The 2013 San Francisco Giants will be entering spring training with very few roster spots up in the air. The reigning World Series Champions are returning every one of their key players from the stretch run in 2012 and have added another key player from their 2010 Championship run.
The only questions left to be answered are what the batting order will look like on Opening Day in Los Angeles and how manager Bruce Bochy will construct his starting rotation.
Barring significant injury during spring training, the following slides are my predictions for the Opening Day lineup and the starting rotation.
Note: All statistics cited in this piece were researched and verified at Baseball Reference
Angel Pagan had a career year in 2012
Angel Pagan flourished once he was entrenched in the leadoff spot by manager Bruce Bochy. Pagan found his stride and lit the spark that propelled the team to their second World Series title in three years.
Pagan was a free agent this off season, and he chose to sign a large but team-friendly contract to return to the Giants. His presence solidifies center field and the leadoff spot in the batting order. That is where he will be on April 1 in Los Angeles, as he will see the first pitch of the 2013 campaign.
Marco Scutaro will again be the Giants second place hitter in 2013
Marco Scutaro was the most significant acquisition made by any team last year during the season. At the time of the trade it seemed somewhat mundane—as Scutaro was viewed as a nice pick up, but certainly not a blockbuster. Ironically, Scutaro’s play eventually earned him the nickname “Blockbuster” from his teammates. No one could have imagined the offensive impact that Scutaro would have.
Scutaro seemingly never swung and missed. He hit an astounding .362 as a member of the Giants with an on-base percentage of .385. Perhaps most impressively, Scutaro struck out only 14 times in 268 plate appearances, that is one time in every 19 at bats.
This offseason, Scutaro signed a contract to remain with the Giants through the 2015 season. While some may think that his three year contract is too long at his age, he’ll be 38 in October 2013, the Giants see him as an everyday player this season. The team hopes that he will be the second baseman most of 2014 and the eventual mentor to Joe Panik, who they hope is the heir apparent to the second base job in the not too distant future.
Scutaro is the epitome of a second place hitter, as his bat control and situational awareness is unparalleled. He will be the second place hitter for the 2013 Giants.
Pablo Sandoval proved in the 2012 post season that he can hit even while carrying a few extra pounds. His injuries over the past two seasons have been somewhat freakish as he landed on the DL in each of the last two years having his hamate bone removed from both hands.
Luckily, Sandoval has no more hamate bones to break and the lovable third baseman, reigning World Series MVP and Babe Ruth award winner is primed for a very successful season in 2013.
Bruce Bochy will likely move him around in the batting order from time to time, but on Opening Day he will be batting third as the Giants begin their attempt to protect their crown.
Buster Posey will bat fourth. Posey is the heart and soul of this team and is a run producer.
There may come a time during the season when Bruce Bochy moves him out of the cleanup spot for a game or two, but on Opening Day, Buster Posey will be in his familiar spot in the batting order.
Hunter Pence is a productive hitter. He has proven over the course of his career that even though he is very unconventional in his approach, he does push runners across the plate and ultimately that is what makes a hitter valuable.
Pence will test free agency for the first time after the 2013 season. The Giants are hoping that pushes him to have a career year, but they are well aware that his inconsistent approach at the plate means that they really do not know what they will get from him.
Pence will need to provide some protection for Posey as teams will look to pitch around the reigning MVP if there is no viable threat behind him. If Pence can’t get that job done, he may be moved down a spot in the order to give Brandon Belt a chance to prove that he can protect Posey.
We could also see Pence and Sandoval swap positions from time to time, but on Opening Day, Hunter Pence will be charged with protecting Buster Posey in the lineup in the fifth spot.
Brandon Belt will bat sixth to start off the season but could move up a spot in the order pretty quick if he gets off to a hot start and Pence begins to struggle. In a perfect scenario they both start hot and there is no need to move Belt from the sixth spot.
Belt could be primed for a big 2013 season, especially if he is allowed to find a comfort zone in one spot in the batting order. That comfort zone will start as the sixth spot in the order on Opening Day.
Brandon Crawford settled into his role as the 2012 Giants’ eighth place hitter as the season progressed. His on-base percentage during the first half of 2012 was .287, but as his confidence grew so did his ability to get on base.
He raised his percentage in the second half of the season when he reached base at a .327 clip.
Crawford actually improved every month in 2012 in both batting average and on-base percentage, finishing the year batting .288 in September and October with a .351 on base percentage in those same months.
Expect to see Crawford moved up one spot in 2013 order based on his improvements at the plate and on the speed of the two players who platoon the eighth spot in the order posses.
Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres will share left field in 2013. Blanco will start against right-handed pitchers and Torres will start against left-handed pitchers.
Blanco batted .244 with an on-base percentage of .333 in 2012 as a left-handed batter. Torres is a switch-hitter who hit .286 with a .382 on-base percentage in 2012 as a right-handed batter.
Both of these players are fast and can cause problems for a defense on the bases. The Giants hope that they will complement each other well and will get on base often.
They will be hitting eighth when the season opens, as the team hopes their ability to get on base, combined with their speed will be an asset when hitting in front of the pitcher.
Matt Cain is the unquestioned ace of this staff. He earned the Opening Day start for 2013 with his dependability, consistency and production in 2012. Cain logged 219.1 innings while posting a 2.79 ERA and a WHIP of 1.04 for the year.
Cain is a bull dog; he leads by example and is the elder statesman of this relatively young Giants ball club. Putting Cain at the top of the rotation is a no brainer.
Bruce Bochy has shown a tendency in the past to stagger his starting rotation—right, left, right as much as possible. The strategy is a solid one, as many managers have players who platoon, and staggering the rotation can keep some opposing hitters from getting into a groove during the course of a series.
With this propensity of Bochy’s in mind, Madison Bumgarner is the logical choice as the number two starter in the 2013 Giants rotation.
Bumgarner, like Cain, is consistent and a fierce competitor. Those two attributes will come in handy as he will routinely face the top pitchers on opposing ball clubs.
Ryan Vogelsong will be the 2013 Giants number three starter. Vogelsong could likely be the staff ace on some teams, which is testament to the depth of this rotation.
Vogelsong is also a fierce competitor and his determination, coupled with his talent, is very valuable in any spot in the rotation. Vogelsong has been pitching with a chip on his shoulder ever since his emergence in 2011 and has been extremely successful in doing so.
The Giants may not mind if his assignment as the number three starter is another chip on his strong throwing shoulder.
One could make a very good argument that Barry Zito pitched so well in 2012 that he earned the spot as the left handed starter in the second spot in this rotation.
But, with Zito as the number four starter the Giants will benefit more greatly if he faces some of the lesser starting pitchers on other teams.
Once the unquestioned ace of this pitching staff, Tim Lincecum will be the Giants fifth starter in 2013. Lincecum earned this spot with his nightmarish 2012 campaign.
Like Zito, Lincecum might benefit from not having to face the top pitchers on other teams in every start. If Lincecum can regain his old form, he will be a very nice bridge to the top of the rotation. If he cannot, he pitched very well out of the bullpen in the post season, perhaps that is where his future is.