Sean Hjelle

Giants Mailbag: Could young starting pitchers be headed for bullpen?

Giants Mailbag: Could young starting pitchers be headed for bullpen?

While the Bay Area focused on the 49ers this week, the Giants had their eyes on a different patch of grass. They're currently holding their developmental camp in Scottsdale, giving prospects an early chance to impress before the real fun starts next month:

We're two weeks from FanFest, and a few days after that, the players will actually take the field under new manager Gabe Kapler for the first time. Baseball season is coming fast, so let's run through another round of Giants questions (from my Instagram followers) as we wait for pitchers and catchers to report ... 

"In all seriousness Alex -- why should I watch/spend money on the Giants in 2020?" -- erniepomin

Well, first of all, we have a new state-of-the-art set that'll allow us to do a lot of cool things on the pre-game show next season, so that's a start. Plus, Kruk and Kuip! Come on, that's all you need. 

As for the team, I've long said that I'll never tell people how to spend their money when it comes to the Giants. It can get expensive, so if you'd prefer to sit out a couple years, you have every right to do so. But, I do think this season is going to be more interesting than the past couple. 

I happen to think "youth breaking through" is an intriguing storyline, so shortstop Mauricio Dubon and pitchers Tyler Beede and Logan Webb could provide plenty of reasons to watch early on. Catcher Joey Bart will be up at some point this year, and there's a chance that somebody like outfielder Jaylin Davis or infielder Chris Shaw finally puts it together.

Every Johnny Cueto start has the chance to provide plenty of entertainment regardless of the team's record.

Regardless of your feelings about Gabe Kapler, I do think it'll be interesting watching a different manager pull the levers for the first time in over a decade. If you're tuning in expecting to watch a win, you'll be disappointed more often than not. But if you try and view this as the start of something, I think you'll have a lot more fun in 2020. 

Are the Giants one of the rumored teams to have made a multi-year offer to Ozuna?" -- mgmatter17

I never once heard of any interest in Marcell Ozuna this offseason, and the fit wasn't really there. He's a good player, but not a game-changer, the type you re-arrange all your (rebuild) plans for. And if he was looking to re-establish his value as a power hitter, Oracle Park is a terrible place to play. 

"Is Sean Hjelle going to be one of the main focuses for at least early spring training?" -- aedinbratton18

Hjelle, the organization's top pitching prospect, is always going to be a focus purely because of his height. You can bet that early in camp someone will tweet out a photo of him dwarfing his fellow pitchers. 

But seriously, he will get plenty of attention for what he's capable of. He spent limited time in San Jose so we haven't really seen much of him, and it's going to be fascinating to see what his mechanics look like in early bullpen sessions. Hopefully, he's able to get into a game or two before getting sent to minor league camp. 

"Who will be the Giants' ace now that Bum is gone?" -- dianebertocchinoonan

Cueto has done it before, but he is coming back from Tommy John and there's a decent chance he gets traded before the end of his deal. Long term, this is a hell of a question.

Beede and Webb have the stuff to get there eventually and Hjelle is their top pitching prospect, but the organization is pretty thin on high-end starting pitching. I don't think you can look at anyone the Giants have right now and think, "He's going to start on Opening Day in 2022."

"If Beede or Webb don't make the rotation, do you think they'd let them pitch out of the bullpen?" -- _juanvillaseno_

This is a question we'll legitimately be asking in a couple weeks, because Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Drew Smyly and Kevin Gausman have the inside track on four spots. Either one of these young guys could be a good bullpen piece, but the Giants aren't ready to go there. 

They really made a commitment last year to giving Beede a shot in the rotation, even when he had some brutal starts, and he showed what he's capable of at times. The Giants are going to give him every opportunity to make the rotation his long-term home. As for Webb, there's been enough "innings limit" talk this offseason that it seems likely he starts the year in the minors, but he's definitely still a starter. 

[RELATED: Giants sign veteran Drew Smyly]

The caveat here is that I do think the Giants will try some new things this year, using semi-regular openers and potentially "piggybacking" guys, allowing them to go 3-4 innings at a time. That might lead to some "relief" appearances for young starters. 

"Why will Logan Webb have an innings limit this season?" -- tyler.j.burton

Webb threw 104 2/3 innings in 2018 but was limited to 103 across all levels last season because of the suspension. Ideally, he would have gotten around 130-140 last year, but that wasn't possible, so the Giants will hold him back a bit this season so he's not jumping from 103 to 160-170. 

Remember, he just turned 23. His health is a priority right now, even if that costs him some time in the Majors. 

"Will ticket prices drop this season with the current state of the team?" -- rioscristian15

I'm not sure of exact rates -- the Giants usually talk about that side of the business at their media day in March. I will say, it's pretty easy to find a cheap ticket to a game on the secondary market during the season. A lot of fans told me they were getting in for like $6 the last couple of seasons. Take advantage of the lack of interest while you can. 

