Ten Pressing Questions for the San Francisco Giants Heading into Spring Training
For Giants fans, last season was an utter disappointment. But the one bright spot was watching the brilliance of Tim Lincecum on the mound every five days. The crown jewel of the organization, Lincecum captured the first NL Cy Young Award for a Giants pitcher since Mike McCormick in 1967.
But Lincecum and the other Giants starters were regularly hurt by the team's struggling, anemic offense. The squad is overall very young and still maturing, but still have a lot to prove to their fans as well as the organization.
Coming off a 72-90 season, the G-Men have numerous glaring questions facing their young team.
So let's take a look at the Top 10 most pressing questions facing heading into the 2009 Season.
1) Can the Giants Offense Give the Team a Fighting Chance to Win the Division?
Over the course of the last three or so years, the Giants have struggled at scoring runs on a consistent basis.
This has to do with three major factors. A large portion of this problem is due to the apparent power outage. The last two seasons, the Giants have hit the fewest home runs each season in the entire major leagues.
Another reason is due to the massive size of AT&T Park.
The final factor is general manager Brian Sabean and the organization choosing to focus the majority of their top draft picks the last several years on young pitching instead of power offense.
The Giants are without a young arsenal of talented hitters. Fred Lewis, Pedro Sandoval, Travis Ishakawa, John Bowker, and Ryan Rohlinger give the Giants a fighting chance and a sign of good things to come. Veterans Benjie Molina, Randy Winn, and Aaron Rowand provide a marginal amount of power from the middle of the order.
2) Will Tim Lincecum Take It to the Next Level?
Tim Lincecum exploded onto the baseball scene throughout the 2008 season as he dominated the NL West and entire National League. He carried the Giants and was the lone bright spot during a season of futility.
Even with an inept offense, “The Franchise” finished second in wins, second in ERA, and first in strikeouts in the NL. He also logged 265 strikeouts in 227 innings pitched. He had a record of 18-6 on a team that was 18 games under .500. And he's not even 25 yet.
He also posted the best batting average against of any pitcher in baseball last year.
This will be the year that tells if young Timmy can make the jump from one of the elite pitchers in baseball to the absolute best starter in the game. He has the talent, ability, and smarts to accomplish this remarkable.
But, he'll need his offense to chip in if it is to happen.
3) How Much Will the Young Pitching Progress?
There's no denying the abundance of young pitching in San Francisco. Over the last several years, the Giants have gathered and groomed a solid cluster of young, talented pitchers.
These pitchers have all come from their farm system and are mostly first rounds picks. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Noah Lowry, Madison Bumgarner, and Tim Alderson among others were all taken in the first round from 2002-2007.
Bumgarner and Alderson are two of the Giants top young prospects. They were both drafted in the first round of the 2007 draft. The giants also have Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Palmer, Patt Misch, and Kevin Pucetas as young, capapble starters.
There proved to be too much youth for Sabean as they parted ways with Brad Hennessey and Kevin Correia—both former first round picks—in the offseason.
The young pitching core has the ability to make a leap in its contribution and progress significantly under the guidance of pitching coach Dave Rightetti. The youngsters will have veterans Barry Zito and newly acquired Randy Johnson to guide, instruct, and help them along the way.
4)Will Bullpen Free Agent Acquisitions of Bob Howry and Jeremy Affeldt Pay Off?
In an effort to boost bullpen efficiency before handing the ball to Brian Wilson come the ninth frame, Sabean signed free agent pitchers Bob Howry and Jeremy Affeldt. The G-Men had a decent pen last year, but it definitely needed an upgrade by means of a long reliever and a proven, veteran left hander. Sabean accomplished both with these signings.
Wilson was an All-Star in his first year as the full-time closer taking over for Armando Benitez. He posted 41 saves in 47 opportunities, tied for second in the NL with Brad Lidge.
The only blemish on Wilson's '08 resume was his 4.62 ERA, which was inflated due to having to come in several times during the eighth inning with inherited runners on base and in scoring position.
Look for Wilson's ERA to decrease this season and his saves to be about identical to last year's campaign.
Howry and Affeldt secure an already fairly steady bullpen. They are joined by notable Giants relievers Alex Hinshaw, Jack Taschner, and Keiichi Yabu.
