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Giants set to open spring training with plenty of positional battles

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Giants set to open spring training with plenty of positional battles

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants on Monday morning were part of a pair of transactions that seemed odd on the surface. While Stephen Vogt is preparing to take a physical and sign a minor league deal with the organization, Nick Hundley signed a similar deal with the A’s

Why not just bring Hundley back? Farhan Zaidi wants flexibility, on the field and off, and that made Hundley a less-than-ideal fit. Signing him for a third straight year would have locked the Giants into their catchers on Feb. 11. With the group currently in place, it would be a shock if any catcher spends the entire season backing up Posey, as Hundley did. 

It’ll be a different kind of camp for the Giants, and as they look to become younger, more athletic and more versatile, we might see some roster permutations that would have looked out of whack under the previous regime. As players prepare to take the field at Scottsdale Stadium for the first time, here’s a look at some of the competitions that should heat up … 

Outfield: Assuming Steven Duggar doesn’t have any setbacks, there are two starting spots to be won here, in left and right. Bryce Harper certainly could take one of them, and even if he chooses another team, the Giants likely will add a veteran. But they traditionally go with five outfielders, so currently there may be four spots up for grabs. The Giants really would like to take a long look at Drew Ferguson, the Rule 5 pick who must make the roster or else he must be offered back to the Astros. Mac Williamson is out of options and has the longest track record of big league success. He’s currently a favorite to start in one of the corners and could land in the starting lineup even if Harper is added. 

Backup catcher: Buster Posey expects to be ready for Opening Day, but he’ll be slow-played in April, so this is an important spot. Aramis Garcia is the frontrunner after a nice September — remember, he can play first base, too — but there are plenty of veterans who will be given a shot this spring to win the job, which would allow Garcia to get more minor league at-bats. Cameron Rupp has had big league success and Vogt, if he can get his shoulder back to 100 percent, is a two-time All-Star who can play first and has dabbled with the outfield. Rene Rivera was signed Friday and the Giants still could add another veteran to the mix. 

Fifth starter: Madison Bumgarner will start Opening Day and it’s a pretty good bet that Drew Pomeranz and Derek Holland will follow in some order. If Jeff Samardzija is healthy, he’ll be in the rotation, but the Giants could ease him into the regular season. That leaves Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez, both of whom had long stretches of dominance as rookies. On merit, they deserve to be in the rotation at the end of camp, but Zaidi has been open about limiting their innings early on. One could end up in the bullpen, or perhaps back in the minors for a few weeks. 

Last spots in bullpen: Did you remember that Josh Osich, Roberto Gomez and Pierce Johnson made the Opening Day roster last season? There’s always a surprise with the bullpen, and the Giants have plenty of candidates in camp fighting for that spot on the line in San Diego. 

Giants' Tyler Beede showing signs of hope despite continued struggles

Giants' Tyler Beede showing signs of hope despite continued struggles

ATLANTA -- There were some close calls in the second half, some postgame media sessions where manager Bruce Bochy indicated that Tyler Beede's rotation spot was in jeopardy. 

But the Giants stuck with their young right-hander, who now is poised to finish the season in the rotation. Two parts of Friday's 6-0 loss to the Braves, who clinched the NL East title, showed why it's so important that they continue to be patient. 

Beede ended the second inning by freezing his college teammate, Dansby Swanson, with a 98 mph fastball. It was the fastest pitch of Beede's season and comes at the end of a long and often trying year -- and it's the kind of pitch that only a select group of right-handed starters have in their arsenal. 

Mike Foltynewicz is one of them, and he's an example of what the Giants hope Beede can become. Foltynewicz has similar stuff and a similar background as a high-end prospect, and he had a very strong 2018 season. 

But Foltynewicz has also struggled with inconsistency, so much so that the Braves optioned him back to Triple-A for six weeks this summer. Since returning, he has a 6-0 record and a sparkling 2.35 ERA. On Friday, he threw eight shutout innings. 

Beede is 26. Foltynewicz turns 28 in a month. There are still plenty of reasons for hope as the Giants move forward. 

This night was a representation of much of Beede's season. His fastball averaged 95.4 mph, his slider hit 88 mph, his changeup darted at times, and he had so much movement on his curveball that at one point Josh Donaldson swung at an 0-2 bender and ended up whipping his bat towards first base. 

But Beede also allowed seven hits, two of which cleared the fence. Ronald Acuña Jr. got a hanging curveball in the fifth and hit a no-doubter to right-center. An inning later, Brian McCann hit a two-run shot on a fastball that was low but center-cut. 

"It's one of those games where you wonder how he gave up six, but (there were) a couple of long balls," Bochy said. "Really good at times, but he just didn't get away with any mistakes."

[RELATED: Mark Melancon excited to face Giants for first time since Braves trade]

The highlight of the night was that tantalizing pitch to Swanson, a friend of Beede's since their Vanderbilt days. 

"I feel great. I'll just continue to learn, learn a lot," Beede said. "I'll go out there and try to compete, fill the zone and go after guys. I hate losing, man. I'm not going to be happy about a start like this, but at the same time I thought it might be better than the results showed."

Mark Melancon excited to face Giants for first time since Braves trade

Mark Melancon excited to face Giants for first time since Braves trade

ATLANTA -- As the Braves' relief pitchers finished their sprints in right field Friday afternoon, a pack of Giants relievers started a jog around the warning track. Mark Melancon walked over and met his former teammates, but the hugs lost a little steam as he made his way through. Eventually, Melancon was standing around with just Will Smith, catching up a few hours before they faced each other. 

"The first half (of the group) I knew all the guys," Melancon said, smiling. "The second half it was all new guys."

The Giants just about have a completely new bullpen since Melancon's last appearance. Melancon has a new situation, too. As the Giants limp to the finish, their former marquee free-agent addition will try to close out a National League East title with the Braves. 

Melancon, mostly a mid-innings man for the Giants this season, is the closer for one of the National League's powerhouses. He's perfect in 11 save opportunities in Atlanta. That may come as a surprise to fans who watched him for two and a half seasons in San Francisco. It does not at all seem out of place for Melancon. 

"That's where I think I'm best," he said of the ninth inning. "I knew that. That was easy for me to see."

Melancon never lost that confidence in San Francisco, even as an arm injury that popped up in his first week with the Giants robbed him of much of his old effectiveness. He had a 3.67 ERA with the Giants but totaled just 15 saves. 

The Giants got out of the final year-plus of a $62 million deal and acquiring two pitching prospects in the minutes before the trade deadline. Melancon ended up being the real winner in the deal. He has found himself closing for a team that can clinch the division Friday night. 

"I'm so impressed with these guys," he said of the Braves. "They're 22-year-olds acting like they're 35 as far as maturity level. It's really impressive."

[RELATED: Giants' Madison Bumgarner's road struggles continue ahead of free agency]

Melancon is excited about heading back to the postseason, although he credited his former team for never losing sight of that goal. He said he appreciated that the Giants never went full rebuild, and he looks back on his time in San Francisco fondly. 

"I had a great time. It's always about the people," he said. "It was a great two and a half years with great people ... that was our home for two and a half years and it was awesome."