Yolmer Sanchez

How Giants were shaping up as original 2020 MLB Opening Day approaches

How Giants were shaping up as original 2020 MLB Opening Day approaches

The Giants would have flown to Los Angeles on Wednesday. At some point, Gabe Kapler would have sat down with a pen and card and created his first lineup as manager, deciding just how heavy he wanted to go with right-handers with Clayton Kershaw ready to dig in on the other side. Perhaps Kapler would have spent a few minutes with pitching coach Andrew Bailey discussing their best option if they had a lead after eight innings. 

Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris would have finalized the roster, picking a 26th man for the first time and making the final decisions in their outfield and bullpen. They would have scoured the waiver wire one more time, looking for recently-designated players they could slide onto the back of the 40-man roster. 

None of that is the reality right now. The Giants don't know when they will play again, how many games they'll get in 2020, or if fans will even be in attendance the first time Johnny Cueto kicks at the dirt and decides to mix in a shimmy or a quick pitch. 

But at some point, the Giants and the rest of MLB will resume, and at some point the focus will turn back to baseball. There will be an Opening Day, it just won't be tomorrow. There will be an Opening Day roster, and much of it was decided before the coronavirus pandemic hit the pause button on spring training. 

It's unlikely that much will change in terms of the roster before all of this resumes, so with the original Opening Day date just a few hours away, let's take a look at how the Giants were shaping up:

Catcher

The last major move made before the end of the spring was the decision to send Joey Bart back to minor league camp. But all along it was Rob Brantly vs. Tyler Heineman in the race to back up Buster Posey. Neither was tearing it up in the Cactus League, and there definitely was a strong chance that another catcher would have been scooped up this week.

Remember, Zaidi added Erik Kratz and Tom Murphy at the end of his first spring with the Giants. 

Infield

You have your locks in Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Evan Longoria and Wilmer Flores, and there was little doubt that Mauricio Dubon was making the team and seeing plenty of time at second, short and center. 

Donovan Solano has an option remaining but he was 8-for-21 in the spring, reminding the staff of how reliable he has become at the plate. Yolmer Sanchez was just 3-for-26, and while this staff certainly won't overreact to a small sample size, he had to be feeling some nerves as the games ticked by. 

With an extra spot, the Giants could have carried Solano and Sanchez, but that won't be possible when they resume if rosters don't expand for position players. Pablo Sandoval will almost certainly be 100 percent cleared by that point and will get a backup spot. 

Outfield

With Dubon showing he can play center, the Giants gained more flexibility in the outfield, and some clarity was gained when they optioned Steven Duggar to Triple-A. 

Mike Yastrzemski, Hunter Pence and Alex Dickerson are the locks, and after that it might have come down to keeping inventory. The Giants want to get a look at Jaylin Davis this season, but they wouldn't mind him getting hot in Triple-A first. Austin Slater is in a tough spot because he can be optioned. 

With Duggar optioned, it would be somewhat risky to go into a season at Oracle Park with Yastrzemski (who didn't play much center last year) and Dubon (a natural infielder) as your main center fielders, so Billy Hamilton looked to be in a good spot. 

The toughest decision might have been with veteran Darin Ruf, who was 12-for-28 with three homers, five doubles and a triple. Ruf was the story of the final days of camp and his right-handed thunder would have been a nice fit on the bench, but it might be tougher to fit him in once Sandoval is back. 

Rotation

This is where the layoff might end up making a decision for the Giants. Their best option behind Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly is 23-year-old Logan Webb, but he was going to be under a workload restriction after throwing just 103 innings last year. With a shortened season, the Giants can more easily put Webb in their rotation to start and just keep him there, and that's probably what they should do. 

The Giants felt pretty good about their depth, with Trevor Cahill, Trevor Oaks and Andrew Suarez throwing well early on. They'll have another option once all of this resumes; Tyler Anderson was ahead of schedule in rehab from knee surgery and he should be ready. 

Bullpen

There was just about complete uncertainty with this group heading into the spring, and it could be even wilder when Spring Training 2.0 kicks off. That's because the expectation within the game is that a shortened season will at least start with expanded rosters. There has been speculation that teams could start with an additional half-dozen pitchers to make up for the lack of ramp-up time before games begin.

So, if you're trying to make final cuts in the bullpen, maybe you end up just keeping them all and even adding a player who has been optioned already -- say, a Shaun Anderson type. 

[RELATED: Pence doesn't think shorter season cheapens World Series]

The layoff will allow Tony Watson to get his shoulder fully healthy, and Trevor Gott was in a good spot behind him. Quietly, Wandy Peralta and Jarlin Garcia had combined for 18 spring strikeouts in 10 scoreless innings, and both lefties should be in a Giants bullpen of any size. 

With an expanded roster and shortened season, there's no reason to not keep Rule 5 pick Dany Jimenez, and young guys like Sam Coonrod and Tyler Rogers don't have to worry as much about being on the bubble. There is more breathing room for veterans like Jerry Blevins and Nick Vincent, too. 

The Giants could fill out their bullpen with guys like Cahill, Oaks, Suarez, Dereck Rodriguez, Tyson Ross and Andrew Triggs, who could all provide valuable innings, especially with the likelihood that teams will play a lot more doubleheaders.

In a weird way, this might put the Giants in a decent spot. Their staff wasn't being built to go head-to-head with opposing starters for seven innings every night, but they certainly have accumulated plenty of guys who can give you 40-50 pitches several times a week.

