch earlier, Pollock had walked a few steps toward first, thinking he had walked on an inside pitch. 

[RELATED: MadBum struggles again while Gausman shines for Giants]

Not slowing down

Mike Yastrzemski provided the offense, driving a two-run single into center off former Vanderbilt teammate Walker Buehler. Yastrzemski is eighth in the NL with 12 RBI, and one of the players he trails is a teammate, Donovan Solano (14).

Solano extended his hitting streak with a two-out single in the eighth inning. This was not a barrel for Donnie Barrels. He hit a slow roller to third with a launch angle of negative 46 degrees, exit velocity of 55 mph and hit probability of 17 percent, but it died on the grass and Solano easily beat Justin Turner's throw to first. 

The 14-game hitting streak is the longest by a Giant since Angel Pagan went 19 games in 2016. 

Those were the only two hits of the day for the Giants.