Giants

Giants roster breakdown: Six catchers in camp, two fighting for job

Giants roster breakdown: Six catchers in camp, two fighting for job

On March 11, the Giants left Scottsdale Stadium and headed west, driving about an hour for an exhibition with the Texas Rangers on the other side of the valley. They won 6-4. Before heading for a scheduled day off, manager Gabe Kapler announced that Johnny Cueto would be his Opening Day starter at Dodger Stadium.

Sixteen weeks and two days later, the Giants will get back together. Camp restarts Friday at Oracle Park, with players coming through in waves and practicing social distancing. 

It's been well over 100 days since the last official workout, but the Giants will try to pick up where they left off. This week we'll take a look at their position groups, giving a reminder of which players were in camp, which ones are joining, and which ones are fighting for jobs. Up first, the catchers:

Buster Posey

A full year-and-a-half removed from hip surgery, Posye looked strong this spring, and Giants people were excited about the possibility of some of his old production returning. It's hard to know what 60 games will mean for him, though. 

Kapler can give Posey plenty of DH days to try and keep him fresh, but with the Giants viewing themselves as being in contention, they're going to want Posey behind the plate as much as possible, guiding a pitching staff that won't have a true rotation. 

Posey turned 33 during the hiatus, but perhaps he'll be energized by a 60-game sprint. Years ago he got used to catching every pitch of the postseason, knowing he could rest in November. He should be able to push himself this year without having to worry about catching 110-115 games. 

If the Giants truly are going to stay in the race, they really could use a bounceback. Last year Posey had an OPS of just .688 and he has just 12 homers the past two seasons. 

Rob Brantly

Brantly played just one game last year for Kapler's Phillies. He followed Kapler to San Francisco and will compete with the next player on this list to be Posey's backup. Brantly has experience in that role, having played 126 MLB games since 2012. 

His best season was his first, when he hit .290 with three homers and eight doubles in 100 at-bats. A left-handed hitter, Brantly had a .404 OPB last season in Triple-A for the Phillies. 

The Giants plan to carry two catchers on their initial 30-man roster, with the possibility that a third could travel as part of a three-player taxi squad (one of the three players has to be a catcher). It seems likely that Brantly and Tyler Heineman will take those two spots in some order. 

Tyler Heineman

Like Brantly, Heineman is a non-roster invitee who could provide balance behind the plate. The 29-year-old is a switch-hitter and made his debut last season, going 3-for-11 for the Miami Marlins. 

Heineman spent most of last year at Triple-A for the Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks, and he put up strong numbers. In 73 games he hit .336 with a .400 OBP and 13 homers, which tied his career-high. 

Like Brantly, Heineman didn't get very many at-bats (16) before spring training shut down. This is one of those where you figure Farhan Zaidi, Scott Harris and Kapler have a pretty good idea of who the front-runner is to back up Posey, but Heineman and Brantly will have another three weeks to state their case. 

Joey Bart

The most dangerous catcher at the plate this spring was the 23-year-old who was taken second overall in 2018. Bart had seven hits in 16 Cactus League at-bats, including two homers and a double. He was sent to minor league camp just before the coronavirus shut things down, and the plan was for him to spend the start of the year in Triple-A. 

Bart was a near-lock to debut at some point this season, and while the Giants don't have him in their Opening Day plans, he still could find his way onto the roster in a couple of ways. There are going to be injuries and -- unfortunately -- players who test positive for COVID-19, and Bart should be the next man up after Posey, Brantly and Heineman. If the Giants get off to a rough start, it's also possible they decide to give Bart a cameo in September in preparation for 2021. 

In the meantime, here's a video of what Bart in the big leagues might look like: 

Chadwick Tromp

A non-roster invitee this spring, Tromp was not on the initial player pool list the Giants released, but nobody leaves Aruba just for fun: 

Tromp is 25 and it's rare that catchers reach minor league free agency that young, so the Giants were happy to add him as organizational depth in the offseason. He dealt with some injuries as a Cincinnati Reds prospect but had a .286/.389/.610 slash line in 26 Triple-A games last season. 

Tromp was going to provide depth in the upper levels of the minors this season. Now he figures to spend most of the next three months in Sacramento, where the Giants will play intrasquad games and three young catchers will be counted on to help keep veteran pitchers sharp. 

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Patrick Bailey

The Giants announced Wednesday afternoon that they have signed their first-round pick out of North Carolina State. Earlier in the day, MLB.com reported that Bailey would be part of the player pool.

There's been no official word from the Giants, but it makes a ton of sense for Bailey, now one of the organization's top five prospects, to work out all summer with big leaguers. In an odd way, Bailey might be in a better spot than normal top draftees. 

Bart got 181 at-bats for Salem-Keizer in 2018 and Hunter Bishop got 85 last year. Bailey will miss out on those reps, but he'll also get to spend some time at Oracle Park with the big league club and then two months in Sacramento, where he can potentially get intrasquad at-bats against established big league pitchers instead of 19-year-olds. The Giants also can immediately begin work on his swing and his receiving. 