How this Giants spring training lineup shows team's potential strength

How this Giants spring training lineup shows team's potential strength

You should take virtually nothing away from the Giants' spring training lineups that get posted every morning. The schedule is mapped out to make sure veterans get maximum rest and those fighting for jobs get a solid opportunity, and the actual batting order is often about simply getting someone reps. 

But on Tuesday, against the Rangers, the Giants will go with Brandon Crawford at the top, followed by Evan Longoria, Brandon Belt and Buster Posey. That gets four players in their thirties a good opportunity to get two to three at-bats before departing for the day. 

Having said all of that, Tuesday's lineup does show something interesting about the 2020 Giants. They have a chance to be elite defensively at times, and the group behind Logan Webb certainly shows that:

Crawford SS
Longoria 3B
Belt 1B
Posey C
Yastrzemski RF
Duggar LF
Flores DH
Sanchez 2B
Hamilton CF

Put another way, here's that lineup by Defensive Runs Saved (minus the DH):

Crawford: negative-4 
Longoria: 7
Belt: 6
Posey: 14
Yastrzemski: 7 as a right fielder
Duggar: 6 as an outfielder (he has never played left)
Sanchez: 4
Hamilton: 8

Weirdly, the only one in that group who doesn't rate well above average is the shortstop with three Gold Gloves, and the eye test doesn't really match the metrics on that one. This, to be clear, is not a likely starting lineup for the Giants, but it is an example of what they're thinking could be a closing lineup.

The plan to go platoon-heavy means manager Gabe Kapler will utilize most of his roster every night, and with a 26th man the Giants will have more flexibility for someone like Hamilton, who could play just about every game as a defensive replacement if he makes the team.

[RELATED: Duggar changed swing with eye on Giants' outfield spot]

Crawford will lose some starts this year, particularly against lefties, but the Giants still plan to have him involved on those days to shore up the defense. Sanchez, a Gold Glove winner last year, could do the same if he starts a game behind Flores or Donovan Solano, and this lineup doesn't even include Mauricio Dubon, who should be an impact defender somewhere in the lineup. If someone like Jaylin Davis makes the team over Duggar or Hamilton, the outfield alignment would still be strong. 

The Giants are concerned about how they're going to score runs and there are serious questions to be answered about the rotation and the bullpen, but if you're looking for an area of strength, here's one right in front of you on the third day of March. They have a chance to be very, very good defensively, particularly when they're trying to hold a lead in the late innings. 

Giants excited to see Yolmer Sanchez's revamped swing, fun celebration

Giants excited to see Yolmer Sanchez's revamped swing, fun celebration

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When Derek Holland was designated for assignment last July, the Giants lost their best celebration. Holland’s water jug became a staple of walk-off wins, so much so that a couple of teammates grabbed jugs to cap the walk-offs that occurred after Holland had been let go. 

This year’s team will have a new set of signals and celebrations, and the Giants have a new infielder who seems well-positioned to earn fan-favorite status. Yolmer Sanchez takes walk-off wins to a different level:

Sanchez said he started dousing himself because he simply likes to have fun, and he pointed out that you never know how long your big league career will last. You have to make the most of it. 

“I try to enjoy my time and enjoy everything that we do as a group,” he said. “I did it and the fans liked it so I continued to do it.”

The Giants are hoping Sanchez is doing more than just celebrating big hits. They are confident in his bat and the adjustments he’s making, and they’re counting on him to add production to the infield. 

Sanchez won a Gold Glove at second base last year -- he said his goal is to repeat and also win the Platinum Glove given to the league’s best defender -- and the Giants already have seen his slick feet and quick hands in action this spring. But they were more encouraged by what they saw in an early live BP session, when he pulled a homer comfortably over the wall. 

“That was kind of cool to see him square up a fastball and be on time with his swing and drive the ball to the air on the pull side,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “One thing we always know about Yolmer is his defense is always going to be there, so to the degree that some of those swing changes can take effect, we see him as being a really impactful player for us.”

Like most in camp, Sanchez is making subtle changes with a new Giants hitting coach. But his version of the story has a twist. He started working with hitting coach Justin Viele earlier this offseason when Sanchez was still with the White Sox and Viele was a minor league coach for the Dodgers. The two have reunited at Scottsdale Stadium, continuing to work on a new swing path that ideally will have Sanchez hitting more balls up the middle and to the gaps.

“I think that’s one of the things that was exciting about coming here,” Sanchez said of Viele. “He knows what I can do. If I feel good, if I feel comfortable, I believe in my talent and I believe I can do way better than last year, and I’m going to prove it.”

The 2019 numbers were low enough that the White Sox, who spent heavily over the offseason, non-tendered one of the league’s better defenders. Sanchez had a .638 OPS and just two homers, and his OPS+ was below league average for the sixth consecutive season.

But the Giants see some stretches in Sanchez’s past that could make him a good fit for their infield. He had a .738 OPS against lefties last year and was at .724 with eight homers the year before against righties. If the switch-hitter swings that way from either side, he would fit the platoon-heavy roster. 

Regardless, the glove work is so elite that Sanchez has been worth 8.2 WAR over the past three seasons. That should put him in the middle infield mix with Brandon Crawford, Mauricio Dubon, Wilmer Flores and Donovan Solano.

[RELATED: Bochy praises Bart, will have large role in minor leagues]

Sanchez turned down big league offers to come to San Francisco as a non-roster invitee. He’s hoping to win an everyday job and provide some production for the lineup, but if he’s in the dugout when the winning run is scored, Sanchez will be ready to contribute in a far funnier way. He smiled when asked if the Gatorade dumps will make a comeback. 

“We’ll see, that’s something that I don’t practice,” Sanchez said. “But I think at the right moment, I will do it, yeah.”