Shaun Anderson starts important spring as Giants' top pitching prospect


Shaun Anderson starts important spring as Giants' top pitching prospect

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The stars in the Giants clubhouse are not looking towards future seasons, despite what has been signaled by management most of this offseason. But the two faces of the franchise certainly helped out some future Giants this week. 

On Tuesday, Madison Bumgarner walked up to top prospect Joey Bart and told him he would be catching Bumgarner’s first bullpen session of the spring. It seems no coincidence that a day later Shaun Anderson, the top pitching prospect in the organization, was approached by Buster Posey and told that his first bullpen session would be spent throwing to the best catcher in baseball.

There’s a decent chance Bumgarner and Bart will never work together in the big leagues, but if all goes according to plan, Posey could help indoctrinate Anderson, a polished 24-year-old right-hander, sometime this summer. That process started Wednesday.

“The adrenaline was definitely going when I got out there,” Anderson said a few days later, smiling. 

Anderson was excited to be working with Posey, but more than anything, he was just thrilled to be on a mound in big league camp. This is the biggest spring of his life, and after a strong 2018 spent in Double-A and Triple-A, Anderson should be the next Giants pitching prospect to reach the big leagues. 

Anderson, 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, sits in the low 90s from the right side with good sink, and has a good slider honed during his days as a college closer. The Giants sent him into the offseason with the goal of working on a changeup that’s also a plus pitch at times.

Anderson would like more consistency from that third offering, which he started throwing more last year as he posted a 3.45 ERA in 25 starts at Double-A Richmond and 4.18 ERA in eight starts for Triple-A Sacramento. Overall, Anderson struck out 127 batters in 141 1/3 innings and walked just 33. 

The season was a continuation of the solid work Anderson did when he came over from Boston in the middle of 2017 in the Eduardo Nuñez trade, and it was impressive enough that the Giants nearly called him up last August. They had Anderson ready to make his debut when they traveled to New York, but the roster situation changed and he instead was shut down at the end of August. 

Since then, the big league roster has changed. The Giants are relatively deep with their rotation. Jeff Samardzija is back from a shoulder injury and Drew Pomeranz and Derek Holland signed in January, so the Giants are six-deep before you even get to familiar names like Chris Stratton and Ty Blach.

Still, the staff is eager to get a look at Anderson in Cactus League games. 

“He’s knocking on the door, isn’t he?” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s coming off a good year. We’ve got great reports on his makeup, his stuff, so I look forward to watching him pitch here.”

The road to the big leagues could become shorter if the Giants decide to use Anderson in a different role. Members of the front office are split on whether his future is as a starter or a reliever. If the Giants need bullpen help before a rotation spot opens up, it certainly wouldn’t be an adjustment.

Anderson was the closer at Florida because the staff was loaded with future top picks who became future top prospects -- guys like A.J. Puk, Dane Dunning, Alex Faedo and Brady Singer. He said he would happily move back to the bullpen if asked. 

“If that’s what it takes to win, I’m all for it,” Anderson said. “Whatever helps the club win, that’s what I’ll do, whether it’s starting or relieving.”

For now, Anderson will remain a starter, and he’s hoping to soak up as much as he can while in big league camp for the first time. His work with Posey was a good start. 

“The insight he had was really great to hear,” Anderson said. “He was just talking about pitching in a different climate and how your ball is going to react to that, how your breaking ball reacts to that and how you should prepare.”

Anderson already has embraced a new climate once. Before the trade, he had never been further west of Arizona. Some of his San Jose Giants teammates were amused by that, and noted that he fit right in with shaggy blonde hair that since has grown out even longer. 

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“But I was honestly pumped for it,” he said, “Because California is sweet.”

Anderson will start his season in the state’s capitol, and if all goes according to plan, he’ll finish it once again throwing to Posey. 

Why the Giants brought in umpires for second round of bullpen sessions

Why the Giants brought in umpires for second round of bullpen sessions

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When Andrew Suarez kicked at the dirt on the bullpen mound Saturday and looked in at his catcher, most of what he saw was similar to every other bullpen session of his life. There was one key difference, though: An umpire in full uniform crouched behind the catcher. Saurez fired a fastball and the umpire emphatically pointed a finger to his left, signaling a strike. 