5)Will Veteran Free Agent Signings Edgar Renteria and Randy Johnson Prove Their Worth?
Changing his approach from years past, Sabean opted to sign only a pair of veteran free agents this offseason as a stop gap until the young talent is given the reigns.
Traditionally, Sabean would sign marquee free agents losing first round draft selections in the process. He prefers veteran talent and immediate impact than waiting for home grown talent to produce.
With the Giants making strides in their farm system over the past five years, this switch of baseball philosophy was a must. The Giants are now rank ninth in ESPN's Keith Law's minor league rankings of all the MLB teams.
The Giants are hoping that Renteria will play solid baseball until youngsters Ivan Ochoa and Emmanuel Burriss are ready to play full time.
They also hope The Big Unit can help the young pitching core while providing some hype and excitement around AT&T Park as he is only five victories from 300 career wins.
The veterans will have to perform well this season in order to justify Sabean's move and philosophical switch.
6) Can Jonathan Sanchez Put It Ttogether to Become An Elite Pitcher in the NL West?
Sanchez showed that he has some serious ability during the 2008 season. He finished 22nd in strikeouts in the majors with 157, while spending the last few weeks of the season on the DL with a sore elbow.
If he can harness that ability and stay healthy an entire year, he will make the Giants rotation that much more lethal. He will be the number five starter behind Lincecum, Cain, Zito, and Johnson.
Sanchez may have to share starts with Noah Lowry who is coming off two arm surgeries which sidelined him for the entire '08 season.
Sanchez went 9-12 with a 5.01 ERA in '08, which may not seem to impressive. But, these average statistics are due to the worst offense in the majors behind him as well as pitching through pain for quite some time.
Both of these factors greatly affected his numbers which would have otherwise been much better.
7) Can Matt Cain Get Any Run Support?
The last two years have been the worst for the Giants offense in quite some time. And no pitcher on the squad has been more affected by this futility than Matt Cain.
Cain boasts a great ability to strike players out, but also walks a considerable amount in the process because he has so much movement on his pitches. He finished 7-16 and 8-14 the last two years but never had an ERA of above 3.80.
Cain threw a one-hit shutout against the Cubs two years ago and won 1-0. The lone Giants run came on a solo home run by—you guessed it—Matt Cain.
Give the man some runs and he'll win 20 guaranteed.
8) Will the Young, Everyday Players Show More Signs of Promise and Progress?
The Giants also boasts a nice core of young everyday players that are on the verge of being roster stalwarts for years to come. Some of these players are Fred Lewis, Nate Schierholtz, Emmanuel Burriss, Eugenio Velez, Brian Bocock, and Kevin Frandsen. All of these players are eager to contribute, but will get their chances in the coming months.
9) How Effective Will Frandsen Be?
Kevin Frandsen was slated to be the everyday second baseman for the Giants coming out of spring training last year. But, a week before the season started, Frandsen ruptured his Achilles' tendon and missed all of the season except for a pinch hit appearance during the final game against the Dodgers.
Velez, Burriss and Ochoa had to balance the second base duties in Frandsen's absence. This was actually a good opportunity for them to develop and expand their infield skills at multiple positions.
Now back and healthy, he is once again looking to be a solid, everyday contributor. One of the organization's top prospects, Frandsen brings much promise. Manager Bruce Bochy hopes to see Frandsen in the starting lineup regularly for the Giants throughout the season.
10) Will We See Buster Posey in '09?
The organization's top prospect and last year's fifth overall pick, Posey brings much hype and an incredible amount of potential.
Some had him as the best player in the amateur player draft, but he slid to five because of contract demands from his agent Scott Boras.
Sabean took a chance at taking him not knowing if the team could sign the catcher before the August deadline. He did so and gave Posey a Giants rookie record contract in the process. Now, Posey is rumored to perhaps be a September call up once rosters expand.
Keep your eyes peeled for the mega-propsect's first major league appearance. Most likely, he will replace Bengie Molina behind the plate once his contract expires after this upcoming season.
Buster won the Golden Spikes Award during his junior season while playing for Florida State.
Angel Villalona, Madison Bumgarner, and Tim Alderson are all top level prospects to watch for in the coming months and years.