In 2012 the San Francisco Giants need to prove they can be an upper-tier major league team. Their pitching allows them to be considered in the conversation, but until the offense shows that it can support those arms, the team will be looked at as an outsider to that group.
Veterans looking to recover from injury and poor performance need to show they still belong, young talent has to prove it is ready to contribute everyday, while one pitcher wants to display that last year was not just a fluke.
Here are five players with the most to prove in Orange and Black this season.
There is no question that the Giants' inconsistent first baseman is at the top of this list. After a disappointing 2011 where his bat never really got going, San Francisco needs Aubrey Huff to be a presence in 2012.
Even though they will likely be giving Brandon Belt ample opportunity at first base, the Giants will need Huff’s bat when called upon. Historically a year to year kind of player, Huff needs to repeat his 2010 output.
In 2010, he hit .290 with 26 home runs and 86 RBI.
Furthermore, with this being a contract year for Huff, it would show the rest of the league he still has something left to give.
Now in his sixth season with the Giants, Barry Zito no longer has a chance to live up to his seven-year, $126 million contract. Still, he needs to demonstrate to the organization and his teammates he can be helpful.
Being handed the fifth spot in the rotation, Zito needs to capitalize on the opportunity and earn his keep.
It goes without saying he costs way too much to be kept down in the minors, so Bruce Bochy is going to give him as much leeway as possible. So long as Zito provides the Giants with relatively consistent quality starts, he'll be fine.
Zito simply needs to eat up five or six innings each start and keep San Francisco close, before turning it over to the bullpen.
Coming off of a career year, Ryan Vogelsong with have a fair amount of doubters entering 2012. After posting career highs in ERA, WHIP and wins in 2011, “Vogey” must prove he is no one-year wonder.
He needs to show that, at the age of 34, he has found new life and consistency in the majors.
He does not need to have another All-Star year, he just needs to continue to compete and give the Giants a chance every time he takes the mound. His 2.71 ERA last season will likely balloon, but if he keeps it around 3.00, he and the Giants will do well.
In pitching up to this standard, Vogelsong will again give the Orange and Black the deepest rotation in the NL West.
Unlike the previous players on this list, Brandon Crawford is not looking to turn around a career or build off a strong performance. The young shortstop is looking to prove that he deserves to be an everyday player for the Giants.
In order to do this, he must provide solid defense up the middle of the diamond and hold his own at the plate.
Bruce Bochy is giving Crawford the position based the defense he showed last year. However, to keep the spot, he must do better than his .204 AVG and .288 OBP. With their difficulties on offense, San Francisco cannot afford to have that kind of hole, even at the bottom of their order.
By hitting around .260 and only committing 10-15 errors this season, Crawford will prove to himself and the Giants organization that he belongs.
Freddy Sanchez has not played more than 111 games in a season since 2008. In 2012, though, he must prove that he can stay injury-free for the duration of the season.
He and the Giants cannot afford to have his career .297 AVG out of the lineup.
His ability to get on base and produce run-scoring opportunities at the top of the order is too valuable to lose for 60-plus games.
But if he needs a day or two off to rest, then that is what the Giants should give him. Holding him out of the lineup once every seven to 10 games is preferable to him missing over a quarter of the season.
Plus, Sanchez is undoubtedly looking to prove his worth to the rest of the league as well, as the 35-year-old hits free agency next offseason.