Giants

Giants seeing offensive improvement from Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik

Giants seeing offensive improvement from Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik

SAN FRANCISCO -- Every year, Brandon Crawford creates the playlist that the Giants listen to after victories. But there haven't been a whole lot of opportunities this season for Crawford to hit play on his iPhone knowing he had been the star of the show.

That changed Wednesday. 

Crawford's solo shot in the sixth was the difference in a 4-3 win over the Blue Jays and continued what has been a solid progression over the last couple of weeks. The at-bats have been better, and Wednesday's oppo shot looked like something straight out of Crawford's torrid streak last May. 

"I felt balanced," he said. "I'm making a lot better contact, finally barreling it a little bit more and swinging at better pitches for the most part. That's the biggest thing."

The overall numbers are still far short of what Crawford would like, but there certainly has been improvement at both spots up the middle, and the Giants needed it. Joe Panik doubled Wednesday and has raised his OPS by 117 points over the last couple of weeks. Crawford is up 84 points since the end of the last homestand. 

The main story yesterday was about Shaun Anderson, who didn't get the win but at least could flash a wide smile after Crawford guaranteed a win for the Giants. Here are some other notes from a two-game series:

--- Pablo Sandoval had an RBI double on Wednesday and is hitting .364 with two doubles, three homers and eight RBI over his past eight games. He was in the lineup because Brandon Belt's knee acted up, but given what Belt is dealing with health-wise, and Evan Longoria's struggles, there's really no reason for Sandoval to be out of the lineup this weekend. 

If performance matters, no Giant has earned starts right now more than Sandoval. The staff certainly should be able to find a way to ride this hot streak through Arizona. 

--- Buster Posey will be checked again on Friday, but all signs are positive, and he should come off the concussion list and start. Drew Pomeranz will come off the Injured List to start Sunday's game. Jeff Samardzija goes Friday and Madison Bumgarner starts Saturday. 

--- The highlight of the weekend may come Saturday, when Johnny Cueto will visit the Giants at Chase Field and throw a bullpen session for the staff. Cueto has gotten up to about 40 pitches -- all fastballs -- during recent sessions in Arizona and all is still going well. The Giants are being coy about a timetable, but as I've reported before, he's aiming to return in early to mid August.

[RELATED: Giants top two prospects on track to return to San Jose in early June]

--- Finally, the closer: Will Smith was really, really good in the ninth Wednesday and has been all year. He is 11-for-11 in save opportunities, has a 2.70 ERA, and is averaging more than a strikeout per inning. 

It'll be fascinating to see what Smith brings back at the deadline. Just about every team now seems to prefer to build a bullpen with spare internal parts, but this is a lefty who can close for a contender with a ninth-inning need or easily slide into the seventh or eighth for a team with a stacked bullpen.

In theory, Farhan Zaidi should be able to get a pretty nice haul for his closer.

Giants roster breakdown: Johnny Cueto, veterans to fill out rotation

Giants roster breakdown: Johnny Cueto, veterans to fill out rotation

In recent Giants seasons, it has become relatively commonplace for a team's PR staff to put out game notes that list a bunch of TBDs as the pitching probables. Managers are becoming more and more hesitant to give away even seemingly innocuous information, and the surge of openers has made it even more difficult to predict what a series might look like. 

This season, you can expect even more of this, but for a whole new reason. With just three weeks to prepare for a 60-game season, teams do not expect to have true five-man rotations. Giants manager Gabe Kapler made it clear earlier this week that his starting staff will carry a much different type of workload, but there still will be a starting staff in some form.

Here in Part II of our Summer Camp preview, we take a look at the guys who likely will start the most games for the Giants over 60 games. 

Johnny Cueto

The last thing Kapler did before spring training shut down was name Cueto his Opening Day starter, and there's no reason to think that'll change. Kapler and his coaches have been regularly checking in with their pitchers, but all you need to keep tabs on Cueto is an Instagram account. He has been posting regular videos of his bullpen sessions and recently uploaded a fun series of matchups with former Giant Eduardo Nuñez:

Cueto returned from Tommy John for four up-and-down starts last September, and on Opening Day, it will have been 24 months since his last big league start of more than five innings. But the Giants have always thought Cueto would age well, and if he can find his healthy 2016 form (18-5, 2.79 ERA) they'll have a much better shot of staying in contention. 

Jeff Samardzija

Few, if any, Giants have more at stake this season than Samardzija, who is coming off an underrated 2019. He threw 181 1/3 innings last year with a 3.52 ERA, and this is the final season of a five-year deal he signed on the eve of the Winter Meetings in 2015. 

