San Francisco Giants: 7 Players Fighting for Roster Spots in Spring Training
The San Francisco Giants will enter spring training in 2013 with very few available 25-man roster openings barring injury.
The starting five is all but set with Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum all returning.
The starting infield five is also set with Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Marco Scutaro, Brandon Crawford and Pablo Sandoval.
The starting outfield has four players with an Gregor Blanco/Andres Torres platoon in left field, Angel Pagan entrenched in center field and Hunter Pence in right field.
The bullpen will be returning its core six relievers in Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, George Kontos and Jose Mijares.
With Hector Sanchez likely to return as Buster Posey’s backup and Joaquin Arias returning as the super utility infielder, the Giants have three spots on the roster available to be won during spring training.
It is easy to assume that, based on previous years, the Giants will carry an extra pitcher to start the season which would leave two available positions to be won by an extra outfielder and an extra infielder.
I have looked over the team’s current 40 man roster as well as the list of non-roster invitees. The players on the following slides are best suited to push for a final roster spot on Opening Day 2013 based on their experience, their capabilities and the likely needs of the team.
*Note: All statistics cited in this article were researched at Baseball Reference.
Tony Abreu: Infield
Abreu is versatile, having played three different infield positions in 2012: second base, shortstop and third base. He has amassed 464 plate appearances in four seasons at the major league level with underwhelming statistics. His career numbers are .252/.280/.355/.635. He has also struck out 83 times in those 464 plate appearances, an average of once every 5.5 at bats.
The Giants claimed Abreu to provide some competition for the role that was held by Ryan Theriot in 2012 and to provide some experienced infield depth. If Abreu makes the 25-man roster out of spring training, he will have either far exceeded any expectations or no one else will have blown the organization away with their play.
Kensuke Tanaka: Infielder
The Giants signed Kensuke Tanaka to a minor league contract as a free agent with an invitation to spring training on January 10, 2012, as reported on SFGate.
Tanaka is 31 years old and has played his entire career in Japan, where he has been both an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner.
He's primarily played second base and is a left-handed hitter. His 2012 season was cut short by an elbow injury which the Giants must not be too worried about.
Tanaka is a classic Japanese slap hitter and has recorded a career .286 batting average and a .356 on base percentage. If he can prove to be healthy and capable of getting on base close to his career average as a utility player, he will likely emerge as the most logical replacement for Ryan Theriot.
Gary Brown: Center Field
Gary Brown will be entering a critical season in 2013, which will be his age 24 season. If he is to remain an elite prospect, this will have to be the year that he breaks through and forces the Giants hand at some point.
Brown will see extended playing time in the spring as center fielder Angel Pagan will be playing for Puerto Rico during the World Baseball Classic. The Giants hope that his play makes their decision at the end of spring training a very difficult one.
Brown busted onto the scene out of college as he abused pitchers as a member of the Single-A San Jose Giants in 2011, hitting .336/.407/.519/.925 with 53 stolen bases.
2012 was a wake-up call as he spent the season in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League and struggled accordingly for the first half of the year. Brown finished the season at .279/.347/.385/.731, but his last 10 games were hopefully a preview of what is to come in when he hit .333/.381/.359/.740.
Brown is expected to start the season at AAA Fresno, but there is an outside chance that he could make the 25-man roster out of spring training if he proves to be far and away the best extra outfield option. The Giants likely would prefer that he play everyday in Fresno, but they have shown a willingness to break camp with a young, unproven-at-the major league-level player based on his spring performance as they did with Brandon Belt.
It would be an upset for Brown to make the team out of spring training, but I would not be at all surprised if he makes it to San Francisco at some point in 2013.
Francisco Peguero: Outfield
Peguero spent a short amount of time with the San Francisco Giants in 2012. His 2012 minor league statistics were OK (.272/.297/.394/.691) and his strikeout rate was once every 5.8 at bats. His recall from AAA was more an exposure of the team’s lack of upper level minor league outfield depth than it was a promotion based on performance.
Peguero did not see much playing time with the Giants, but he will be in the mix for an extra outfield spot this spring, again based on a significant lack of outfield depth.
The Giants must be hopeful that Peguero is capable of cutting down on his strikeout frequency, and he will have to do that if he expects to be in the mix to stand on the third base foul line on Opening Day this year.
Cole Gillespie: Outfielder
The Giants signed outfielder Cole Gillespie to a minor league contract on December 21, 2012, as reported by SF Giants Rumors on twitter.
Gillespie is a 28-year-old outfielder who bats right handed and has seen major league action with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2010 and 2011.
He has logged 110 major league at-bats in which he has hit .236/.292/.391/.683. The Giants are likely intrigued by his career minor league on base percentage of .393.
If Gillespie can open some eyes this spring, he’ll get a long look at claiming the extra outfield spot. The Giants would probably like to have him on the team on Opening Day and keep Gary Brown in AAA.
Ramon Ramirez: Right-Handed Relief Pitcher
Brian Sabean traded for Ramon Ramirez at the 2010 trade deadline in one of his patented under-the-radar deals that strengthened the team’s bullpen significantly. Ramirez pitched in 25 games in the final months of 2010 for the eventual World Series Champion Giants, logging 27 innings with a cartoon ERA of 0.67 and an equally impressive WHIP of 0.88.
Ramirez was traded to the New York Mets after the 2011 season as part of the package that brought Angel Pagan to the Giants. On February 5, 2013, the Giants signed Ramirez to a minor league contract and invited him spring training, as reported by the San Jose Mercury News.
Ramirez did not pitch well in 2012, finishing the season with a 4.24 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP. The Giants are hoping that he can find his 2010 form as he is reunited with the dynamic pitching coach duo of Dave Righetti and Mark Gardner.
If he shows that he can again pitch like he did in late 2010, he will be a candidate to take an extra spot in the bullpen. If not, he will provide experience depth at AAA.
Boof Bonser: Right-Handed Relief Pitcher
The one-time San Francisco Giants top-pitching prospect has never quite reached the potential that he was thought to have early in his minor league career with the Giants. Bonser was part of the trade that sent Francisco Liriano and Joe Nathan along with Bonser to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for AJ Pierzynski after the 2003 season.
Bonser has amassed a total 416.2 innings pitched at the major league level in his career, and has not pitched in the big leagues since 2010. His career ERA is 5.18 along with a career WHIP of 1.45.
None of these statistics suggest that Bonser will ever sniff a major league mound again, but the Giants are likely hoping to catch Ryan Vogelsong-esque lightning in a bottle with Bonser.
Having Bonser in camp is a no-risk, potential high-reward situation. If the Giants' stellar staff of pitching gurus can help Bonser find a consistent approach where he misses bats more often than not, he will be one of the names that manager Bruce Bochy mulls over on the final cutdown day prior to setting the 25-man roster.