Giants manager Bruce Bochy has led the team to two world championships
The San Francisco Giants began spring training with the aim of defending their World Series crown. The Giants have won two world championships in a three-year span and have brought back all of the key contributors of the 2012 championship team.
Spring training is a time for veterans to get themselves ready for the long grind of a 162-game season. It is also a time for young players to try to impress and catch the eye of their manager. Many players are also fighting for their jobs, as they try to make the big league roster.
In the case of the Giants, there are precious few spots open to make the team. The Giants are looking for a utility infielder, a fifth outfielder and two relief pitchers. The remainder of the roster is already set and, barring injury, will open the season with the team.
Spring training always results in a few surprises, both good and bad. Let's take a look at some of the biggest surprises thus far.
George Kontos emerged as a reliable reliever in 2012.
The Giants acquired George Kontos in a trade with the New York Yankees for backup catcher Chris Stewart. The deal was not highly publicized but turned out to be a very good one for the Giants.
Prior to coming to San Francisco, Kontos had pitched a total of six innings in seven appearances in his big league career. That changed when Kontos became a Giant. He appeared in 44 games and threw 43.2 innings, allowing only 34 hits and 12 walks, while striking out 44.
Kontos' ERA was a very solid 2.47, and his WHIP was an outstanding 1.053. He had the inside track for one of the two remaining relief jobs on the team, and he has done nothing to weaken his position.
Kontos has already pitched in four games, throwing four innings, allowing five hits, one earned run, no walks and striking out five. He has allowed a batting average of .313, which is very high, but he has been able to work his way out of trouble for the most part.
With an ERA of 2.25 and WHIP of 1.25, there is nothing Kontos has done to lose his grip on one of the open bullpen jobs. By solidifying his spot on the roster, Kontos ensures his position with the Giants on opening day.
Kensuke Tanaka lunges for a throw that would have gone into center field.
When the Giants signed Kensuke Tanaka from Japan, it appeared he had a very good chance to earn the final utility infielder job on the team.
Tanaka, who will be 32 years old in May, had a very good season in Japan last year, with a batting average of .300, three home runs, 32 RBI and 13 steals. Tanaka is a fundamentally sound player who also runs well, can bunt and is a good defensive player.
Tanaka may be playing himself off the roster with some poor defense. In eight games, Tanaka has had 26 total chances in the field and has made three errors. Whether this is nerves or just plain bad luck is uncertain.
The one thing that is for sure, however, is that Tanaka needs to make all the plays defensively, or he will not make the team.
Brett Pill has blasted two home runs already this spring.
In 2012, Brett Pill had a very good spring and made the opening day roster. He was used mostly as a pinch-hitter, which caused him to lose his batting stroke.
Pill was sent back and forth to the Giants' Triple-A affiliate in Fresno on multiple occasions. He finished the 2012 season with a batting average of only .210. Because Pill rarely played, he lost his batting stroke and confidence at the plate.
Fast-forward to 2013, and again Pill is off to a good start this spring. He is hitting .273 with two home runs, six RBI and five runs scored. Pill's six RBI lead the Giants in spring training thus far. His OBP is .333, and he carries an OPS of 1.015, which is outstanding.
Defensively, Pill's main position is first base, but with Brandon Belt locked in as the starter and Buster Posey playing some games at first, there is no room for Pill. This relegates him to pinch-hitting duty for the most part.
Pill is trying to master left field so he can get some games in the outfield as well. He has also been working at third base, but it seems unlikely that we will see him there.
If given regular playing time, Pill can hit and has good power. His problem is on defense, as he is slow and has never been able to overcome his defensive shortcomings.
Brett Bochy is making his dad's decision easier.
Brett Bochy is the son of Giants' manager Bruce Bochy. Brett came to camp with a legitimate opportunity to win the final relief job on the team.
However, Brett has gotten off to a surprisingly slow start. In two outings, covering 1.2 innings of work, he has allowed three hits and walked one, which is making his dad's decision very easy. His ERA is a whopping 10.80 with a WHIP of 2.40. Opposing hitters are batting .375 against him.