"It was different, but I liked it," Suarez said. "You get a good feel for the plate."

The Giants have made a lot of subtle changes to drills under Gabe Kapler and a 13-person coaching staff. Pitchers fielded pop-ups Sunday, an extreme rarity in a sport where the default move for a pitcher is to get out of the way and let an infielder take over. The outfield drills more closely resemble the NFL combine, with cones meticulously set up and coaches focusing on change-of-direction. But the biggest difference through a week of camp has been the addition of three real professional umpires to bullpen sessions.

The Giants brought the umpires, who live locally, in for their second round of bullpen sessions. They have four mounds going at a time and pitchers could opt out if they preferred to just throw to a catcher, but they seemed to enjoy the extra touch of intensity. Gabe Kapler said it was something he did in Philadelphia. 

"The concept obviously is to try to create heightened awareness and add a little competition to it," Kapler said.

When Andrew Bailey met with coaches earlier this month, one thing the new pitching coach preached was making sure every pitch of every bullpen session had a purpose. The Giants record every session and pitchers can stop to watch video or get the spin rate or velocity on a previous pitch. The hope was that the addition of umpires would ramp up the intensity a bit, but Kapler said it wasn't just designed for pitchers. 

"The catchers are getting some feedback," Kapler said. "The bullpen sessions are as much for the catchers as they are for the pitchers, and you see how much attention and emphasis our catching coaches are putting on receiving. I think it's been good so far."

Why Austin Slater took grounders at shortstop during Giants' workout

Why Austin Slater took grounders at shortstop during Giants' workout

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Brandon Crawford took his turn, showing off his usual defensive skills while taking a set of grounders at shortstop on a back field at Scottsdale Stadium. Then came Maurico Dubon, and then Kean Wong and Austin Slater. 

Wait, Austin Slater? 

This is Camp Versatility, but even by that standard, it was a bit surprising to see Slater getting work in as a shortstop Friday morning. He then moved on to work at second base, and manager Gabe Kapler said Slater wasn't just having fun. He'll get reps at all four infield spots this spring, along with his usual work in the outfield. 

Slater, getting ready for his fourth big league season, is into it. But what exactly is his position right now?

"I'm a Right Handed Batter's Box," he said, laughing. 

The Giants, as you might have heard a time or two, are going all-in on platoons, and Slater could be a big part of that. He had a .838 OPS against left-handed pitchers last season and could be a nice counter to Alex Dickerson and Mike Yastrzemski in the outfield and Brandon Belt at first base. 

But platoon life isn't just about the other day's starting pitcher. The Giants know they have a talent deficit. They hope to gain an edge by literally exploiting every platoon advantage they can over nine innings.

There could be times when Slater pinch-hits for Belt, or for Crawford, with a more natural shortstop like Mauricio Dubon sliding over to short and Slater getting a few innings at second base. 

"The mentality is let us over-prepare right now and see how the roster stacks up," Slater said. "I enjoy doing it."

Slater has 23 big league starts at first base but just a handful of innings at second and third. But he has nearly 900 minor league innings at second base and last year the Giants had him try third 11 times in Triple-A. He has always done extra infield work during batting practice, so this is just a natural extension for the 27-year-old. It could also be his best way onto the roster. 

It'll be an interesting spring for Slater defensively, but the real work will be done in the cages. He has more raw power than most on the roster but just nine homers in 544 plate appearances. 

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Slater made swing changes last offseason to try to increase his launch angle and is continuing to work on that this spring. He lit up when talking about the three new hitting coaches, saying they already have a good understanding of what he's trying to do.

The Giants can do all they want with defensive positioning to get Slater on the field more often, but they do need to see that pay off with more power production for the lineup. 

"I think we want to create the best possible path for Austin, so when he drives the ball he drives it in the air," Kapler said. "He definitely has raw power, dating back to his time at Stanford. We know about the pedigree and we just want to see that come out frequently in games."