"Which core veteran player is most likely to have a good bounce-back year?" -- shockmaan

I know the staff is really excited about working with Brandon Belt and there's a belief that Buster Posey will be much more productive after a normal offseason. I don't know which veteran is most likely to bounce back, but I will say I'm most curious to see what kind of season Brandon Crawford turns in. 

He's 33 now, but he's athletic enough that the age shouldn't be an issue yet, and he's not far removed from All-Star caliber play. Crawford hit .292./.363/.462 in the first half of 2018 and basically carried the lineup for weeks at a time. There are newcomers to the organization who have looked back at that stretch to see what the difference was, because it really wasn't that long ago. 

"Any way to find out if they are adding anything crazy to the menu like a 25-inch corndog?" -- takem84

The Giants traditionally unveil new menu items and giveaways at their media day. Last year, I asked my bosses if a cameraman could follow me around as I ate every single thing at the stadium and they somehow said yes. That ultimately led to me standing in the heat at SunTrust Park eating a burger covered in chicken tenders, nacho cheese and tater tots. Life comes at you fast. 

"Favorite restaurant to hit up during spring training?" -- uscgabe

The lock of the spring is that every Giants beat writer and a dozen team employees will be at ChopShop after the first team workout on February 12. That's the go-to for lunch, and The Mission is the place you have to hit up for dinner. I also try to visit Rudy's BBQ a couple of times because it's a Texas treasure that has somehow found its way to Arizona.

(Full disclosure: There's a Chick-fil-A outside half the Cactus League ballparks and a Shake Shack in the Scottsdale mall, so spring training is peak "This place doesn't exist in San Francisco so I might as well go here 17 times while I'm in Scottsdale" season.)

Farhan Zaidi expects Giants to be aggressive in promoting top prospects

Farhan Zaidi expects Giants to be aggressive in promoting top prospects

When Baseball America released its latest list of top 100 prospects, the Giants saw three of their young players mentioned within the first 63 names. 

Leading the Giants at No. 19 overall, though, is shortstop Marco Luciano. The young infielder full of power is only 18 years old, but he likely won't make his MLB debut until at least 2020 when he would be 20. 

Behind Luciano is 23-year-old catcher Joey Bart and 20-year-old outfielder Heliot Ramos. Both players are expected to begin the 2020 season in Triple-A Sacramento. It's also reasonable to expect Bart and Ramos to make their way to San Francisco this year. 

"I don't think it's out of the question, and that's one thing that we tried to do this past year," Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi recently said on KNBR. "We had a lot of guys make their debut. We moved guys aggressively through the system.

"I think that not only creates excitement through the fans and people at the major league level, but for the players themselves."

Zaidi also included 6-foot-11 pitcher Sean Hjelle in the conversation with Bart and Ramos. The Giants promoted all three prospects from San Jose to Double-A Richmond last season.

Bart and Hjelle both are non-roster invitees for Giants' big league camp in spring training. 

Zaidi wasn't just referring to top prospects, though. Reliever Tyler Rogers finally was given a chance in the bigs at 28 years old last season and posted a 1.02 ERA in 17 games for the Giants. 

[RELATED: Marco Luciano gives Giants a bright future at shortstop]

"Promoting guys aggressively and rewarding performance, rewarding guys addressing areas of weakness that have been pointed out to them as things that they need to address, that's a real positive," Zaidi said. "I expect us to continue on that path in 2020." 

The Giants are going through a rebuild with hopes of competing as contenders again in the near future. Zaidi is ready for a youth movement in San Francisco, and you should be, too.

What you need to know about Giants' non-roster invitees to big league camp

What you need to know about Giants' non-roster invitees to big league camp

In 2012, the Giants put out a press release that highlighted the inclusion of top prospects Gary Brown and Joe Panik on their list of non-roster invitees. If you dug deep in that release, you found the names of two others who weren't at all known in the Bay Area but would play a key role in championship runs. 

Gregor Blanco and Joaquin Arias were non-roster invitees that year. Ryan Vogelsong, Andres Torres and Santiago Casilla count as other success stories from the championship years, and even this version of the Giants has found some non-roster gold. Dereck Rodriguez was an unknown in camp two years ago. Donovan Solano was a non-roster invitee last spring. 

You already know all about Joey Bart and probably Sean Hjelle, but the odds are good that at least a couple of the others announced Monday will become contributors for the 2020 Giants. At the very least, given the level of roster churn under Farhan Zaidi, you're likely to see quite a few of these guys get a shot of some sort this season. Here's what you need to know about the 18 guys invited to camp on Monday ... 

Joey Bart

He needs no introduction. Bart is the organization's top prospect and one of the best prospects in baseball, period, and the Giants are eager to get him to the big leagues after a strong 2019 and a brief demolition of the Arizona Fall League.

