Tony Watson

Giants mailbag: What future holds for young pitchers, top prospect

Giants mailbag: What future holds for young pitchers, top prospect

Today would have been an off day. By this point, the Giants already would have faced Madison Bumgarner for the first time, along with Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler. They would have spent today at Target and Best Buy, loading up their new apartments and rental homes. 

It's a weird time right now, and that gets exacerbated if you look up an MLB schedule. It's a strange alternate reality that so many people had been preparing for over the course of months, but it no longer exists. 

At some point, we'll hopefully get the game back, but there are far more important things to worry about right now. So stay home everybody, and stay safe. We'll keep trying to bring you fun Giants content in the meantime, so here's a mailbag with some actual baseball questions and some interesting ones about covering the team ...  

"How will the pandemic affect operations at Oracle Park if, and when, fans are allowed to attend?" -- rioscristian15

There's unfortunately not really an answer for this. One thing I've tried to remind people is that it's not as simple as getting 52 players on a field and telling them to be careful. With fans, you have 2,600 or so game-day employees who take care of security, food, etc. It's a massive group that you're getting together for any sporting event, and it feels like a situation where you're all-in or all-out. You can't have a game at Oracle Park and ask people to sit six feet away from each other.

Even without fans, it's complicated. You have players, umpires, coaches, trainers, bat boys and more. You obviously want to broadcast those games, which means cameramen and a broadcast truck of producers, and then you would need security around the ballpark. This is all unprecedented and complicated and I don't think anyone can accurately tell you what a game will look like when it returns. 

"Do you see Webb as a solid piece in this year's rotation?" -- its_ya_boi_jime

The last interview I did before the shutdown was with Logan Webb, and we talked about the proposed innings limit. When the game returns, the Giants won't need to worry about Webb's innings, and I don't think they'll have to think as much about building the trade value of others, so I see no reason why Webb wouldn't be in the rotation for the entirety of a shortened season. 

"Do you have a Brian Wilson story?" -- jacksonirwin_

I have plenty! One that comes to mind is my first visit to spring training in 2011 when I was filling in for Andrew Baggarly for a week. Wilson was a full-on character by that point (remember the Taco Bell commercial?).

I was standing in a hallway near the clubhouse with Peter Gammons, and Wilson walked through and the two struck up a conversation about New England. Wilson grew up in New Hampshire. I just remember them talking for 20-30 minutes, and I remember Wilson being a completely different person, soft-spoken and inquisitive, the person I imagine he is when cameras aren't around. 

That one always stood out to me, because when the lights went on, he would immediately put on a show. To this day he still does that. 

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"Your favorite Giants moment ever?" -- kitkat_kitty

You mean, aside from every relief pitcher at-bat? 

This is a really tough question, but I'll give you three that immediately stuck out. 

It was incredible being on the field right after Travis Ishikawa's homer and interviewing Jake Peavy like 10 minutes after he had tried to stop Ishikawa at third. I think that's my favorite interview, because Peavy could barely even recall doing it and everyone was still just so stunned about the way the game had ended. 

The entirety of Game 7 in Kansas City is probably my favorite day on the beat. I've never seen a press box as chaotic as when Gregor Blanco bobbled the ball in the ninth inning, and I'll never forget how tired -- truly exhausted -- guys were in the clubhouse that night. Buster Posey told me he would sleep for three weeks and Madison Bumgarner finally admitted he was out of gas. I spent so long talking to trainer Dave Groeschner that I nearly missed a deadline, and I remember him nursing a beer and talking about how Bumgarner must be half man, half horse. 

One other one that sticks out is Game 1 of the 2010 World Series. I wasn't on the beat at the time but the Mercury News sent me to the park to run our live chat. When it started raining, everyone left the auxiliary press box -- the seats at the top of the third deck in left field -- but I couldn't unplug because the chat would have stopped. Two ushers came over and held umbrellas over me and another one stood there and kept wiping down the table and my laptop. There was just a really cool sense of community that night, and I'll never forget how happy all of the employees and fans in that section were that they were watching their Giants in the World Series. 

"If the season started today, who is one guy you see closing games outside of Watson?" -- meleh555

Tony Watson's shoulder should be fully cleared whenever this season starts, but behind him, I think Trevor Gott is probably first in line. He was a closer at Kentucky and in the minors. I would also be curious to see how far the staff would push Tyler Rogers. From what I saw, he was throwing as well as anyone in Scottsdale. 

The real answer, of course, is that if the season started today the Giants would likely have a committee. Wandy Peralta and Jarlin Garcia are two more who also had outstanding springs. 

"When will Heliot Ramos make his Major League debut?" -- williamclementi63

This, to me, gets at one of the most fascinating questions this season. I was betting on Ramos making a September cameo, but that won't exist anymore, and it's hard to know if minor league baseball will. I'm on the pessimistic side in terms of a start date, but at some point, big league teams may have the clearance and resources to safely hold games. Will towns like Richmond and Sacramento be able to have gatherings of 10,000, though? 

