Giants

What MLB expanded rosters would mean for Joey Bart, Giants prospects

What MLB expanded rosters would mean for Joey Bart, Giants prospects

One of the biggest changes in Giants camp this spring was that Gabe Kapler made no secret of the fact he wanted every day viewed as a competition. The intensity in drills was ramped up, and even veterans who had been around for a decade talked of fighting for at-bats. That'll be one of many themes you won't see as much of if the Giants return to "spring training" next month.

If Major League Baseball figures out a way to return in July, it will do so with expanded rosters. The current thought is that teams could have about 30 active players with as many as 20 waiting on a taxi squad to account for pitchers who aren't fully built up, an increase in doubleheaders, and the possibility that players have to be quarantined at times. In theory, that could answer a lot of those March questions. 

Billy Hamilton vs. Steven Duggar, or Jaylin Davis vs. Darin Ruf? You could carry all with a 50-man roster. 

Yolmer Sanchez vs. Donovan Solano? Take 'em both, along with a healthy Pablo Sandoval. 

That wide-open bullpen competition? Bring them all to San Francisco. 

Some difficult decisions should become easier, but at the same time, the Giants will be faced with another set of interesting choices. It seems unlikely that there will be a minor league season, and that means president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and general manager Scott Harris will have to figure out how to balance development against their big league needs. 

Before all of this, Joey Bart seemed a good bet to debut this summer, or at the very least in September. Sean Hjelle was on that fast track, too, and Heliot Ramos loomed as a potential September call-up. The other top prospects in a rapidly improving farm system are at the lower levels, but with Bart and Hjelle in particular, the Giants could develop a whole new playbook. 

Bart's bat looked ready for the big leagues this spring, but the Giants wanted him catching every day in Triple-A. He was never part of the backup catcher competition and was sent down shortly before COVID-19 ended the spring. With that minor league opportunity taken away, his best way to develop in 2020 might be to spend the summer in San Francisco, watching Buster Posey and working with the big league staff. And with a shortened season and expanded playoff pool, there's little doubt that Bart's power is a nice fit for a team that would have a much better chance than expected at being competitive. You would want three catchers with a more hectic schedule and the universal DH could open up at-bats.

A Bart promotion seems like a no-brainer, frankly. Ramos may have been too far away when camp broke to consider a similar move, but Hjelle would be in a fascinating position. He was supposed to start every five days in Double-A, but he also showed in Scottsdale that he's not bothered by the bullpen. Hjelle pitched the ninth in his first spring appearance and sat at 95 mph in a smooth inning. 

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If the Giants know Hjlelle won't be able to pitch in the minors this year, could they treat him like a Rule 5 pick, putting him on the roster and giving him mop-up innings at first so he continues to develop? Given Hjelle's deception, there's a chance he could pretty quickly prove to be a nice bullpen weapon for Kapler this season, and you could slide him right back into a minor league rotation whenever minor league ball resumes. 

These are the questions Giants officials are asking themselves. There are ways to continue working with their top prospects even without a minor league season, and given the talent level of the big league roster, some of those players might be able to provide an unexpected 2020 boost. 

[RELATED: Why Giants are scouting the AL West]

During his weekly KNBR appearance, Kapler said he has told players to be ready for an early-June return to camp so they're not caught off guard. He'll leave the specifics about what his 30-man roster or taxi squad might look like to Zaidi and Harris. 

"Any time you're thinking about roster size, any time you're thinking about how to cover for when pitchers aren't necessarily built up the same way they would be in a regular spring training, you talk about who might be best to provide that depth," Kapler said. "I think those are the discussions that are taking place right now. One of the things I am most confident in is Farhan and Scott's ability to build a roster that accounts for all of those things."

Why Giants' Gabe Kapler pulled Kevin Gausman after 80 pitches vs. Dodgers

Why Giants' Gabe Kapler pulled Kevin Gausman after 80 pitches vs. Dodgers

The Giants coaching staff spent weeks preparing for the opening series against the Dodgers, and while some of the pitching decisions looked strange at the time, there's no doubt that overall they worked. The Giants came out with a split, a great result for any team that visits Dodger Stadium these days. 

The second time through called for a bit more spontaneity, coming in the middle of a tough three-city trip. For the second straight night, a decision made when a starting pitcher was nearing the end of his leash backfired. This time it cost the Giants the game and a chance at a series win. 

On Saturday night, Johnny Cueto was allowed to extend to 93 pitches, but a three-run homer on his last one nearly proved costly. A day later, Kevin Gausman was pulled after just 80 pitches, and he watched from the dugout as Tyler Rogers gave up a three-run homer, blowing the lead in a game the Giants would go on to lose 6-2. 

