Sunday, April 1, 2012

Spring Training Notes: End of Spring, More Moves, Sleeper?

So after today's game, the Giants have officially ended Spring Training. While there is still a multitude of moves to do, it'll be very interesting to see how things shake up, both at the Minor and Major League level.

-- After today's 7-4 loss to the Brewers, the Giants have officially ended their Spring Training game stint. Brandon Crawford assured himself of the starting position with a home run, and finished the Spring with a .340/.417/.566 slash to go along with three home runs, 11 runs scored and 13 RBI.

-- Another player who saw time in Fresno and San Jose last year who could be a candidate for the 25-man roster is Hector Sanchez. While the Giants and many experts out there feel he could use more seasoning behind the plate, Sanchez did more than hold his own at the plate this spring. His Spring slash was .390/.386/.756 in 41 at-bats, and he also showed some power for his position as evidenced by his four home runs and three doubles. While Bruce Bochy may like the veteran presence of Eli Whiteside, it's obvious that Sanchez has more upside, which could be big considering it is hard to gauge how much Posey will play behind the plate this year. I still think Bochy will eventually go with the vet for the backup position, but Sanchez could play a huge role this year, especially if he transitions his ST performance to the PCL.

-- In addition to releasing Ramon Ortiz, the Giants also released some more players during the week of March 20-26th, according to Baseball America's Minor League transaction blog. The list includes RHP Ryan Bean, RHP Brennan Flick, RHP Stephen Shackleford, RHP Adam Thomas, RHP Sundrendy Windster, LHP Chuck Lofgren, 1B Josh Mazzola, 2B Kaohi Downing, OF Leo Ochoa.

-- Some of the interesting names of this bunch are Lofgren and Windster. Lofgren was a formerly touted prospect in the Indians system who was ranked as the 54th best prospect going into 2006 and 71st best prospect going into 2007 by Baseball America. However, the Bay Area product (he went to Serra High School, the same high school that produced Barry Bonds), has struggled in the minors and didn't do enough to impress the Giants this Spring. As for Windster, he was a converted position player who started pitching last season. However, he struggled in the Arizona Rookie League and continued to show issues this Spring. At 23 and not having played much beyond Augusta, the Giants figured that there wasn't much ceiling left with Windster.

-- Could middle infielder Joaquin Arias be a sleeper this year? With Mike Fontenot being released, he not only could be a viable option in Fresno this year, but he could challenge for a spot on the active roster as well (especially with Freddy Sanchez hurt and Emmanuel Burriss projected as the starting second baseman). Arias has impressed this Spring with a .304/.353/.457 slash this Spring with two home runs and a stolen base in 46 at-bats. Arias was formerly a top prospect in the Rangers system (he was rated as the 77th prospect in baseball according to Baseball America going into 2005), so the potential is there, even if it has faded a bit since shuffling between the Rangers and Royals organizations.


  1. Nice rundown of Giants news.

    I would note that Chris Stewart most probably has the inside track to taking the backup job, not Whiteside. And while he's older, not really a vet yet, almost same as Sanchez, both really had their major debut in 2011 (though Stewart got some playing timre previously in majors, but not very much).

    Here's why I would rather see Stewart backing up and Sanchez in AAA. Stewart has good batting peripherals: good contact rate, good walk rate to boot. Catchers take longer to develop their hitting, so if we can hold onto him, he could blossom for us offensively potentially. He's done well against LHP so far in his career (again, not much and most of it last season, but still 800+ OPS is pretty good for catcher), so he's perfect for this season: when LHP starting, Posey moves to 1B, Stewart most likely hit as well or better vs. LHP than the lefty he replaces, whether Schierholtz or Huff or whoever.

    To boot, Stewart in 2011 was among the leaders in defensive runs saved according to the Fielding Bible: that in spite of it being a counting stat (i.e. more IP, more count) and him only having a third of the IP of leading catchers. He was very good defensively as a catcher.

