San Francisco Giants: 5 Under-the-Radar Giants Who Fans Should Get to Know

Howard Cowan@@HowiedaveContributor IIIApril 4, 2012

San Francisco Giants: 5 Under-the-Radar Giants Who Fans Should Get to Know

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    So the Giants didn't repeat in 2011; they didn't even make the playoffs. The honeymoon season for fans and players was a disappointment.

    Buster Posey's absence didn't help, but it's still hard to explain how the Giants watched a four-game lead in late July morph into an eight-game deficit at season's end. 

    You could blame it on the anemic offensive production, or that Diamondbacks flat out won the division.   

    The offseason has produced some positive buzz, with the signings of Melky Cabrera, and Angel Pagan, not to mention the contract extension for Matt Cain.

    Looking past from the hype and excitement its pretty clear the Giants will improve on last year's record.

    Here are five players flying under-the-radar who will make an impact this year. 

Gregor Blanco

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    Gregor Blanco is hands down the best surprise of spring training. When the Giants signed the outfielder in November, they were looking for a player to add some needed speed to the bench.

    What they got is a possible leadoff hitter, or at least a productive bat at the top of the batting order. 

    Blanco has had an impressive spring, hitting .342 with 16 stolen bases.

    This coming from a player who only hit .258 in his three years in the big leagues, with no more than 13 steals. 

    Blanco will need to cut down on his strikeouts, because no one wants a Mark Reynolds who can't hit home runs.

    However if Blanco continues to impress, Nate Schierholtz may lose his job in right field. 

Heath Hembree

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    Fear the Beard—more like fear the Heath.

    The best pitching prospect in the Giants farm system is Heath Hembree, ever since they sent Zach Wheeler in a rent-a-player deal with the New York Mets.

    Not to worry, this guy can pitch.

    In minors last year he had an 1.86 ERA, all while fanning 78 batters in 53.1 innings. He also held opposing players to a .188 batting average and saved 38 games.

    In his six innings of spring training work, the young right-hander gave up just one earned run, while striking out seven.

    Hembree will start the year in AAA Fresno, but look for the Giants to call him up if his success continues. 

Hector Sanchez

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    In what seemed to be a a two-man race for the backup catcher position, there is now a legitimate third contender.

    Although Hector Sanchez will likely be sent back to Fresno, he has done nothing but impress the Giants.

    This spring, Sanchez is crushing the ball: hitting .372 with four home-runs and 10 RBI.

    Sanchez did see major league action last year, and knocked eight hits in his limited 31 ABs.

    Either Eli Whiteside or Chris Stewart will get the backup catcher spot, but with Buster Posey playing more games at first base this year, Sanchez may get the nod behind the dish.

    Look for an early call-up, especially if Whiteside and Stewart continue to struggle with the bat.   

Santiago Casilla

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    Looks like going across the Bay Bridge was all Santiago Casilla needed to revitalize his career.

    In his 6 years with the  Oakland A's, Casilla struggled, posting a 5.11 ERA and a WHIP of 1.59. His final year in 2009 he gave up 32 earned runs in 48.1 innings, while allowing almost 12 hits per nine innings.

    The last two years for the Giants, Casilla was be nothing short of dominant. The hard throwing right-hander, dropped his ERA to 1.85, and last year opposing batters were hitting .183 against him.

    He also saved six games when Brian Wilson was out. 

    But it's easy to lose track of him in a bullpen with five guys who had sub-3.00 ERAs and pitched in a least 49 games.

    Casilla will take on a larger role with Ramon Ramirez in a New York Mets' uniform, and should Wilson go out with injuries again, Casilla will be able to step up.  

Sergio Romo

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    Sergio Romo may not be under-the-radar, but he is definitely underrated. This guy has nasty stuff and could be the closer on a few teams.

    It just so happens the Giants have "The Beard."

    Romo has struggled in spring training...but it's also spring training. The numbers this guy put up last year were the best in the Giants' bullpen.

    Romo struck out 70 batters in 48 innings, only giving up eight earned runs. Even though the Giants folded after the All-Star break, Romo posted a .48 ERA and gave up just ten hits. Since starting with the Giants back in 2008, he is 16-7 with a 2.33 ERA, and has 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

    With Romo at top of his game, the Giants have one of the best and deepest bullpens in baseball—a bullpen which can keep them in games, even if they continue to struggle at the plate.