With spring training well under way, a number of surprises and revelations regarding the San Francisco Giants have arisen. Be it Brandon Belt and Pablo Sandoval's success in the batter's box, potential reserve players pushing for playing time or the starting rotation enjoying an improved spring, the team is looking solid going into the regular season.
Offensively, first baseman Brandon Belt and third baseman Pablo Sandoval are leading the charge. This is an encouraging sign, considering the Giants need increased offensive production from both of their corner infielders.
Belt in particular is looking to break out at the plate in 2013. If his performance in spring training proves to be an accurate indicator, Belt will do just that. In 19 plate appearances, Belt is batting .526 with two home runs and an .895 slugging percentage.
In his most recent spring training contest against the Kansas City Royals, Belt went 4-for-5 with a ninth-inning home run.
Pretty impressive. Combine those numbers with a stellar second half of the 2012 season, and Belt appears to have finally found his rhythm against major league pitching. If nothing else, Belt will enter the regular season with confidence.
Sandoval is also currently on an offensive tear, posting a .500 batting average in 16 plate appearances so far this spring. He lifted a home run in his last at-bat before joining Team Venezuela for the World Baseball Classic.
In general, the Giants offense is syncing well. Although their power numbers are still lacking, there's no real surprise there. However, both Belt and Sandoval have the potential to hit for more power in 2013. Their success so far is highly promising.
San Francisco is in desperate need of depth on the bench, both in the infield and outfield. An impressive spring could potentially push some players over the edge and onto the Opening Day roster.
First baseman Brett Pill is making a case for himself. Although Belt is the undisputed starting first baseman, especially given his recent offensive outburst, Pill could provide power in left field. Pill is currently batting .316 with two home runs and a .789 slugging percentage. It certainly doesn't hurt that Pill is a right-handed hitter with power potential, a player profile the Giants are currently lacking.
Left field continues to be a topic of contention, and, as spring training continues, the Giants will have their eyes focused on all of their options. Gregor Blanco is still the likeliest player to start in left field come Opening Day; however, he has stiff competition.
Left fielder Cole Gillespie has emerged as a viable platoon option. This spring, he is batting a respectable .286 with two doubles. He is also showing patience at the plate, walking four times in 18 plate appearances.
Both Gillespie and Pill (given Pill can adjust to playing left field) give Blanco and Andres Torres competition in the corner outfield position.
The Giants' starting pitching core has also churned out solid performances this spring. Manager Bruce Bochy has tentatively announced (via MLB.com) the rotation order for the 2013 regular season. Right-hander Matt Cain will be the Opening Day starter, followed by Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong as the rock-solid anchor.
Zito, the rotation's perpetual question mark, has had the best spring training of his career as a Giant thus far.
His last start against the Arizona Diamondbacks proved promising. Zito pitched three scoreless innings, striking out two and only allowing two hits. Additionally, former teammate and current Diamondback Cody Ross had complimentary words regarding the left-hander.
Via CBS Sports:
"He's getting everything over for strikes. When I was there a couple of years ago he threw a lot of balls. It looks like he has confidence throwing strike one. That's the main thing, he's throwing strikes."
If Zito's success this spring carries over to the regular season, don't be surprised to see him return to San Francisco past 2014. Zito certainly wants to remain in a Giants uniform, as he stated to The Associated Press:
I would love to play baseball in San Francisco until I'm happily riding off into the sunset. I think last year was a big reconnection with me and with the fans. And I think that's the beauty of the game, and that's why people come out here and fill up the seats, because the game is so unpredictable. One day there could be a countdown to when you're going to be leaving the team and the next day they might want you back.
Zito is not the only member of the starting rotation enjoying a strong spring. Madison Bumgarner has only allowed one earned run in 3.2 innings pitched. He has worked to alter his mechanics after wearing out toward the end of last season, as demonstrated by a poor postseason performance.
This spring, Bumgarner is working on shortening his delivery in order to improve his consistency as well as to improve his ability to prevent runners from stealing. In 2012, 27 out of 37 base runners were able to steal successfully with Bumgarner on the mound.
Add to that the consistency of Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain, along with former staff ace Tim Lincecum's thirst for redemption, and the starting five looks to be in good shape heading into the 2013 regular season.
There are still practices to be held and games to be played this spring training. So far, signs are pointing to another successful season for the defending World Series champions.