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Giants Rule 5 pick Travis Bergen finally gets to pitch in Toronto

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Giants Rule 5 pick Travis Bergen finally gets to pitch in Toronto

SAN FRANCISCO -- Kevin Pillar was emotional on his way out of Toronto earlier this month, and most of the attention will be on the center fielder as the Giants play two with the young Blue Jays. But the trip to the Rogers Centre will be just as meaningful for another Giant, albeit in a much different way.

From the moment the Blue Jays took him in the seventh round in 2015, lefty Travis Bergen dreamed of playing in Toronto. He never even visited the city while with the organization, always stuck rehabbing or working his way through the low minors. But he'll be in the bullpen tonight, having won a job this spring and shown enough promise through his first month that the Giants have kept the Rule 5 pick around. 

"It's going to be pretty cool," Bergen said. "I guess I envisioned myself playing in the big leagues with them when I was drafted, and the opportunity that I got here (with the Giants) has been something that I never would have dreamed of."

That opportunity never came in Toronto because of injuries. Bergen pitched just 59 times in the minors before the Giants scooped him up in the December Rule 5 Draft, impressed by his eye-popping numbers and a fastball that's deceptive despite sitting around 90 mph. 

So far it looks like a solid evaluation. Bergen made the club with a big spring, and although he returns to Toronto with a 7.11 ERA, he mostly has pitched well. Bergen allowed two homers and four runs in one outing against the Nationals but otherwise has allowed just one run since making the leap from Double-A. 

Pitching coach Curt Young said Bergen is working on a changeup in bullpen sessions, but so far he has been a two-pitch guy. He throws a good curveball 30 percent of the time and his fastball 70 percent. It's not overpowering by any means, but hitters have always had a hard time squaring it up.

"He has good arm speed and sells it well, and he gets good spin on the baseball," Young said of the fastball. "It's the true perfect elevation of a fastball. He throws it up in the zone really well."

Bergen said he hasn't gotten too deep into the analytics of why his two pitches work, preferring to focus on how to prepare as a big leaguer. He spends plenty of time learning from the veterans in the bullpen, and he singled out Mark Melancon as one player who has helped him learn how to set up hitters. 

This Giants bullpen, with veteran lefties like Will Smith and Tony Watson alongside Melancon, Sam Dyson and others, is a hell of a place for a young pitcher to learn. But that could change this summer. Smith and Watson will be trade chips, and Bergen could soon find himself in high-pressure spots with a lefty at the plate. 

[RELATED: Former Giant Pence finding success in Texas with new swing]

For now, manager Bruce Bochy is easing him in, but he said he doesn't see Bergen as a specialist. He has the equipment to get lefties and righties out, and the Giants are more than pleased with their pick. 

"You look at what he had to go through this spring, the pressure on these guys as a Rule 5 pick," Bochy said. "You have to make the club or go back, and he performed really well. I think it says a lot about the kid and his makeup."

Why Giants will have to make even faster evaluations if MLB returns

Why Giants will have to make even faster evaluations if MLB returns

One thing fans learned right away in Farhan Zaidi's first season in charge is that the new-look front office is remarkably fast when it comes to altering the roster. The Giants could move even faster in 2020, though. 

If the season returns in July as hoped, the Giants expect to play 82 games, meaning the long six-month grind is now a bit of a sprint to the finish line. That will have a big impact on roster moves, and during his last appearance on KNBR, manager Gabe Kapler said the staff is already discussing how to handle this, knowing they don't have nearly as much time to evaluate players. 

"We don't necessarily have 82 games to evaluate that and then have another 82 to put the best defense out there," he said. "We actually have to make decisions sooner, we have to evaluate better in this modified camp that we have coming up. So the 82-game schedule absolutely makes us think about the roster construction differently and also about game strategy differently, for sure."

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Kapler mentioned that one discussion going on right now is about center field and right, and which players will be the best options. Even though it might have seemed like Gerardo Parra got a quick hook last year, he did actually play 30 games before being designated for assignment. Yangervis Solarte, another veteran, lasted until May 7.

The Giants seemed set to take a long look at Billy Hamilton this year and potentially break with Darin Ruf in the mix, but if they're looking to stay in the NL West race over half a season, perhaps they'll lean more towards sticking Mike Yastrzemski or Mauricio Dubon in center every day, guaranteeing more consistency for the lineup. 

Dubon is also part of the flip side of this. The front office hoped to give some younger players a few hundred at-bats to sink or swim, but that's not really possible with 82 games. If Dubon struggles early on to stick in his new utility role, that experiment might be halted until 2021. Jaylin Davis might have started the season in Triple-A, but the Giants now won't have that option, and they could run Davis out there every day in right field. But they certainly wouldn't have as many at-bats to play with if Davis gets off to a slow start. 

[RELATED: Giants affiliate lists stadium on Airbnb]

The rotation will be impacted, too. Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly have been viewed as potential 2020 versions of Drew Pomeranz, but Pomeranz struggled quite a bit before he was moved to the bullpen, where he became a good trade chip. That first relief appearance, though, didn't come until the Giants had played 101 games. There won't be nearly as much time to evaluate the pitchers who came in on one-year contracts. 

There are going to be a lot of wrinkles to an 82-game season, and this is an added one. The Giants made quick evaluations last season compared to what fans have gotten used to, but they're still going to need to pick up the pace if the game returns. 

Giants' minor league affiliate to allow fans to rent stadium on Airbnb

Giants' minor league affiliate to allow fans to rent stadium on Airbnb

Have you ever wanted to field grounders on the same patch of dirt as Brandon Crawford? Or hit in the cage that Buster Posey has used to hone his swing? If you have a little disposable income, and an easy way to get to Oregon this summer, a Giants minor league affiliate is trying to make those dreams come true. 

With the minor league season almost certainly canceled, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes found a creative way to make use of their stadium in Keizer, Oregon, a small town south of Portland. They listed it on Airbnb. 

For $1,000 a night, individuals or groups can stay in the ballpark of the short-season affiliate that was home to Posey and Crawford in 2008, Tim Lincecum in 2006 and more than 100 other big leaguers over the years. Last year, Hunter Bishop and Marco Luciano were among the prospects who spent time in Salem-Keizer. 

The listing says you'll have full access to the clubhouse and training facility, which includes four indoor cages and pitching machines. You will also have use of the field and batting practice can be set up. The Volcanoes offered to supply cots for overnight guests, or you can bring sleeping bags to set up somewhere in the ballpark. Oh, and this is important: The park has WiFi. 

[RELATED: Giants coaches ready for shortened season]

The Volcanoes are offering dates throughout the summer with the caveat that bookings could be impacted by games. That's extremely unlikely, though. MLB organizations do not expect to hold a normal minor league season, and the Volcanoes also are unfortunately at risk if MLB follows through with a plan to cut 42 minor league teams permanently. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]