Bart should be the story of camp, and given that Buster Posey usually sees just a couple dozen spring at-bats, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Bart behind the plate every other game in the Cactus League. Bart should start the season in Triple-A but it won't be long before he's in San Francisco. 

Tyler Heineman

The 28-year-old actually scooped the Giants on Monday, announcing his signing on Twitter. 

Chad Tromp

A 24-year-old from Aruba, Chadwick Tromp had a .286/.389/.610 slash line in 26 Triple-A games last year with seven homers. He was slowed by shoulder surgery in 2018, but he's young for an available catcher and has flashed improved plate discipline as he has reached the upper levels of the minors.

The Giants don't have any catching depth behind Buster Posey, Aramis Garcia and Bart, so there's a real opportunity for both Heineman and Tromp to compete with Garcia but also lock up a Triple-A job. 

Cristhian Adames

The versatile infielder played 10 games for the Giants late in the year, going 7-for-22. He was outrighted to Triple-A after the season and signed a minor league contract, just like ... 

Zach Green 

The corner infielder was placed on the 60-day DL in early September with a hip injury, which cost him a shot at a call-up but also got him a month's worth of service time and big-league pay.

The Giants signed Green and Adames at the same time in November, providing some infield depth. The 25-year-old hit 25 homers in 297 plate appearances in Triple-A but went just 2-for-14 in the big leagues. Right now, he doesn't have much competition behind Evan Longoria. 

Drew Robinson

The Giants signed the 27-year-old back in October. Robinson has played every position but pitcher and catcher in the minors. 

Joey Rickard

The 28-year-old made 26 appearances for the Giants last season but was non-tendered in early December. The staff liked Rickard's defense last year and he could again have a path to outfield time given how left-handed the current outfield mix is. 

Jamie Westbrook

Taken by his hometown Diamondbacks in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, Westbrook has a .280/.334/.431 slash line in seven minor league seasons. He's a right-handed hitter who had 16 homers and a .358 OBP across two levels last season. 

Matt Carasiti

The right-hander made his big league debut for the Rockies in 2016 but has bounced around, including a year with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.

Carasiti got back to the big leagues with the Mariners last year, starting five games as an opener and relieving in six others. He had a 4.66 ERA in the big leagues and a 3.53 ERA in the minors. 

Tyler Cyr

This completes a nice comeback for the Bay Area native. A right-hander who was in camp two years ago, Cyr was set back when he needed surgery to repair an elbow fracture.

He missed most of the 2018 season but came back last year to post a 1.97 ERA in 38 appearances, with more than a strikeout per inning. Still just 26, Cyr looks to be back in the bullpen mix he was about to join before he got hurt. 

Rico Garcia

The Giants picked up the right-hander early in the offseason but then non-tendered him. The 25-year-old had a 4.24 ERA and 9.5 strikeouts per nine as a minor league starter and made two late-season appearances for the Rockies. 

Sean Hjelle

Perhaps the biggest news out of Monday's non-roster announcement was Hjelle's inclusion. A second-round pick in 2018, Hjelle will draw a lot of attention. He's the organization's best pitching prospect and he also happens to be 6-foot-11.

Hjelle repeats his delivery well and has a good feel for pitching, and he cruised through Low-A and High-A last season before getting knocked around a bit in six Double-A starts. Overall, Hjelle had a 3.32 ERA in his first big league season. He should start this year in Double-A, but the Giants want to be aggressive with their best prospects and Hjelle could reach the Majors this year. 

Trey McNutt

A 30-year-old right-hander who pitched in an independent league for two years, McNutt was with the A's organization last year. He's currently tearing up the Mexican Winter League, with 24 strikeouts and one run allowed in 15 2/3 relief innings.

McNutt has a fan in Matt Daniels, the organization's coordinator of pitching sciences: 

Sam Moll

The only left-hander on the list, Moll had a 2.39 ERA as a reliever for Richmond and Sacramento last season. Moll was taken in the third round by the Rockies in 2013 and made 11 appearances for the A's in 2017. 

Carlos Navas

The 27-year-old made 15 appearances for Sacramento last season, posting a 5.08 ERA as a swingman. 

Andrew Triggs

The 30-year-old has started games each of the past three seasons for the A's, and he has a 4.53 ERA in 45 big league appearances. The Giants have plenty of pitchers already in the mix for rotation spots, but they're thin at the Triple-A level. 

[RELATED: Why Hjelle stood out to former Giant Ryan Vogelsong]

Raffi Vizcaino

Signed out of the Dominican Republic, the 24-year-old has been in the organization for seven years. Vizcaino pitched well out of the bullpen for San Jose and Richmond last season, although walks have always been an issue.

Sam Wolff

The right-hander had flexor tendon surgery while in the minors with the Rangers in 2017 and was included in the Matt Moore trade while rehabbing. Wolff missed time last year, too, but he had a 1.78 ERA in 25 relief appearances. Wolff has averaged double-digit strikeouts per nine at every stop he has made in the last three seasons.