    Meanwhile, as encouraged I am about Posey, we don't really know what is going to happen with him going forward. Carlos Santana recovered nicely for the Indians after his injury at home plate, but everyone is individual, so who really knows about Posey. As strong as he is as a person, listening to his interviews, I got the sense that it shook him up, I mean, he was going to encourage his child not to be a catcher. So mentally, he might be ready to move on once another prospect steps up, or who knows, maybe he tells the Giants he's done, move him to another position.

    That makes it important, in my mind, to give Sanchez every chance to develop in the minors and possibly be the starting catcher in 2013, if necessary. At worse, we have two capable starting catchers (maybe three if Stewart blossoms). Plus, I want Sanchez ready to take over as soon as possible, Posey is still the catcher, you can account for every possible play, so you never know what he might face catching in 2012. Hector will be less prepared if he's up here sitting on the bench.

    Keeping Hector and dumping Stewart closes off options for the Giants. Stewart might end up in a nice platoon for another team where he's the guy against LHP plus maybe end of game defensive. While Hector might struggle defensively and delay his development into a starting catcher.

    Not that he is even assured of being a starter. Some prospect evaluation books view him as a nice backup, not a starter. I assume that is because of his rawer defensive abilities. We see the comments and get hopes about him, but need to be aware that not everyone agrees that he'll be a starter.

    What if he isn't? Then if we lose Posey for whatever reason as catcher, we already lost Stewart (he is gone if we put him on waivers), and will be forced to start Sanchez, who in this scenario is not capable of starting, or the Giants end up having to trade someone good to get a better catcher than Sanchez. Making Stewart our backup and Sanchez our AAA starting catcher gives us a lot of potential options, as well as give us risk mitigation in terms of position coverage.

    And lastly, I agree that Arias could be a sleeper this season. Stewart and Blanco too. The Giants the past few years (Torres, Stewart, Blanco, Arias, Casilla) have been picking up some nice failed prospects who appear to be turning it around right when the Giants pick them up (or maybe the Giants helped them make that final tweak necessary, who knows?).

    Again, nice post.

    1. Thanks OGC, sorry for not getting to this comment earlier. It was a really great one.

      To be honest, I'm more anti-Whiteside than I am anti-Stewart. I really like what Stewart brings to the table. He's solid defensively, and while offensively he doesn't bring much upside, he did show some progress as he got more at-bats. My big thing is that we know what Whiteside is going to bring to the table, which to be honest, isn't much. I wouldn't be averse to Sanchez starting in Triple-A. In fact, I have supported it for most of this Spring. I'm just saying that if Bochy is really all about bringing Whiteside back as the backup and releasing Stewart, the Giants might as well bring up Sanchez because he's a better option than Whiteside IMO. Furthermore, I still think a prospect could develop as a backup (I think working with the Major League staff instead of journeyman or Quad-A guys is invaluable), and the Rockies are thinking that by bringing in Wilin Rosario. Now, knowing Jim Tracy, who knows how they'll handle Rosario, but it does give some food for thought with the whole Sanchez situation.

      Either way, I think Sanchez is a special player. I think if Posey can't catch full time (and you're right, everything now points to him being recovered and good to go), then I think he and Sanchez would make a very valuable platoon. Of course, that probably means that either Susac or Joseph is trade bait, but that isn't a bad thing, especially if the Giants could get something big in return. That is the benefit of having a surplus at a premium position. It can net you a lot in return.

      That's a good point about the Arias and the Giants history of taking up failed prospects. Casilla and Torres are two big success stories, and the Giants still have some in the works, with Michael Main being the main one (former first round pick by the Rangers). Gordon of the MiLBA still has hope for him, though they note that he needs to make a big step up this year. I will definitely be paying attention to Main this year to see how he progresses at Double-A. If he can resurrect his career in the Pen, it could be another dumpster dive gem from Sabes, who got him in the Molina trade.