Before he put out his first lineup of the spring, Gabe Kapler took a moment to talk about how nobody should read too much into a Cactus League lineup. But it doesn't mean that a lot of what we see now won't carry over to the regular season.
The Giants had Tommy La Stella batting leadoff and Mike Yastrzemski right behind him Monday as they hit the road to play the Rangers, and it's likely that'll be the duo to lead things off most nights when the games count. Kapler said both left-handed hitters will be in the top three spots most games.
"There are some things that could impact those decisions, like (opposing) pitchers, but for the most part I really like the idea of having Tommy spend time in the leadoff role and having Yaz either directly behind him or potentially in the three (spot) as well," Kapler said earlier in camp. "It lengthens our lineup quite a bit."
It will also lengthen the first innings, regardless of whether the Giants score, which is exactly what they want. Kapler and his hitting coaches believe strongly in the cumulative effect of having good, patient at-bats, knowing that getting a starter out of the game early or taxing a good reliever will ultimately lead to more at-bats against the softer parts of a staff. La Stella and Yastrzemski are two of the best in the game at working a patient plate appearance.
Yastrzemski ranked 24th in the big leagues last season in pitches per plate appearance (4.19) and La Stella was 32nd (4.12). They both ranked in the top 13 among big league hitters in lowest swing rates, and La Stella had by far the lowest strikeout rate. Put simply, it's going to be a really annoying test for an opposing pitcher who comes into the first inning trying to get into a rhythm and finds two left-handers who battle better than just about anyone.
"He does a great job of controlling his at-bat and making sure that he gets what he wants out of it, and to have a guy like that where the opposing pitchers don't want to face him, don't want to throw 10 pitches, 12 pitches, to one guy, to put that frustration on the mound is really good," Yastrzemski said of La Stella. "Hopefully at some point they're going to make a mistake and we're going to take advantage of it."
La Stella led off Monday with an eight-pitch walk and Yastrzemski followed with a single. It didn't lead to a run, but more often than not that kind of start will set up the heart of the lineup beautifully. As Kapler and hitting coach Donnie Ecker watched La Stella's lengthy first plate appearance as a Giant, Ecker leaned over and noted how La Stella was laying off pitches he couldn't drive.
"This is your love language," he joked to Kapler.
Kapler will mix up the heart of the lineup depending on the matchups, and he also figures to have Buster Posey and Brandon Belt -- both of whom have a great feel for the strike zone -- right near the top. That should leave plenty of RBI opportunities for guys like Alex Dickerson, who played with La Stella in the Arizona Fall League in 2013 and said he has always been this way.
"Even on his worst day he's still a pest for any pitcher out there," Dickerson said. "You know that you're going to have a guy that's going to wear out the pitcher before you get there and only good things can happen when he's on base. You get to hit behind him, Yaz and Belt, that's kind of a dream."