Giants

Source: Giants plan to carry top four prospects on 2020 taxi squad

Source: Giants plan to carry top four prospects on 2020 taxi squad

The future is arriving at Oracle Park a lot sooner than expected.

With the minor league season cancelled and a taxi squad added for the 60-game season, the Giants plan to carry their top prospects throughout the summer and get them crucial developmental work, sources tell NBC Sports Bay Area. The taxi squad will include Joey Bart, Marco Luciano, Heliot Ramos and Hunter Bishop, the organization's top four prospects. 

For Luciano and Bishop in particular, this is a huge leap. Luciano, a shortstop who widely is considered one of the top 25 prospects in the game, is only 18 years old and has just 179 professional at-bats. Bishop, who turned 22 on Thursday, was a first-round pick just 12 months ago. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Without a minor league season and uncertainty about the ability to have prospects get extra reps in the fall or winter, every club is expected to carry top prospects on the taxi squad. For the Giants, they will work out at Oracle Park initially during Spring Training 2.0 and then go up to Sacramento with veterans and continue to get practice reps throughout the season. Intrasquad games are permitted at the alternate training site but the taxi squad cannot play exhibition games against other taxi squads.

The Giants still are informing players about their spring plans and expect to add several more prospects to the spring roster, which can hold up to 60 players. They hope to begin workouts at Oracle Park late next week. Earlier this week, on the Giants Insider Podcast, manager Gabe Kapler explained why those workouts could include players at the low levels of the minors. 

[RELATED: How Bart could be affected by 60-game MLB season]

"What we're trying to balance out is who is likely to make an impact on our major league club in 2020 in a very quick season that turns into a bit of a pennant race, and how we can optimize the development of those very important players for our future, guys like Bishop, Ramos, Bart, (Patrick) Bailey, just to name a few," he said. "We're going to have to balance out how we develop them best, get them game-like reps when we can simulate them. If there is an opportunity for some sort of development camp, either in conjunction with the season or postseason, we're going to be considering that."

None of the organization's top prospects are expected to be in the mix for opening day, but Bart and Ramos previously had been talked about as possibilities to debut at some point in 2020, already having reached Double-A. For others, this decision should accelerate the minor league process. It's possible that a summer on the taxi squad allows players like Luciano and Bishop to skip lower levels and begin the 2021 minor league season in Double-A. 

Stat shows Giants' playoff hopes get boost in 60-game 2020 MLB season

Stat shows Giants' playoff hopes get boost in 60-game 2020 MLB season

The traditional 162-game MLB season is a grueling marathon, playing out over a seven-month stretch that requires travel all over the country. However, the coronavirus pandemic has forced MLB to adopt an abbreviated 60-game season for 2020, reportedly beginning on July 23 with a nationally-televised showdown between the Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, and limit travel to three geographic regions.

According to FanGraphs' win probability formula, this shortened season certainly will benefit the Giants' chances at making the 2020 MLB Playoffs.

[RELATED: Gabe Kapler, Giants will support Buster Posey if he opts out of season]

It makes sense on the surface. Playing over a hundred fewer games allows for exponentially more variance for how the final standings will look at the end of September, helping teams that feature a below-average collection of talent.

However, if you took the 60 Giants games last season from today's date (July 5) to Sept. 12, San Francisco went 31-29 over that span. Over the same stretch, the Colorado Rockies went 18-42, the San Diego Padres went 25-35, the Los Angeles Dodgers went 36-24 and the Arizona Diamondbacks went 32-28. The Rockies finished just ahead of the Padres in the overall standings and Arizona had a much wider margin over the Giants for second place, but those were the only differences over the full 162-game sample size.

Also, FanGraphs has the Giants at just a 4.3 percent chance of earning a postseason berth as of July 5, so the odds remain pretty unfavorable. Just four teams (Marlins, Tigers, Mariners, Orioles) have a lower probability of making the 2020 playoffs.

Nevertheless, Giants fan can take solace in what many expect to be a wide-open season in MLB. If Gabe Kapler's group can get hot at the right time, they could sneak right in and snatch a berth in the postseason.

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Giants' Buster Posey, Brandon Belt face inevitable coronavirus risk

Giants' Buster Posey, Brandon Belt face inevitable coronavirus risk

To help keep players, coaches and umpires safe, MLB has eliminated the pre-game exchange of lineup cards and instituted new rules regarding how close players can get on the field. The operations manual asks that players stand at least six feet apart during the anthem every night and discourages pre-game fraternization with members of the opposing team. 

The manual includes two full pages of bulleted on-field protocols, including one that says "Players, umpires, and other on-field personnel should practice physical distancing to the extent possible within the limitations of competition and the fundamentals of baseball."

When people around the game started examining the new rules, though, one thing became crystal clear. There are parts of every game that you can't regulate, particularly at the plate and first base. 

You can ask players to do all they can to socially distance, but there's no getting around the fact that every night at least 18 of them will dig into the box, many at the back of it because of hitting preferences, with two catchers in the crouch, breathing heavily as they go through a game. Behind the catchers there still will be an umpire, and they tend to lean on shoulders and get as close as possible to get a better view of the pitch.

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

"I've definitely thought about that," catcher Buster Posey said. "I don't know if umpires will have to wear masks or not. I think that would be one thing that would help, but obviously you can't expect the batter to come up and wear a mask or a catcher to wear a mask (under his catcher's mask) during a game."

The current version of the new rulebook does not ask that umpires wear masks as they stand behind the catcher, although it does encourage distancing when possible and demands that they complete COVID-19 education before the season and during.

Posey will be at the greatest risk of exposure on a nightly basis, with Brandon Belt also sticking out from most regular fielders, and not just because the first baseman is the endpoint of so many plays (last year Belt caught more than 1,000 outs at first). When opposing runners reach first, Belt will have to hold them close, often swiping down on throws over to first. 

"Obviously we're going to be pretty close over there," he said. "I'll try not to get in anybody's face anyway. I think I can do the same thing I've always done. Obviously we're going to be close but I'll do my best to stay as far away from them as possible while still being able to play my position. There's probably going to be a little less talking over there for me, which I probably shouldn't be doing anyway. Avoiding face-to-face talking will help go a long way."

While Posey expressed serious reservations about playing this season, Belt, in his first interview since March, said he's optimistic about the season. 

Belt has spent the hiatus back home in Nacogdoches, Texas, but he said his county wasn't a hot spot in recent weeks like the rest of the state, which was slow to react to COVID-19. Belt said he has spoken to doctors "quite a bit" about the risks and will continue to take precautions. 

The Giants are doing the right things during training sessions and continue to mold their plans for the season. But when the games start and wins and losses are on the line, there's only so much that can be done to parts of the game that have been around for a century. The first few actual games later this month will give them a better idea of how to handle nine innings. 

[RELATED: Giants add four to player pool]

"The landscape is going to continually change and we're going to have to adjust and modify how we do things," Posey said. "That's just the reality of the world we're living in right now."