How MLB's punishment of Astros will impact Giants' rebuild, draft picks


How MLB's punishment of Astros will impact Giants' rebuild, draft picks

The Giants don't match up with the American League West in interleague play this season, and unlike their rivals across the bridge, they certainly don't have to worry about what the Astros look like for 162 games. 

But Monday's announcement of penalties for a cheating scheme that involved stealing signs will have a small impact on Farhan Zaidi's rebuild. The Astros were hammered by the commissioner's office, with GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch getting suspended through the end of the 2020 postseason and the organization being fined $5 million, the maximum allowed under the sport's rules.

They also were docked four draft picks, and that will move everyone else up, including the Giants, who have fortuitous timing. 

MLB announced that the Astros will forfeit their first and second-round selections in 2020 and 2021, which means two picks ahead of the Giants' compensation picks have now been wiped off the board. The Giants made qualifying offers to Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith and got an extra draft pick when Smith signed with the Braves and another one when Bumgarner signed with the Diamondbacks. The Bumgarner pick now will be No. 68 overall and the Smith pick will be No. 69. 

The Giants already were picking well ahead of the Astros in the first two rounds. They will have the 13th pick in the first round and will choose in the second round at No. 49 overall. That's four picks in the top 69 -- plus the corresponding pool money -- for a team that's working on a rebuild. It'll be a big year for the team's amateur scouts. 

The rest of the punishment was announced by MLB on Monday morning and was first reported by The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal.

There is more on the way, too. MLB sent out an extraordinarily detailed release explaining how the Astros banged on a trash can -- occasionally with a massage gun -- and sometimes used a smartwatch or a hidden cell phone to transmit information.

Alex Cora, now the Red Sox manager, was mentioned repeatedly as being involved, and he will be punished at a later date.

[RELATED: Alguacil back to managing amid Giants' coaching changes]

For Giants fans, there are two more connections here. While Joe Espada wasn't mentioned in the release, this certainly would have been an awkward day for the organization if the former Astros coach had been hired instead of Gabe Kapler.

Espada will take over as acting manager in Houston after both Luhnow and Hinch were fired Monday, as owner Jim Crane wouldn't confirm whether the title would be on an interim or full-time basis going forward. 

Big picture, the cheating might have had an impact on the Giants' biggest rival in Los Angeles. The Astros beat the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series and Cora's Red Sox -- who currently are under investigation -- did the same in 2018. 

Giants roster breakdown: Familiar names could get pushed by additions

Giants roster breakdown: Familiar names could get pushed by additions

The Giants took the field Sunday afternoon for infield drills, and for a second all looked normal. Well, kind of.

Evan Longoria was at third base, Brandon Crawford was at short, Donovan Solano was at second -- and Gabe Kapler was scooping balls at first base. It was an interesting sight, but Kapler was just helping out as Brandon Belt stood about 15 yards away working on gloving balls hit between first and second.

Move Belt over a few feet and you have the potential starting infield. The Giants are more set here than anywhere else, but they still will have plenty of variations when it comes to their infield. Belt could cede time to right-handed hitters. Solano will be joined at second by Mauricio Dubon, Yolmer Sanchez and Wilmer Flores. Crawford could find himself splitting time with a right-handed hitter, and Longoria could give plenty of starts up to left-handed bats.

The Giants have a lot of options. They also have a lot of infielders who seem locked onto the roster. Here's a rundown:

The Ones You Know

Belt is looking at his 10th consecutive Opening Day in the Giants lineup and Crawford his ninth. This is their first year under Kapler, though, and that could mean a key change. With a new regime fully in place, the Giants are going all-in on platoons. Both Brandons have had years when they've handled lefties well, but last year Belt had a .664 OPS against them and Crawford was at .598. That won't fly under Farhan Zaidi, Scott Harris and Kapler. Belt could lose starts to Wilmer Flores and Darin Ruf, and Crawford has Mauricio Dubon looming. It's a division with a lot of lefty starters, so it'll be interesting to see just how far the Giants go with splitting time.

Longoria could be in the same situation. He hit 14 homers against righties last year but had just a .303 OBP and .419 slugging percentage. Pablo Sandoval is fully healed from Tommy John surgery and could soak up some of those at-bats. Over the weekend, Sandoval became the most talked-about player in camp. He appears to have put on weight since the spring, but Kapler downplayed any concern Sunday.

"In this particular case, what we've all noticed about Pablo is that the ball is jumping off his bat, that his throws have nice carry," Kapler said. "He's demonstrated that he's healthy. That's the most important thing. Look, he's not going to bat leadoff for us (but) the expectation with Pablo Sandoval is he slugs, he drives the baseball, he's a good DH candidate for us, he's got nice soft hands. All of those things are present in camp and those are the things we're going to be focusing on."

Solano hit a very under-the-radar .330 last year and seems headed for more starts at second base, where Dubon ended last year as the potential long-term starter. Now, the Giants want to use Dubon all over the field. He's the best shortstop of the right-handed-hitting second basemen, so he could play a lot there against lefties. Dubon also looks like a good bet to get plenty of starts in center field.

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

The Newcomers

In early March, it looked like Sanchez vs. Solano could be a tough roster decision, but the Giants now can carry both, with the Gold Glove-winning Sanchez a nice piece on a roster that values versatility. He switch-hits and has a lot of big league experience at third base, with the ability to play short, too. Sanchez was just 3-for-26 this spring, but the Giants restructured his deal last weekend to keep him on the roster, and all indications are that he'll be at Dodger Stadium on Opening Day.