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Gausman had an outstanding fastball going on an 82-degree afternoon, averaging 97 mph for the first time in four years and hitting 99 mph several times. His final pitch was his hardest of the day, a 99.3 mph heater that Cody Bellinger redirected into center field for a one-out single. Kapler came out and held up his right hand as he got to the mound. 

"I think it was just a hot day, seventh time up, third time through the toughest part of the order," Kapler said of the decision. "He had done a tremendous job. He had carried his stuff into that inning, he had carried his location into that inning, and it just felt like the right time to keep him healthy and strong and safe all the way through the season based on getting into the seventh for the first time. 

"At the same time we had a reliever ready who we felt confident could get us a groundball with a runner on first base and get us out of that inning."

Rogers gave up a single to Justin Turner and then struck out Max Muncy. He was on the verge of getting out of the inning, but he grooved a 3-2 curveball to A.J. Pollock and it sailed into the empty bleachers in left. 

Rogers had pitched two strong innings the night before, and the Giants feel he's someone who can bounce back. But the Dodgers were seeing Rogers for the fifth time in 17 days. Pollock had faced him a night earlier and flown out on a curveball. 

[RELATED: What you might've missed as Giants blow lead vs. Dodgers]

Kapler disagreed with the notion that the novelty had worn off when it came to the submariner. 

"I think it's not just novelty with Rog, it's the ability to throw strikes with two pitches that are unusual. It's an unusual look. He can attack the strike zone with those two pitches and they're actually just flat-out good pitches," Kapler said. "Pollock made a nice adjustment, got to two strikes and two outs, and he was able to elevate the ball."

The blast cost Gausman a win on a day when he became the first Giants starter to record a quality start this season. Gausman gave up just three hits in 6 1/3 innings and struck out six. He made a sour face as he came off the field and threw his gum, and said later that he would have liked an opportunity to finish the seventh. 

"I definitely felt like I had more in the tank. My limit is not 80 pitches, but Kap's job is to make those decisions. That's his job description," Gausman said. "I'm not the one that's calling down to the bullpen and getting guys loose, that type of thing. Obviously I thought I pitched well enough to warrant getting a couple more guys out, but we're trying to win the series and it's a hot day. Maybe those were factors in his decision."

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 6-2 loss vs. Dodgers

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 6-2 loss vs. Dodgers

BOX SCORE

Kevin Gausman had the best start of the year by a Giant, and one of the most dominant we've seen from any starter early on this season. But it wasn't enough for the Giants, who dropped a heartbreaker in the late innings and lost a series at Dodger Stadium.

Gausman was sitting in the upper 90s all afternoon but was pulled after just 80 pitches. He watched as Tyler Rogers gave up a three-run homer to A.J. Pollock and the Los Angeles Dodgers got another blast later from Mookie Betts, walking away with a 6-2 win. 

The Giants fell to 2-5 on this road trip with three games coming up against the Astros. Here are three things to know from one that truly hurt ... 

Made of quality

The bar to clear for a quality start -- six innings, three earned runs -- is not a high one, but the Giants had not had one through 16 games, which is pretty remarkable. Gausman sailed past that mark in his fourth appearance as a Giant, but took a brutal no-decision. The right-hander left with a 2-0 lead and a runner on first in the seventh. A few minutes later, the Giants trailed. 

What was so notable about Gausman is how he did it. He was throwing gas, hitting 99 mph three times -- including 99.3 on his final pitch -- and averaging 97 with his four-seamer. That was his best average fastball since 2016. The final pitch was his hardest since June 9, 2018.

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Maybe pump the brakes a little?

Rogers had a huge spring and was just as sharp in the second camp, but manager Gabe Kapler might be playing that card a bit too often. To be fair, Kapler doesn't have a lot of great bullpen options, but Rogers' appearance Sunday was his fifth against the Dodgers in 17 days, and even pitching two innings in Saturday's win.

At some point, that submarine delivery isn't as much of a surprise, and Pollock swung the score with a three-run shot on a hanging curveball. One pitch earlier, Pollock had walked a few steps toward first, thinking he had walked on an inside pitch. 

[RELATED: MadBum struggles again while Gausman shines for Giants]

Not slowing down

Mike Yastrzemski provided the offense, driving a two-run single into center off former Vanderbilt teammate Walker Buehler. Yastrzemski is eighth in the NL with 12 RBI, and one of the players he trails is a teammate, Donovan Solano (14).

Solano extended his hitting streak with a two-out single in the eighth inning. This was not a barrel for Donnie Barrels. He hit a slow roller to third with a launch angle of negative 46 degrees, exit velocity of 55 mph and hit probability of 17 percent, but it died on the grass and Solano easily beat Justin Turner's throw to first. 

The 14-game hitting streak is the longest by a Giant since Angel Pagan went 19 games in 2016. 

Those were the only two hits of the day for the Giants.