Giants spring training Day 5: Staff being cautious with Pence

Giants spring training Day 5: Staff being cautious with Pence

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Michael Morse provided the highlight of the first day of BP when he skied a homer off the upper portion of the light tower in left field. There aren’t many players in Giants camp who can hit a ball that high, and one of them wasn’t on the main field Friday. 

The Giants held Hunter Pence back from batting practice because of soreness in his right intercostal area. Pence had to pull back late in his offseason program after feeling something during a workout. 

“He did all baseball activities except hitting (on the field),” manager Bruce Bochy said. “We’re controlling his workload right now, is the best way to put it. He’s real close. He just didn’t hit today.”

Bochy said there’s not much concern about the ailment, and Pence has said — both at FanFest and this week — that he’s fine. The Giants are being rightfully cautious with a player who has played just 158 games the past two seasons. 

Pence did take part in the fielding portion of the day, and his group might have given an early clue as far as left field goes. The outfielders were split into groups of three, and Pence shagged fly balls with Denard Span and Jarrett Parker. As of today, that’s probably your opening day outfield. But Mac Williamson has six weeks to change it up. 

“It’s time for them to get that opportunity,” Bochy said of Parker and Williamson. “We’ll throw them out there as much as we can this spring.”

DID THAT MEAN SOMETHING? This is a new portion of the daily recap, and you could have thrown the Parker thing in here. Clearly it’s no accident that he’s the first one up with Pence and Span. By the same token, I’ll note that Morse spent his day at first base, not with the outfielders. Reporters talk to Bochy and Bobby Evans multiple times a day during spring training, but often times the action on the field tells the whole story. Morse will need to show he’s viable in left field to make the team, but the Giants haven’t said exactly how much they plan to play him out there. 

PROSPECT WATCH: There was a lot of talk about third base today after the Giants signed Aaron Hill to a minor league deal. Look, the reality here is that Conor Gillaspie is a clear frontrunner for that spot behind Eduardo Nuñez, as he should be, but Hill, Jimmy Rollins, Jae-gyun Hwang and others are going to get quite a bit of time this spring and one of them might make the team. 

So … where does that leave Christian Arroyo? The organization’s top hitting prospect wasn’t on the main field when a big group took grounders and the logjam will likely cost him at-bats this spring. To me, that’s the biggest problem with carrying so many 30-somethings, and Evans acknowledged that Arroyo will lose spring playing time. But, he said, the Giants don’t necessarily need to see his at-bats. 

“We know he can hit at this level,” Evans said. 

Arroyo was 10-for-18 last spring and he’s 14-for-26 in two big league camps. He’ll be in camp for most of spring training if not all of it, but if you’re coming down to Scottsdale next month, you might not see a whole lot him during games. 

ICYMI: Will link to this one more time … here’s my podcast with Tyler Beede, and here’s the iTunes page for the Giants Insider Podcast. Taped with two more players today, so be on the lookout for the next one. 

FAMILIAR FACE: Vince Coleman is now with the Giants as a roving baserunning instructor. You literally couldn’t come up with a better option. Coleman, a two-time All-Stars in the late 80s, stole more than 100 bases in three consecutive seasons. 

QUOTABLE: “It’s a power right-handed bat. He’s a solid second baseman. When they moved him to third base I didn’t know how good he would be, but against us he played great defense,” Bochy on Hill, who passed his physical late Thursday and joined camp Friday morning. 

Farhan Zaidi expects Giants to be aggressive with pitching prospects

Farhan Zaidi expects Giants to be aggressive with pitching prospects

All Loagn Webb needed last year was 63 innings in the minor leagues for the Giants to call him up to the majors at 22 years old. The front office didn't waste time with the young right-hander, and it has paid off. 

Webb, who struck out four and only allowed one earned run over five innings Wednesday in the Giants' 4-3 win over the Colorado Rockies, has been San Francisco's best starting pitcher early on this season. The Rocklin native often gets overlooked among the Giants' top prospects as Joey Bart, Marco Luciano and Heliot Ramos steal the spotlight. If Webb, with a 2.13 ERA through three starts, keeps this up, that won't happen much longer. 

The Giants were aggressive in getting Webb through the minors, and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi expects to use the same strategy with several other young pitchers in the near future. 

"It's a little bit easier for pitchers I think to demonstrate dominance in smaller samples than it is for position players," Zaidi said Wednesday night on 95.7 The Game's "Damon, Ratto and Kolsky" show. "Pitchers have the ability to move more quickly, and that certainly factors into our thinking as well."

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

When looking at lists for the Giants' top prospects, the farm system appears hitter-heavy. Bart, Luciano and Ramos lead the way. Alexander Canario, Patrick Bailey and Luis Toribio aren't far behind. 

But Zaidi expects a handful of Giants pitching prospects to help the big league club as soon as next season. 

"We've got some guys like Sean Hjelle, Tristan Beck -- who we acquired last year -- Seth Corry, who are guys who could be in our rotation in the near future. I wouldn't even rule out 2021.

"There's certainly guys in the pipeline ... we definitely have some guys we're excited about making an impact for us next year." 