Flores became the first player to sign a multi-year deal with the Giants under Zaidi after posting a .317/.361/.487 slash line with the Arizona Diamondbacks last year. He's not a good defender, but he can play second and first, and he looms as a potential platoon partner with Belt. Flores' experience should also make him a nice pinch-hit option for Kapler late in games.

The Sleeper

Look, we've all seen older hitters come into Giants camp and have a huge spring, only to bust once the season started. Remember Chris Marrero?

Ruf was 12-for-28 in the Cactus League with three homers, five doubles and a triple, and he ironically has been helped by the long layoff. While the non-roster invitee waited for this all to get sorted out, MLB added a DH and four more roster spots, making Ruf a near-lock for the opener because of a very specific skill. The 33-year-old has a .921 career OPS against lefties (for comparison's sake, Pete Alonso was at .941 in his magical rookie year) and Zaidi and Kapler have talked him up as a DH option.

Kapler brought up Ruf on Sunday when talking about the day's standouts, saying he had nice at-bats against lefty Andrew Suarez. He later said he wants Ruf to get comfortable at first base and in the outfield. If he hits lefties as he did in Philadelphia for so many years, Ruf could get a lot of at-bats.

The Depth

Abiatal Avelino and Zach Green would have started this season with Triple-A Sacramento and now likely will spend their summer up there as injury replacements. Both have big league experience, but they're still younger than you'd think; Green is 26 and Avelino is 25. There's time for each to still carve out a big league role at some point.

Green is particularly intriguing. He hit 25 homers in 252 at-bats in Triple-A last year and only an injury kept him from seeing time in the big leagues down the stretch. He was right there with Ruf this spring, going 7-for-16 with three homers. 

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The Future

Over the holiday weekend, the Giants added Luis Toribio and Will Wilson to their player pool. Toribio is a sweet-swinging lefty who plays third base and posted a .433 OBP in his first full minor league season. The Giants chose Hunter Bishop over Wilson last year in the first round, then scooped up the latter in December by taking on the Zack Cozart contract from the Los Angeles Angels. Maybe they would have felt differently had they known Cozart's salary would be so out of whack this year, but they're still thrilled to have Wilson, who is in camp with college teammate Patrick Bailey.

The final infielder in camp might be the most exciting player in the whole organization. Marco Luciano is just 18, but after posting a .302/.417/.564 slash line in rookie ball he stands as a top 20 prospect in all of baseball. You'll find evaluators who think Luciano will be a top-five prospect next spring.

Luciano will spend his season working on his game in Sacramento, but he's apparently making the most of a couple of weeks at Oracle Park. Someone who was at the early workout (media wasn't allowed) Sunday told me Luciano put on a show in BP, prompting a couple of older players to ask who the guy in the batter's box was. Bench coach Kai Correa confirmed that the display was electric:

Why Giants GM Scott Harris wants Joey Bart to learn another position

Why Giants GM Scott Harris wants Joey Bart to learn another position

Buster Posey still is mulling over his plans for the 2020 MLB season, but the Giants do have a young catcher on the cusp of the majors in Joey Bart.

The top catching prospect was expected to start the season in Triple-A Sacramento, however, with the minor league season canceled, Bart is a part of San Francisco's 60-man roster. 

That doesn't mean he will start in the big leagues, though. No matter what Posey decides, the Giants don't want to force Bart up

Before the No. 2 pick in the 2018 MLB Draft makes his debut, general manager Scott Harris would like to see two key parts of development grow for Bart.

“A couple of developmental priorities for him will be first to improve the game calling," Harris said Thursday on KNBR's "Murph & Mac" show. "Not that we’re at all concerned about his game calling, I just think there is a critical mass of games you need to catch at the minor league level before you’re fully prepared to call a game in the big leagues."

Bart actually called games at Georgia Tech, something that even Matt Wieters wasn't allowed to do from the same college coach. Harris is right, though. Calling games is a skill that catchers must continue to grow and the Giants hoped that would happen for Bart in Sacramento. 

The second part to Harris' answer might be even more important for Bart and the Giants.

“The other thing we talked about quite a bit is we want to expose him to other positions on the field," Harris said. "Not because we are concerned about his catching at all, we already think he is a plus receiver and thrower, but because one of the main tenants of our developmental philosophy is versatility.

"We want to give our major league manager as many opportunities as possible to get our best bats in the lineup. We think the demands of the catching position are such that that it is a benefit of both the player and the team to be able to play multiple positions.”

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Since the Giants drafted Bart, he hasn't played anywhere on the field other than behind the plate. The same goes for his college career. Learning a new position would have been a perfect opportunity for Bart in the Arizona Fall League, but he fractured his thumb hitting in the AFL.

Now Bart will have Summer Camp to learn a new skill, making the name of spring training 2.0 that much more fitting. He will be in camp with Patrick Bailey, a fellow catcher who the Giants took in the first round of the draft this year. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Giants had Bailey work on another position as well. 

[RELATED: Why Bart, three Giants pitchers are intriguing Kruk, Kuip]

Versatility is the name of the game for the Giants and the rest of baseball right now. Bart currently is lacking it, though that soon could change. He has a strong arm behind the plate and moves well for his 6-foot-2, 238-pound frame. It will be interesting to see if the Giants simply hand him a first baseman's mitt, or if he learns another position like third base or the outfield.

“The more that Joey can move around, the more options that his major league manager is going to have to get his bat in the lineup, and I think that’s really important for his career and for the future of the Giants," Harris said. 

Bart could find his way to a major league game during this 60-game season. The Giants will make sure they feel he is 100 percent ready first, though. There's no doubt he holds a key to San Francisco's future success, and there's no reason to rush and open that door too soon.