In 2012, Brett had a very good season at the Giants' Double-A affiliate in Richmond. He threw 53.1 innings and allowed only 29 hits and 18 walks, while striking out 69.
With Brett getting off to a poor start, I expect him to be sent down to work on a few things. Fresno is his most likely destination, and it will be a good test for him to pitch in a hitters' league.
Nick Noonan is off to a slow start this spring.
Noonan began his professional career in 2007 with the Giants. He moved slowly but steadily through the minors and had a fine year in 2012.
Playing in Fresno last season, Noonan hit a very solid .296, with nine home runs, 62 RBI and 65 runs scored.
Noonan has experience playing second, short and third, so he had a legitimate shot at winning the final utility infielder job.
Unfortunately for Noonan, he is off to a very slow start. In eight games, Noonan is 1-16, for an .063 average. His chances have diminished greatly, as both Wilson Valdez and Brock Bond have moved ahead of him.
Brandon Belt had a great spring in 2011 also.
Brandon Belt thrives in the spring and is once again having an excellent amount of success. Hitting at an 11-22 clip, Belt has a batting average of .500, with two home runs and five RBI at this point. Belt's OPS of 1.409 is outstanding.
Last year, Belt had major problems getting around on the inside fastball, as pitchers capitalized on Belt's long, loopy swing. He was also fooled by off-speed pitches down and away. He had the entire offseason to work on these things, so we'll see if his early success in the spring carries over to the regular season.
If Belt can start the regular season off well, he will solidify his spot as the Giants' starting first baseman. He is also an excellent defensive player.
Wilson Valdez has played with seven other teams in his career.
Wilson Valdez is a stable veteran and a valuable utility man. In seven major league seasons, Wilson has a career batting average of .236. He can play multiple positions and can do all the little things that help win games.
In training camp with the Giants, Valdez has played his normal steady brand of baseball. He has played in seven games, batting .273, with a .467 OBP. His three walks and plate discipline make him a good potential pinch-hitter when manager Bruce Bochy needs to get some people on base.
Valdez is also a fine defensive player with experience at second, short and third. He has the inside track on winning the final utility infielder job based on his veteran status.
Brock Bond is having a spectacular spring.
One of the biggest surprises in spring training for the Giants has been Brock Bond. At the age of 27, he is doing everything he can to make the team.
Bond is 11-22 for a .500 batting average, with two home runs and four RBI. He has an OPS of 1.583, which leads the Giants. The amazing thing about Bond this spring is his two home runs. In six prior seasons and 1,800 at-bats, Bond has only four career home runs.
Bond has played primarily as a second or third baseman. He has opened some eyes with his outstanding start. Bond is battling Wilson Valdez, Kensuke Tanaka and Nick Noonan for the final utility infielder job.
Yusmeiro Petit has thrown the ball well this spring.
Yusmeiro Petit spent the vast majority of the 2012 season in Fresno, where he started 28 games. He also started one game for the Giants, when they needed a player.
Petit is trying to secure the final reliever job as a long man and spot starter. This is the role Guillermo Mota played for the Giants in his three years with the club.
Petit has appeared in two spring games thus far. He has thrown five innings, allowing only two hits and walking nobody. His ERA is 0.00, and he carries a WHIP of 0.40. If Petit continues to throw the ball well, he could very easily win this job.
Francisco Peguero is having a great spring.
Francisco Peguero is off to a hot start this spring. He is 9-16, for a batting average of .563. He has five RBI, with an OBP of .588 and OPS of 1.401.
A notorious free swinger, Peguero is dialed in right now, as he has only one strikeout to go along with one walk.
Peguero was a September call-up last year and went 3-16. He had a good season at Triple-A Fresno, where he hit .272 with five home runs, 68 RBI and 46 runs scored. He is not a power hitter but can hit line drives all over the field.
If Peguero can show a little plate discipline, he can win the fifth outfield job when the Giants break camp. Peguero also has good speed and is a good defensive outfielder.