Giants Spring Training Stock Watch: Which Players Are on Fire and Slumping?

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Giants Spring Training Stock Watch: Which Players Are on Fire and Slumping?
Rich Pilling/Getty Images
Sweet-swinging star Buster Posey's spring numbers are meaningless.

Spring training stats don't mean much, but that doesn't mean they aren't exciting to look at.

In spring training, established players are often working on things and rounding into shape rather than going full bore. Early in the spring, the starters are usually only playing a handful of innings before giving way to minor league players and guys fighting for backup jobs. Thus, there's a lot of noise in spring training numbers, and that's before considering the small sample sizes involved.

The fact that Buster Posey is hitting just .222 means absolutely nothing. Matt Cain's 6.43 ERA is equally meaningless. Given their track records as established All-Stars and key contributors on two World Series teams, Posey and Cain can save their bullets for the games that actually count.

With those caveats aside, the numbers do mean a little more for the guys fighting for jobs, trying to re-establish themselves or catch the organization's eye.

Entering spring training play on Tuesday, Brandon Belt, Brett Pill, Pablo Sandoval and Brock Bond have been hot with the bats, while Posey, Gregor Blanco and Kensuke Tanaka have struggled.

Belt is 11-for-22 with a double, a triple and two home runs thus far in spring training. If he had started off 1-for-22, he would still be the team's starting first baseman, but it's good to see him continue his hot streak from the second half of last season when he hit .293 after the All-Star break. At 25 years old, this could be the year he puts it all together and replicates his outstanding minor league production.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Belt has continued his hot finish to last season this spring. Could be break out in 2013?

Pill is fighting for a job on the Giants' bench, and the team could use his right-handed thump. He's gone 6-for-22 with a double, a triple and two home runs thus far in spring. If he continues his torrid pace, there's a good chance the Giants will consider bringing him north with the big league club given their lack of offense off the bench last season.

Francisco Peguero is fighting with Pill and Cole Gillespie (4-for-18) for a bench job, and his 9-for-16 start may have put him in the lead. Peguero has outstanding bat speed, good range in the outfield and a huge arm, but his plate discipline needs drastic improvement.

Brock Bond has a .410 career on-base percentage in the minor leagues and he's opened some eyes this spring with a 6-for-12 start. Giants' pinch-hitters put up a tepid .284 on-base percentage last season, so Bond's patient approach would be a welcomed addition. However, he doesn't have any power and he's a limited defensive player.

Pablo Sandoval went 7-for-14 with three extra-base hits while also meeting manager Bruce Bochy's weight targets before leaving for the World Baseball Classic. There's no question that the Panda can hit, but can he keep his weight in check to stay healthy for a full season this year?

Gregor Blanco has gotten off to a cold start, going 3-for-15 in the early going. He's in the lineup for his speed and defense, but he's going to have to improve on last year's .244 batting average in order to receive the majority of the playing time in left field this season.

Kensuke Tanaka is battling Bond, Wilson Valdez (3-for-11) and the injured Tony Abreu for the final utility infielder job on the bench alongside Joaquin Arias. He's gone just 5-for-21 with a double in the early going.

Rich Pilling/Getty Images
Tanaka is trying to pick up shortstop to make him a more viable option off the Giants bench.

The Giants are taking a look at Tanaka at shortstop this spring after he predominantly played second base in Japan. With shortstops Brandon Crawford, Joaquin Arias and current second baseman Marco Scutaro on the roster, the Giants should be able to carry a reserve infielder that doesn't have to be able to handle short, however. That could benefit Tanaka or Bond over defensive-oriented players like Valdez and Abreu when the Giants settle the final 25-man roster.

On the pitching side, starters Ryan Vogelsong (3.38 ERA), Madison Bumgarner (3.18 ERA) and Barry Zito (3.86 ERA) have picked up right where they left off in the World Series, while Cain has struggled and Tim Lincecum has made only one start due to a blister issue.

In the battle for the final two bullpen spots, George Kontos appears to be a roster lock after a stellar 2012 campaign and four shutout innings with five strikeouts to open spring training. Dan Runzler has put himself back in the mix with three solid innings to begin spring training. An elbow injury to Jose Mijares could open the door for Runzler to start the season with the Giants.

Scott Proctor (2.25 ERA), Chad Gaudin (3.38 ERA) and Yusmerio Petit (0.00 ERA) have pitched well in the battle for the last bullpen job. On the flip side, bullpen candidates Ramon Ramirez (18.00 ERA) and Steve Edlfesen (6.75 ERA) have been roughed up in their two innings of work thus far.

Moving on to the prospects in camp, Gary Brown has gone just 5-for-20 with no walks and six strikeouts, but three of his five hits have been for extra bases. He's also looked exceptional in center field.

Pitching prospects Heath Hembree and Michael Kickham have thrown well, but Chris Heston has been tattooed for eight hits and six runs in 2.2 innings this spring. His lack of fastball velocity is a concern, even after he dominated hitters last season at Double-A Richmond.

There's still nearly a month to go before the real games begin, but the Giants have plenty of competition in camp for the few open jobs on the bench and in the bullpen. Spring training stats don't matter at all for the stars like Posey and Cain, but they do mean something for the guys trying to make the team and the prospects trying to push their way on to the radar.

The rest of spring training will be about the established players getting their reps, settling the final reserve battles and taking a long look at prospects like Brown.

(All stats in this article are from the official website of the San Francisco Giants and are valid through Monday's spring training games.)

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