Bruce Bochy has several very tough roster decisions to make
The San Francisco Giants have some interesting battles for roster spots this spring.
Manager Bruce Bochy and GM Brian Sabean have several issues to consider when finalizing their opening day roster.
The Giants have to choose between Chris Stewart, Eli Whiteside and Hector Sanchez for the backup catcher role. Sanchez has been the most impressive in camp, but at age 22, the Giants may want him to get more seasoning.
After the decision is made as far as the backup catcher, the Giants will have four remaining roster spots available. It appears outfielder Gregor Blanco has played his way on to the roster and takes one of those jobs.
The result is Bochy and Sabean will choose between Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, Emmanuel Burriss, Brett Pill, Brandon Belt or a third catcher. This makes six possible players for three roster spots.
Let's take a closer look at five players most likely to be sent down to the minors before opening day and who we can expect to see return to the big leagues at some point in 2012.
Hector Sanchez is the best hitter of the backup catcher options
I really hope Hector Sanchez wins the backup catcher job.
Out of he, Chris Stewart and Eli Whiteside, Sanchez is the only one that can hit. He has also improved his defense and pitch-calling over the past year.
My gut feel, however, is that manager Bruce Bochy will go the ultra conservative route and choose either Whiteside or Stewart to open the season. The thinking would be that Sanchez, who is only 22 years old, would be able to learn and hone his skills more quickly by playing every day in Fresno.
Whiteside and Stewart both have an edge over Sanchez in terms of experience with pitch selection.
I believe that is a bit over-rated, however, because the Giants have a veteran pitching staff from top to bottom and the pitcher can always shake off the catcher to throw what they want to, anyway.
Sanchez has a huge edge over both Whiteside and Stewart offensively. In a brief cameo as a September call-up last year, Sanchez handled himself well, batting .258. He only had 31 at-bats, so the sample size was small.
Sanchez hit well in the minors last year. He split time between San Jose and Fresno, the Giants' A and AAA affiliates. He hit .285 with 12 home runs and 84 RBI.
Sanchez's showing this winter in Venezuela was even more impressive, hitting .339, with nine home runs and 39 RBI. His batting average was second in the league and he also had an impressive OBP of .402 and OPS of .950.
Meanwhile, Stewart hit only .204 and Whiteside only .197, this past season. They are both poor offensive players and since the backup catcher is likely to start 40-50 games this year, Sanchez is, in my opinion, by far the best option.
Nevertheless, I think the Giants will opt to go for one of the veterans, but expect Sanchez to be called up sometime in the middle of the 2012 season.
Mike Fontenot can play three infield spots
Mike Fontenot, Ryan Theriot and Emmanuel Burriss are battling for the Giants' two middle infield utility positions. With Burriss out of minor league options and having a fine spring, it's likely he will make the opening day roster.
Theriot gets the nod over Fontenot because he is a right-handed bat and can spell Brandon Crawford when the Giants face tough left-handed pitching. I also believe that Theriot is the better player.
Fontenot and Theriot both have non-guaranteed contracts, so if one were to get cut, they would be free to sign with another club or join the Giants' Triple-A team in Fresno.
I do like Fontenot as a quality utility player, but with Burriss out of options and Theriot a proven commodity, the odds are not working in his favor.
I originally felt Fontenot and Theriot had the inside track over Burriss, but he has been playing very well this spring and the Giants probably don't want to risk losing him by placing him on waivers.
If Fontenot is indeed cut, but opts to remain with the Giants' organization, I am certain he will be called up to San Francisco when the inevitable Freddy Sanchez DL stint occurs.
In fact, Sanchez has still not played an inning in the field and is having trouble getting enough on his throws. His surgically repaired shoulder has been slow to ramp up, in terms of throwing the ball with authority.
There is a strong possibility that Sanchez opens the season on the DL and if that happens, expect Fontenot, Theriot and Burriss to all make the team.
Eric Surkamp started six games for the Giants in 2011
Eric Surkamp had his ups and downs last year for the Giants. He started six games and his first two were very good, but he tailed off badly in his last two outings.
Surkamp is destined to start the season in the minors, but is first on the list if any of the Giants' starters get injured. In addition, if Barry Zito is ineffective, Surkamp would be the man to replace him.
The Giants will not give Zito a long leash and if he does not pitch well, he will be out of the rotation and perhaps even designated for assignment. The Giants still owe Zito $46 million, which is a primary reason he hasn't been cut earlier.
