At times, it seems like just about everything has changed for the Giants recently. There's a new coaching staff and front office, new dimensions inside the ballpark, new stars in the outfield and a pitching staff that has just about been completely turned over.
But on Opening Day, if Buster Posey goes out for a mound visit with the rest of the infielders, the scene won't be too far removed from something you might have seen three years ago. Brandon Belt is the first baseman and Brandon Crawford is the shortstop. There are newer faces at second, but Evan Longoria is entering his fourth season at third base for the Giants.
There are big changes coming to the infield after this season, but when the Giants hold their first full-squad workout later this month, there will be a group standing on the infield dirt that's as familiar as ever. In the first part of our series previewing spring training, we look at what to expect from the catchers and infielders.
On the 40-man roster
Catchers: Buster Posey, Curt Casali, Joey Bart, Chadwick Tromp
Infielders: Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Evan Longoria, Donovan Solano, Wilmer Flores, Tommy La Stella, Jason Vosler
Even by the Giants' standard of infield stability, the continuity they have going into camp is pretty incredible. There are currently no jobs open barring a spring injury or surprise trade.
The Giants will have the same starters as last season with the exception of catcher, where Posey is back to reclaim his role. La Stella will move all around the field and Casali, the other notable newcomer, heads into camp as the lock to back up Posey. Vosler is the only infielder on the 40-man who looks headed for Triple-A -- he was signed early in the offseason as the lefty option for platoons, but La Stella now will take that role.
It's a bit of a surprise that the Giants are carrying four catchers on their 40-man, but they wanted Bart to get more time in the minors and also felt it was important to have Tromp back as a depth piece. As of now, he's headed to Sacramento with Bart.
This is a group that was extremely productive last year, with Belt having a career year, Crawford bouncing back, Flores finding new power and Solano winning the Silver Slugger Award. There are reasons for both optimism and pessimism heading into 2021.
It's very fair to wonder if the production that stood out over 60 games will be there over 162, and at some point some of these guys will break down. Longoria is 35, Crawford is 34, Posey and Solano are 33 and La Stella is 32. On the other hand, Posey's return should make up for some regression elsewhere, and the Giants have enough depth that Kapler might be able to keep all these guys relatively fresh.
The Giants haven't announced a full non-roster group yet, and most of the known names are pitchers. But they will have at least two additional infield options in camp.
Jason Krizan, 31, hasn't reached the big leagues yet, but he's a left-handed hitter who can play multiple positions, so he fits in this organization. Krizan has made at least 50 minor league starts at first and second and all three outfield spots and he has a .350 career OBP in the minors. He spent 2019 with the New York Mets, posting a .827 OPS in Double-A and Triple-A.
Arismendy Alcantara, 29, has more experience in the outfield but has started 36 big league games at second and also has limited big league time at short and third. He played two seasons with the Chicago Cubs and also played in Oakland and Cincinnati, but he hasn't been in the big leagues since 2017. Alcantara, a switch-hitter, had 13 homers and 16 steals in Triple-A for the Mets in 2019 and spent last season at the Los Angeles Angels' alternate site.
Player to Watch This Spring: Joey Bart
Posey is back and La Stella is the offseason's big addition, but once again all eyes might be on Bart, who is in a fascinating situation. Last year was supposed to be his chance to get significant time in Triple-A and hit his way to the big leagues, where he would be Posey's backup before turning 2021 into a Posey vs. Bart conversation. Instead, Bart ended up as the primary catcher during the second half of the shortened season -- but showed that he still needs more time to develop.
Posey also had a rough first taste of the big leagues, doing little damage and not seeing the field much in his September cameo in 2009. That ended up being a launching pad.
"Sometimes that's the best thing for us," Posey said last month, "To have some low points and grind through them."
Bart is a fierce competitor and just experienced probably the roughest stretch of his baseball life. He surely spent the offseason working to make sure it doesn't happen again, and it'll be interesting to see what kind of damage he does this spring. The Giants have made it clear they want Bart to get more time in Triple-A, but nobody has ever said he needs to be there all that long. Bart will have his chance to start proving his case in the Cactus League, which he tore up last spring.
Prospects to Watch
Marco Luciano, Patrick Bailey, Will Wilson and Luis Toribio were all at the alternate site last summer and have benefited greatly from that work, and the Giants desperately need a couple of them to get on the fast track given how many veterans will be free agents next offseason (potentially Posey, Belt, Crawford, Solano and Flores).
Luciano is the best of the bunch and could be a top-five prospect overall by the end of the year. A modest goal for the 19-year-old would be reaching Double-A in 2021, setting himself up for a potential 2022 debut. As good as the bat is, the glove might be more important right now. If Luciano can stick at short -- and the Giants think he can -- the front office will have a lot more flexibility moving forward.
Wilson is the type of all-around talent who can move quickly and he might have a chance to grab the job at second as soon as next year. Bailey hasn't played a professional game yet but takes that alternate camp experience into A-ball. Toribio gets overshadowed by others but he has a great eye at the plate and he's only 20. The Giants don't have a long-term successor to Longoria at third, but Toribio could be that guy.
Number to Know: 10
Posey, Belt and Crawford are all aiming to start on Opening Day for the 10th time, something just seven players in franchise history have accomplished. Posey would be the first Giants catcher to do it and Crawford the first shortstop, and Belt would join Bill Terry (10 Opening Day starts) and Willie McCovey (13) at first base.
If Crawford stays healthy through camp, he'll join an even more exclusive group. The only Giants who have started 10 straight openers are Robby Thompson, Barry Bonds and Willie Mays.
Opening Day Projection
The only drama in camp will come if there's an injury or if Belt doesn't recover from heel surgery in time for Opening Day, which would open up a roster spot that won't necessarily have to go to an infielder given Mauricio Dubon's versatility and the fact that so many on this roster can be options at first.
Barring a health issue, the Giants are set with their two Opening Day catchers (Posey and Casali) and a six-man infield of Belt, Crawford, Longoria, Solano, Flores and La Stella.