The defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants are enjoying a relatively successful spring training. Question marks in the starting rotation are performing well, injuries are at a minimum, and bigger bats are making themselves known.
But there are still areas the Giants are looking to improve going into the regular season. Key weaknesses include a lack of offensive production from bench players, concerns regarding the closer situation, and a lack of clarity at the left field position.
However, as spring training chugs merrily along, San Francisco is finding ways to strengthen these same weaknesses.
The Giants need more power coming off the bench. The team is clearly aware of this problem, and is taking a good, hard look at players who could fill this void.
First baseman Brett Pill has been given plenty of plate appearances (24) this spring. Pill has the raw ability to hit for power; however, he needs to work on his ability to hit consistently. So far, Pill is batting .273 with two home runs and six RBI's—promising numbers to say the least.
The left field position will remain an experiment for San Francisco. While Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres are presumably set to platoon the position at the season's outset, other strong candidates, including Pill, have emerged this spring. 28-year-old Cole Gillespie has demonstrated both stellar defense and pop in his bat, and Francisco Peguero is separating himself with his speed and a current hot streak at the plate.
The competition for left field by the numbers:
Gregor Blanco: .208/.269/.417 in 26 plate appearances
Brett Pill: .273/.333/.682 in 24 plate appearances
Cole Gillespie: .233/.333/.346 in 26 plate appearances
Francisco Peguero: .478/.500/.652 in 23 plate appearances
(Andres Torres has had only two at-bats due to an oblique strain)
While none of the above players has clearly separated themselves from the pack, the mere presence of a pack should provide the Giants' optimism in their ability to not only improve their left field situation, but also bolster their bench.
Using this glass-half-full approach, the lack of clarity at left field can work to the Giants' advantage. They appear to not only have a Plan A and a Plan B, but also a Plan C and D. There are a plethora of possible combinations in left field.
In regards to the current closer situation, Sergio Romo will be given the ball in the ninth inning come Opening Day. However, their are several question marks revolving around the highly talented right-hander.
Romo recently represented Mexico in the World Baseball Classic before the team was eliminated in the first round of the tournament. One of the primary concerns regarding Romo is his durability.
Accordingly, Romo will face an increased workload in 2013.
Romo blew a save in a 6-5 loss to Italy—more concerning, however, is that he endured a 26-pitch inning. This long outing spurred expressed concern from manager Bruce Bochy.
Again, the Giants have other avenues to go down should Romo prove overworked. San Francisco possesses a solid relief core used to a "closer by committee" system. Bullpen leaders Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, and George Kontos have all returned in 2013.
Additionally, other relievers are making cases for themselves to be added to the regular season roster. One storyline of note pertains to journeyman Chad Gaudin. As the San Jose Mercury News' Alex Pavlovic reports, the right-hander could potentially fill a need as a long-reliever.
Gaudin recently replaced an injured Tim Lincecum, starting in a March 7th contest against the Cleveland Indians. He looked sharp, pitching three shutout innings and only allowing two hits.
A lot is going right for the Giants in spring training. The few weaknesses the team will need to work through are fixable, and as the regular season looms, more and more potential solutions to these weaknesses are being uncovered.