In his six starts last year, Surkamp threw 26.2 innings with 5.74 ERA and 1.84 WHIP. He did win two games for the Giants, however.
The 24 year old Surkamp excelled in the minors last year and just needs to gain more confidence at the major league level. He split time between San Jose and Richmond before being called up to San Francisco.
Surkamp threw 148.1 innings in the minors and allowed only 110 hits, while striking out 170. He fashioned an excellent 1.94 ERA and 1.07 WHIP.
Surkamp is more of a breaking ball pitcher, so command is critical for him. He will work on that in the minors to start the year, but I fully expect him in San Francisco by the All-Star break.
Brandon Belt is in a battle for one of the final spots on the roster
The way it looks right now, Brandon Belt could be fighting Brett Pill for the final spot on the opening day roster.
There are points favoring each player, but whoever is sent down to the minors will be back in the majors before too long.
Belt was supposed to be the rookie phenom in 2011, but struggled at the plate and lost confidence. He was shuffled in and out of the lineup and also back and forth from Fresno. There were definite holes in Belt's long, loopy swing and big league pitchers took advantage of that.
In 2011, while playing in the majors, Belt hit only .225, with nine home runs and 18 RBI. He could not hit the inside fastball and as he started to cheat by opening up early with his swing, he was fooled by off-speed stuff away.
Belt played winter ball, did well and regained his confidence. He is playing well in spring training games and doing everything he can to make the ball club.
Belt is a better defensive player than Pill and, in addition to first base, is an adequate outfielder. The Giants could opt to mix Belt in at both first base and the outfield.
The bottom line for the Giants and Belt is that if he makes the roster, he needs to start and play at least four games a week.
Pill is primarily a first baseman, although he has played some outfield and second base and could fill in if there was an emergency. Pill had a much better showing in 2011, hitting .300, with two home runs and nine RBI in 50 at bats.
It was a small sample size, but Pill was impressive with his approach at the plate and the adjustments he made very quickly. It seems like Pill would be a better option coming off the bench as mostly a right handed pinch hitter.
In 2011, while in Fresno, Pill hit .312 with 25 home runs and 107 RBI. His OPS was a very strong .871 and at the age of 27, doesn't have much more to prove in the minors.
The Giants have a very tough decision to make regarding keeping Belt or Pill.
No matter who is sent down, expect him to be back in San Francisco whenever the Giants need some reinforcements.
Heath Hembree will most likely be the first relief pitcher brought back to the major leagues, in the event one of the current relievers is injured or ineffective. The Giants want Hembree, who is only 23 years of age, to start the season in Fresno so he can get regular work.
Hembree impressed Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti this spring. He has electric stuff and is being primed as the closer of the future for the Giants.
In 2011, Hembree split time in San Jose and Richmond, dominating at both levels, throwing a total of 53.1 innings and only allowing 36 hits. Hembree struck out 78 hitters, while allowing 25 walks. His ERA was 1.86 and WHIP 1.14.
I fully expect Hembree to join the Giants whenever there is a need for another relief pitcher. Once he's called up to the majors, I think he'll be here to stay.
Freddy Sanchez may start 2012 on the DL
Injuries are a fact of life in professional sports, especially with a long, 162-game season.
In 2011, the Giants were decimated with a myriad of injuries.
Manager Bruce Bochy is hoping for a healthy 2012 season for his team, but there are already been a few concerns.
The biggest issue seems to revolve around the right shoulder of Freddy Sanchez. He has yet to play in the field and is having trouble making the longer throws and throwing on the double play pivot.
Outfielder Nate Schierholtz has missed time recently, due to a muscle strain in his forearm. With Gregor Blanco, Brett Pill and Brandon Belt pushing for playing time, it would behoove Schierholtz to get healthy and stay healthy as soon as possible.
Starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong has yet to make an appearance in any spring games due to a back injury he sustained lifting weights. However, Vogelsong has been throwing off the mound and recently threw a solid round of batting practice.
Vogelsong has reported no further discomfort and appears ready to start pitching in games. Barring any setbacks, Vogelsong should be able to start the season in the Giants' starting rotation.
The Giants have the depth to weather any minor aches and pains, but what they cannot afford are any devastating or long-term injuries to any of their star players.
If the Giants can stay healthy, the will challenge for the division title in 2012.