Spring training. The time for returning players to hone their skills, pitchers and catchers to develop a rapport, and newly signed free agents to show off for their new team.
Oh, and for on-the-cusp ballplayers to make their MLB dreams a reality.
For the San Francisco Giants, their starting roster is pretty much set. They have a starting rotation in Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong and newly signed Tim Hudson. Their outfield is secure with Hunter Pence, Angel Pagan and freshly acquired left fielder Mike Morse. First baseman Brandon Belt, shortstop Brandon Crawford, catcher Buster Posey, second baseman Marco Scutaro and third baseman Pablo Sandoval (although he could become potential trade bait) are all returning.
So where does that leave potential roster spots? The bench and bullpen are up for grabs for several players.
The Giants signed Venezuelan infielder Mario Lisson to a minor league contract. Lisson played winter ball with Sandoval and reliever Jean Machi, and enjoyed tremendous success, batting .359 and pounding 10 home runs in 16 games during the Venezuelan Winter League playoffs.
Chris Haft (MLB.com) writes:
Maybe Lisson will remain a mostly anonymous figure in Minor League camp. Or maybe he'll command enough attention to influence the Giants' thinking. This feat isn't unprecedented. In 2012, impressive winter ball performances propelled outfielder Gregor Blanco and infielder Joaquin Arias, both non-roster invitees, into valuable roles with the eventual World Series champions.
Center fielder Gary Brown has disappointed in his tenure in the Giants farm system. In Triple-A Fresno last season, Brown struggled, posting a mediocre .231/.286/.375 line in 137 games. While the Giants are still waiting for Brown's performance to improve, a lightning-rod spring training could push Brown over the edge and onto the major league roster.
Two relievers vying for a roster spot are right-hander J.C. Gutierrez and right-hander Erik Cordier.
Gutierrez has pitched at the MLB level, his primary step up from Cordier. He holds a 4.65 career ERA over five years, pitching for the Houston Astros, Arizona Diamondbacks, Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. While he averages 8.78 K's per nine IP, his BB totals are less desirable, at 3.9 BB's per nine IP.
Cordier has his own control issues, and he remains a career minor leaguer. His numbers are not altogether impressive, although John Shea writes (via Rant Sports):
Cordier has flashed serious signs of inconsistency over the course of six minor league seasons. The Giants need a hard-throwing reliever that can achieve the antithesis of “inconsistent,” though. Cordier promises to be an intriguing name in Giants’ camp regardless. He throws an upper-90s fastball and strikes out 11.0 batters per nine innings pitched.
That final spot for a reliever should come down to the wire.
There are many more exciting prospects to watch this spring training, including starting pitcher Kyle Crick. These young arms will inevitably start the 2014 season in the farm system, but the future is bright.