Samardzija turned 35 in January and is the type of mid-level player you would expect to have a tough time this offseason given the grudge owners will hold, but he has 10-12 starts now to state his case. 

Kevin Gausman

It seems like it's been three years since the right-hander signed a one-year, $9 million deal. Back in December, the Gausman agreement looked like it could set both sides up for the future. Gausman, a former first-round pick, had a great chance to rebuild his value before hitting free agency again. For the Giants, Gausman and Drew Smyly represented opportunities to potentially repeat the Drew Pomeranz-for-Mauricio Dubon deal they made last July.

What does this all look like after the hiatus? The 29-year-old should have a dozen starts to build his value, but the Giants likely will not be in a position to be all that active at a deadline that comes after just five weeks of games. 

Gausman had some success as a reliever for the Reds last season and he was throwing well this spring. Perhaps the Giants will have him air it out a bit more than he normally would in the early innings, making him more of a power starter than he would have been over 162 games. 

Drew Smyly

The Giants gave Smyly a $4 million deal in January and immediately threw him into the rotation, and like Gausman, he was throwing well in Scottsdale. Smyly should be right at home in a strange season, as he has started and relieved in his career. 

Smyly hasn't been a full-time member of a starting rotation since 2016 and has dealt with some serious injuries, but the left-hander is still just 31 and he has a chance to set himself up nicely for the offseason. Teams are expected to be stingy, but left-handed starters are always in high demand.

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Logan Webb and Tyler Anderson

The fifth starter spot was supposed to go to Tyler Beede, but his elbow started barking in Scottsdale and he had Tommy John surgery in March. Beede won't miss nearly as many games as first anticipated, but he'll be out all of this year and could miss the beginning of next season. 

It seems unlikely that Kapler even names a full-time fifth starter at this point, but there are two guys who stand above the rest -- the Giants have plenty of former starters headed for their bullpen -- as likely candidates to take the ball.

Webb might have given Beede a true run for this role in spring training had it not been for an innings limit. Because of a suspension, he only threw 103 innings last year. The Giants were going to slow-play Webb early in the year, but now the harness can be taken off. Webb is just 23 and showed flashes of his potential last season. Over 60 games, perhaps he'll grab a long-term spot in the rotation. 

[RELATED: How Giants highest-paid player in 2020 isn't with team]

Anderson had knee surgery last year that was supposed to keep him out until about June. Well, it's July, and he'll be a full go in camp and ready for Opening Day. The lefty had a 4.69 ERA in four seasons with the Rockies and the Giants were excited to get him to sea level. 

It's unclear how deep he'll be able to go in starts given the long layoff, but Anderson and Webb might form a pretty effective duo if the Giants piggyback their fifth starter. Webb is a hard-throwing righty and Anderson relies heavily on a cutter and changeup from the left side. They would give completely different looks to an opposing lineup. 

Why most of Giants' reported MLB draft contracts are under slot value

Why most of Giants' reported MLB draft contracts are under slot value

With last month's MLB draft being shortened to just five rounds, front offices had to get creative to try and get the most bang for their buck. On Thursday we got a better idea of what the Giants' plan was with their league-high seven selections. 

The Giants announced that three additional picks had signed Thursday, and according to MLB.com's Jim Callis, two of them came in well under the slot value for their selection. 

The Giants also have signed second-rounder Casey Schmitt, although it's unclear what his bonus was. On Wednesday, first-round pick Patrick Bailey signed, and he also reportedly came in under the slot value of the 13th pick. 

The Giants had $9,231,800 to spend on their seven selections and thus far have announced the signing of four of them. If you add up the savings of the known bonuses, they're about $1.1 million under slot. Where is that being made up? With a local player, who was viewed by many in the industry as too tough to sign.

De La Salle left-hander Kyle Harrison went in the third round in part because it was thought it would be hard to get him out of a commitment to UCLA. Harrison was picked 85th overall by the Giants and, while they haven't announced a deal yet, he reportedly will sign for $2.5 million, which was the slot value for the 28th pick in the first round. 

That figure, if it ends up being his signing number, is nearly $1.8 million more than the slot value for Harrison's pick, and the Giants had to get to that amount by making cuts elsewhere. It's a strategy that was clear during the draft, as some of their other picks were viewed as slight reaches by opposing scouts. 

[RELATED: How Giants highest-paid player in 2020 isn't with team]

It's a gamble, but a worthwhile one. If the Giants are right about Harrison, they've added a first-round talent to their organization and potentially have filled a future hole in their rotation. In order to make the numbers work, they simply used some of their other picks on players who might have gone slightly higher than they expected and would sign for a lesser number. 

While the Giants have not yet announced that Harrison deal, they are confident that all seven of their selections will sign. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]