[RELATED: Zaidi explains why the Giants still haven't called up Bart]

None of the above names are at the Giants' alternate site in Sacramento, as they believe pitchers are able to develop easier than hitters without live at-bats. Director of player development Kyle Haines did recently tell NBC Sports Bay Area that Hjelle would be game-ready if needed right now. The 2018 second-round pick made it to Double-A Richmond, and he and Beck are more pro-ready than Corry. 

Among those three, Corry easily has the highest upside, though. Corry, who was only 20 years old last season, went 9-3 with a 1.76 ERA in Single-A Augusta. He was named the South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Year for his dominant season. 

Jeff Samardzija is a free agent after this season. Johnny Cueto could be a free agent after 2021. Plenty of young arms might soon be joining Webb in San Francisco.

Gabe Kapler breaks down parts of Giants' strategy early in MLB season

Gabe Kapler breaks down parts of Giants' strategy early in MLB season

Two things have become clear over the first 13 Giants games. Gabe Kapler and his new coaches are going to make a lot of decisions that are slightly -- or very -- different from what we saw from the previous regime.

But Kapler is also going to be very open about explaining them.

There were a few that stuck out in Wednesday's win and during the series in Colorado. Some of those deciscions hit on bigger themes.

Kapler was happy to dig into the thought process a little bit after Wednesday's game and again Thursday morning.

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Here's how he broke it all down. 

Why was Donovan Solano, not Brandon Crawford, the only player on the left side of the infield in some shifts Wednesday? The Giants have generally left Crawford to patrol the whole left side when they shift, knowing that he has more range and a better arm than their other options. But Crawford was playing a bit to the right side of the bag in those situations Wednesday, and Solano booted a grounder to "short," costing Logan Webb an early run.
"We've spent a lot of time looking at spray charts to determine where the ball is most likely to be hit, so where the biggest clusters are," Kapler said. "We feel like oftentimes Craw is going to be on the other side of the (second base) bag because that's where the ball is most likely to be hit. I understand the thought, which is that Craw is very comfortable on the left side of the diamond. 

"He's in that position naturally, but we really want to catch as many balls as possible, so you kind of put your better defender, the one that's the general of the infield, in the spot that you think the ball is going to be hit."

Why are the Giants playing the infield in so often with a runner on third, especially at Coors, where you try to avoid the big inning?
"It's trickiest at Coors, obviously, because it's such a high-run-scoring environment, and because outs are at such a premium," Kapler said. "It's an easier answer for me when we're at Oracle or other ballparks around the league, and that answer is you actually don't lose as much of an advantage as you think when playing the infield in and you record almost as many outs. And, you guys know how win expectancy changes pretty dramatically based on the score. One of the things that you'll likely see from us is that if we're up a run, in a tie ballgame, down a run, those are opportunities for us to play aggressively and bring our infield in. 

"You'll also see us from time to time bring our infield in if we have two strikes on a batter and we started with our infield back. One of the reasons we do that is because we're maybe anticipating weaker contact on the ground and any time we can wipe out a run at the plate or record an out and keep a runner at third base, we want to do it. In Colorado, it's really context-dependent and there's just some gut feel to that. It's less perfect, I'll just say that. I think you saw how we played (Trevor) Story specifically. We waited until he got a couple of strikes on him and we're always trying to apply a little pressure."

Why did Tony Watson pitch the seventh when Nolan Arenado, who was 6-for-13 against him, was due up first? Arenado hit a solo homer to cut the lead to 4-3.
"We know that he's not just going to face Arenado, and I know that Arenado has done damage against Watty in the past. But given the stretch of left-handed bats that were coming up and the likelihood that you're not just going to face three (batters), you might have to face four, you might have to face five -- and we have three innings to cover at that point, the seventh, the eighth and the ninth. I have three really high-quality leveraged arms to go to. Watty, Gott and Rogers, in no particular order. 

"If you think about each one of those relievers having to take down a different portion of the lineup, we felt that stretch through lefties was an optimal spot and then that would give us Rogers and Gott at the top of the lineup. That's sort of how it played out. We didn't have the best matchup there with Arenado, we know that, but we really liked the matchups coming behind him and we thought we had to make the tradeoff somewhat."

This one really was a tradeoff for Kapler and the Giants, and it worked out. Arenado did homer, but Watson did end up facing three lefties after that (plus pinch-hitter Matt Kemp) and he got out of the rest of the inning. Rogers and Gott closed it out from there. 

[RELATED: Zaidi explains why Giants haven't called up Bart]

Why not pinch-run for Pablo Sandoval after he singled with one out in the ninth? The Giants had a one-run lead.
"The concept was you pinch-run for Pablo there with Pence, but in Colorado, you have to assume that there might be a run scored and you might be facing extra innings, and with the extra innings looming you still have Pence as a bench bat knowing that they have a couple lefties looming and some other matchups for Pence. Given the fact that we deployed Longo on defense, we deployed Dubon on defense, we know that that game might have gone quite a bit longer. We just didn't feel like the upgrade was going to be meaningful enough at that point."

That one was the right call, too. Crawford hit into a double play, so ultimately it wouldn't have mattered who was on first base. It was a solid night for the staff, which spends hours before and after games discussing these decisions (Kapler said he watched that botched throw to home five times with Ron Wotus and Kai Correa the other night before meeting the media). Hopefully this gives you a little insight into the process.