I have no idea what a minor league season will look like and I don't think the Giants do, either. It's wait-and-see, but it's not hard to imagine a situation in which most or all of the minor league year is wiped out. Does the Arizona Fall League then become bigger? Do guys like Ramos and Joey Bart play a full season of Winter Ball? Will teams more aggressively push top prospects next spring because they're a year older, even if they don't have that year of experience? This is just one of a million things that'll have to be decided when baseball resumes. 

"Are we gonna see Mauricio Dubon in center this season?" -- haileyllanez

Yep, Gabe Kapler made that clear before camp shut down. I was asked to make an Opening Day lineup for a simulation we're running and I actually put Dubon in center for the opener because Kershaw was on the mound. 

If you missed it, Dubon was on The Giants Insider Podcast last week and told the story of how he started playing center field. 

"Who do you think will be the next superstar the Giants sign?" -- haroldstuart

I'll just say this, Mookie Betts offers just about everything that made Bryce Harper appealing last February. He doesn't have quite the star power, but he is a better player, and he'll be just 28 when he hits free agency this offseason, which he'll do regardless of how many games are played. 

There will be a lot of competition -- starting with the Dodgers, obviously -- but I expect the Giants to be in on Betts and I think they'll be better positioned than just about anyone when baseball returns. They're rich enough to survive a lost season, and the work continues on Mission Rock even as most of the rest of the city shuts down (it was deemed "essential" because it includes affordable housing).

The Giants might come out of this year looking at a farm system that's top five or 10 and a roster that's just one season from purging most of the big deals. If they want to accelerate the rebuild this winter, they can. 

"Where do you see Seth Corry in five years?" -- rjkerr28

At or near the top of the rotation. I have no idea why Corry doesn't get more love from national publications that rank prospects. As a 20-year-old left-hander, he had a 1.76 ERA in Low-A and struck out 178 in 122 2/3 innings. Give me all of that stock. 

"What is the craziest Giants moment you've ever been a part of?" -- blakewaldrop67

There are the obvious answers like Ishikawa and the Wild Card games and Bumgarner in Game 7, but I think one that stands out for "craziness" is Game 2 in Washington D.C. That is, literally, the coldest I have been in my life, and I know others feel the same. It was really nice and kind of humid during the day so nobody was prepared for what it would feel like when that game went six hours and 23 minutes. 

The press box at Nationals Park is at the very top of the stadium and the head of PR went down to the heated clubhouse in the ninth inning and refused to let his employees close the press box windows as the game went 18 innings. I don't have kind words for him. Baggs turned on a hot dog roller in the dining room and that's where we would go between innings to warm up our hands, with about 20 other journalists gathering in the bathrooms because they were heated. It was a weird scene, and that game had all kinds of craziness too. Yusmeiro Petit's relief performance is one of the most underrated in MLB history, in my opinion.

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"Over the years, which Giants player has had your favorite walk-up song?" -- timarcuscousins

Can I go with a reliever warm-up song instead? Javier Lopez never got the credit he deserved for using "Coastin'" by Zion I when he jogged in from the bullpen. That was such a unique choice and fit him perfectly, and I thought it always brought a different vibe to the ballpark. You just knew Lopez was going to strut up to the mound and calmly get out of the jam. 

And then ... Lopez switched it up and went with "The Humpty Dance" for a while. What a legend. 

Why Giants might not name their closer before end of spring training

Why Giants might not name their closer before end of spring training

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants finally will play a baseball game Saturday, getting Gabe Kapler one step closer to the day when he'll have to make quick decisions in the late innings of a close game. Kapler is replacing the man who did that better than anyone, and he'll be at an immediate disadvantage. 

Bruce Bochy had a Core Four for a while, but even in his final year he entered the season with Will Smith, Tony Watson, Sam Dyson, Reyes Moronta and Mark Melancon set as late-innings options. Watson still is here. After that, it's rookies, non-roster invitees and a collection of starters who may only be able to make this club as versatile relievers. 

The Giants plan to lean into that, and there's a chance the Opening Day bullpen primarily is made up of guys who can go three innings at a time. But you still need a closer, someone who will take the ball with a one-run lead in the ninth. You still need that one person that everyone else works to get the lead to.

Right?

Maybe not. 

"If somebody grabs hold of that position and makes it unequivocally clear that that person is the right player for that role, sure, I think there's some value in naming a closer," Kapler said. "If it doesn't work out that way, it's interesting -- flexibility works both ways. We have to be flexible enough to say right now we don't have to name somebody a closer. I think that decision will be made for us as we go through camp."

The Giants have one obvious candidate, Watson, who saved 30 games for the Pirates but has not done it in two seasons in San Francisco. Shaun Anderson got a taste late last year and has expressed an interest in closing, but the Giants are stretching the former top prospect out as a starter right now. Trevor Gott is making interesting adjustments this spring and was a closer in college and the minors, but he has just one big league save.

