The World Champion San Francisco Giants are enjoying a relatively quiet spring training this year, so far. As I previously reported, there are very few positions up for grabs, and for the most part, spring training has taken on the feel of a tune-up for the regular season.
Even in a camp that is as drama-free as the Giants is this year, there are always going to be a few minor things that are being monitored closely by the team, its fans and the media. Here are the three biggest storylines coming out of Scottsdale, Ariz., so far.
Two-time Cy Young award-winning pitcher Tim Lincecum is coming off the worst season of his life. Not only was the 2012 campaign an unmitigated disaster for the one-time dominant Lincecum, it was a season in which he was ranked No. 85 out of 88 starting pitchers.
Lincecum has come into camp in 2013 a brand-new man. He has cut his signature long hair and spent time off getting into much better shape than he came in for 2012, as reported by CSN Bay Area’s Andrew Baggarly. This is great, but everyone wants to see if it will translate into a bounce-back season for "The Freak."
Lincecum pitched to live batters on Tuesday for the first time this spring, when he started the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. As reported on SFGate, Lincecum was encouraged by the start, and that is certainly good news to Giants fans.
Each of Lincecum’s starts for the remainder of the spring will bring added scrutiny as the beginning of the new season gets closer. This is a story that will not go away, so stay tuned.
The World Baseball Classic has come back around again, and there are nine Giants who are participating in the 2013 tournament (Javier Lopez has opted not to take part). This is not a story specific to the Giants, as most teams have players who will be leaving camp early to compete on an international level for their country.
For the Giants, the absence of so many regular players will give the team a chance to look at prospects longer than they normally would if all of their star players remained with the team throughout spring training.
Gary Brown, Brock Bond, Heath Hembree, Brett Bochy, Juan Perez and Roger Kieschnick are just a few of the Giants' prospects who will have a chance to show what they can do. Spring training invitees like Cole Gillespie, Kensuke Tanaka and Tony Abreu will also have ample opportunity to try to make the team during the WBC.
As long as no one gets injured and misses significant time because of participation in the international tourney, this should prove to be a non-story by the time camp is over.
In August 2006, the San Francisco Giants signed then 16-year-old Angel Villalona to a $2.1 million contract—at the time, the largest contract the team had ever given to an international free agent.
In 2009, Villalona was playing for the Single-A San Jose Giants and was injured. He was granted permission to return to his native Dominican Republic, and everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.
In late September 2009, the Giants' top prospect was charged with murder in the Dominican Republic as reported in this ESPN article from September 21, 2009.
Since then, Villalona has been cleared of the charges. In 2012, Villalona was denied an elite athlete visa because he was deemed too out-of-shape to be considered such. He has been granted the visa for 2013 and is in camp with the Giants.
This may very well be the most intriguing story coming out of the Giants spring training, and one that everyone should be following closely. There is no real understanding of the Giants' plans for him at this point, but he is still young—he won’t turn 23 until August 13.
If Villalona can show that he can still hit, he may work his way back into the organization's plans in the not-too-distant future. There is also the possibility that the team is hoping that he plays well enough in the minors this year that he can be an attractive trade piece for another team.
The Giants have a very strong leadership base of Latin players on their current team. Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval are all established veterans who are very serious about the game of baseball. Hopefully, their work ethic and drive to win will rub off on the kid, and he can turn his career around.