This should set Bailey up to begin next year with High-A San Jose and try to follow Bart's path of reaching Double-A in his first full season. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Jeff Samardzija's rough start to season displayed by stat, odd moment

Jeff Samardzija's rough start to season displayed by stat, odd moment

There's a stunning stat from Jeff Samardzija's first three starts that shows how much he's struggling right now, but perhaps in this case all you need is an exchange from the Giants' loss Friday night. 

When Samardzija grazed Dodgers utility man Kiké Hernandez to load the bases in the fifth inning, Hernandez insisted over and over again to the home plate umpire that he had not been hit by the pitch. It was a strange sight, and the Giants even challenged the call -- with no luck -- to try to send Hernandez back to the box, but it seems that it's not a good sign that he wanted to be there in the first place. 

The Dodgers were remarkably comfortable against Samardzija, who is coming off a solid year but has had a nightmare start to 2020. In a 7-2 win over the Giants, they were quiet the first time through the order, then busted out for three homers the second time through. 

Samardzija walked off the mound in the fifth with the bases loaded. For the third time in three starts, he was charged with five earned runs. 

"I think he had a little bit of a lack of fastball command," manager Gabe Kapler said. "This is a very difficult lineup to get through even if you're locating your pitches."

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

The Dodgers proved that with the three homers, which brings us to the stunning stat. In three starts, totaling just 13 2/3 innings, Samardzija has allowed six homers but struck out just five batters. Right now, he doesn't have the stuff or command to put hitters away. 

"Too many times we're getting these 0-2, 1-2 counts and battling for too long," he said. "We need to make sure that when we're getting them in the hole, we're finishing them. You give these big league hitters too many opportunities, they're going to take advantage of it. We've got to get them up and set them down as fast as possible."

Samardzija actually looked marginally better in the first three innings, getting six pop-ups and shallow fly balls. But those turned to homers the second time through, dropping the Giants into too large a deficit. The loss was their fifth in six games and put them five games behind the Rockies and 4 1/2 behind the loaded Dodgers after a little over two weeks of action. 

It won't get any better without a sharp turn from the starting pitchers, and the Giants don't have an obvious solution right now if Samardzija keeps struggling. Drew Smyly will be reevaluated when the road trip ends next Wednesday. Swingman Tyler Anderson already is needed for Smyly's spot. 

[RELATED: Reyes Moronta joins alternate site]

The Giants will hope the stuff improves and the command returns for Samardzija, at least enough to make hitters look less comfortable than Hernandez did. 

"He didn't think it hit him," Samardzija said. "I told him it must have hit his jersey or something. They're all gamers over there, they all want to play. I respect those guys a lot. He's just being honest. It's a good quality."

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 7-2 loss vs. Dodgers

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 7-2 loss vs. Dodgers

BOX SCORE

The Giants went to great lengths to keep Jeff Samardzija from pitching at Dodger Stadium in a season-opening series. On Friday it was more clear why they did it. 

Samardzija gave up six runs -- five of them earned -- and departed in a jam in the fifth. The Giants never caught up, losing 7-2 at Dodger Stadium, where they got a split just two weeks ago. 

The Giants have dropped four of five on this long road trip, and it doesn't get any easier. They'll face Clayton Kershaw on Saturday and Walker Buehler on Sunday. Here are three things to know from a forgettable Friday ... 

Slow Start for Shark 

Samardzija's stuff looked a *bit* better, and he got six pop-ups and shallow fly balls in the first three innings. But the second time through the order, the Dodgers hit three home runs. He didn't last much longer. 

Samardzija was pulled with the bases loaded and no outs in the fifth after grazing back-to-back Dodgers (Kiké Hernandez strangely argued that he was not hit). Sam Selman helped him out, but Samardzija was still charged with five earned for the third consecutive start. 

In three starts, the veteran right-hander has allowed 15 earned runs in 13 2/3 innings. He has struck out just five of the 65 batters he has faced. This is an issue the Giants are going to have to confront. 

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Another One 

The Giants tacked onto their error count early when Darin Ruf couldn't handle a single to left, allowing Cody Bellinger to cruise into second. Bellinger immediately scored on Justin Turner's single. It seems like every error comes around to cost the Giants, and that was their MLB-high 18th of the year. 

It didn't go down as an error, but Donovan Solano failed to get a double play when he threw a ball into the dirt instead of to first. 

The defense has been a problem just about every night. 

[RELATED: How Yaz has turned into Giants star year after close call]

Sam to the Rescue 

How about we end with a positive? 

Selman came on with the bases loaded and Max Muncy at the plate and allowed just one run to score, then went out and pitched another scoreless frame. That was good work -- he struck out three -- and allowed the Giants to avoid getting blown out in the sixth. 

In the old days, the joke would be Samardzija needs to buy Selman a steak. Who knows what that looks like in a season dominated by quarantining. Maybe he'll order the rookie some nice room service?