The Giants want Gott to be versatile enough to pitch at any time, too, and they could find that Anderson and Watson, or other incumbents, are best used in higher-leverage spots. For years, teams have talked about the fact that it doesn't really make sense for your best reliever to be kept on ice until the ninth. The Giants could be poised to actually go all-in on that method.  

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Regardless, team executives quietly are optimistic about the group. They believe they've put together a collection of good arms, and Andrew Bailey, Ethan Katz and Brian Bannister have received strong early reviews for the work they're doing in altering pitch mixes and grips. A young bullpen doesn't necessarily have to be a bad one. It also doesn't have to be one with a set hierarchy. 

"I think the game is changing dramatically and relievers know that there are fewer of those surefire 'you're the seventh, eighth and ninth (inning) guy' throughout baseball," Kapler said. "Those are actually more rare now than anything else. I do think players in general like to know their role and in a perfect world we can lay that out for them. We don't have relievers in our 'pen that are married to any role and I think that's fun and unique about our camp. We don't have one reliever that has to pitch in any particular role."

Giants spring preview: Relievers competition wide open for 2020 season

Giants spring preview: Relievers competition wide open for 2020 season

SAN FRANCISCO -- For a team that's had so much trouble at times closing out games, the Giants have generally known what their plan was for the ninth inning. Whether it was Santiago Casilla or Sergio Romo or Mark Melancon or Will Smith, Bruce Bochy always had options. Sometimes they weren't great options, but he had a pretty good idea on the first day of every spring what his ninth inning should look like.

Gabe Kapler has his preferences right now, but as he follows in the footsteps of one of the game's all-time great bullpen managers, Kapler certainly has a much more wide-open field. 

Tony Watson has 30 big league saves, but he wasn't as sharp as usual last season and doesn't have the power stuff you generally see from left-handed closers. Shaun Anderson was a closer in college and got a brief shot late last year, but there's a very limited professional track record as a reliever. 

Sometimes we overstate how many competitions there truly are in spring training, but there's no doing that with this bullpen. Even Anderson, a 25-year-old with minor league options, is not a lock. Watson is the veteran and Trevor Gott will have an inside track if he's fully recovered from a UCL sprain, but with Reyes Moronta on the shelf for most of the year and the rest of the group mostly made up of young pitchers and non-roster invitees, there's a lot of uncertainty here for Kapler and new pitching coach Andrew Bailey. 

"As open as it is, that'll start to reveal itself during camp, but I think competition is good," Bailey said on The Giants Insider Podcast last month. "We don't know how many actual spots are open or what have you, but I think guys that find themselves in that competition or in that competitive environment and get opportunities and take advantage of them, they can really make a name for themselves."

Over the last couple weeks, we broke down catchers, first basemen, second basemen, shortstops, third basemen, outfielders and starting pitchers, but good luck coming to any consensus about what the race to fill the eight-man bullpen looks like. Here, look at how some of the buckets of players look ...

Young starters who might be in the bullpen: Anderson, Andrew Suarez, Dereck Rodriguez, Conner Menez, Luis Madero, possibly Tyler Beede or Logan Webb

Veteran starters who might end up in the bullpen: Kevin Gausman, Drew Smyly, Tyler Anderson, Burch Smith

Inexperienced relievers who showed flashes in 2019 but also could start the year with Sacramento: Tyler Rogers, Sam Coonrod, Jandel Gustave, Sam Selman

That doesn't even cover all the relievers on the 40-man roster, or get to the ones who will be in camp as non-roster invitees. It doesn't include Wandy Peralta, a hard-throwing lefty who was picked up in September, or Melvin Adon, a prospect with the triple-digit fastball and power slider to move very, very quickly. It doesn't include Dany Jimenez, a Rule 5 pick who will get every opportunity to make the club, or Nick Vincent, who is back after making last year's Opening Day roster. That doesn't factor in the very real possibility that the Giants use an opener. 

It's going to be a wild competition, one that likely results in dozens of bullpen roster moves during the year and potentially multiple closers. Watson seems the easy choice right now, but Anderson has the equipment and mindset to elevate to that role and Gausman could be the wild card in the ninth if he doesn't stick in the rotation. 

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Bailey, a former All-Star closer himself, said he doesn't feel the Giants need to have the pecking order set in the late innings. Teams have talked of doing that for years, but few have the guts to actually try it. Perhaps this coaching staff, young and innovative and facing an impossible climb in the NL West this year, will take some chances. 

"I don't feel the necessity to have a set seventh, eighth, ninth-inning guy," Bailey said. "I think you look at leverage, you look at where we're at in the lineup, a lot of different things. Although I do believe that guys have their routines down in the bullpen and they're used to coming into certain situations, but at the end of the day they're used to leverage, they're used to the atmosphere, the environment, the adrenaline. That's kind of what they're used to."