One of the perils of having a mediocre farm system is being set up for a lack of solid talent down the road, but the more immediate effect is the deficiency of depth that is often exposed when regular players go down.
Case in point: the 2013 San Francisco Giants.
Losing Angel Pagan and Ryan Vogelsong for significant parts of the season hurt the Giants badly, but the farm system's inability to provide viable replacements accentuated the pain.
The starting rotation, generally a strength for the Giants, was hit particularly hard. Chad Gaudin and Yusmeiro Petit stepped in to shoulder a bit of the burden, but when Gaudin also went down due to injury, the Giants ran out of answers.
Indeed, San Francisco tried Mike Kickham, but he and his 10.16 ERA did little to stop the bleeding. Only slightly better, Eric Surkamp and Guillermo Moscoso combined to allow 15 runs in three starts.
Now, Gaudin and Moscoso are gone, and Kickham obviously won't factor in much during the season. Where does that leave the Giants in the way of pitching depth?
San Francisco did pick up lefty David Huff, though his career numbers (21-27, 5.32 ERA) do little to inspire much confidence, especially after posting a pedestrian 5.50 ERA in 2013.
It short, San Francisco's starters must stay healthy. With Petit and Huff the only viable backup options if someone in the starting rotation goes down, there's very little leeway when it comes to injury.
But the depth problem extends beyond the rotation. Namely, the outfield in 2013 was an unmitigated disaster for everyone not named Hunter Pence, particularly in left field.
The addition of Michael Morse may or may not solve that issue, depending on whether he can return to pre-2013 form. Additionally, Gregor Blanco provides some late-inning defensive relief, but who will step in as a reliable regular if Hunter Pence doesn't play 162 games again or if another Angel Pagan-esque incident occurs?
Unless a prospect (or Blanco) can show significant improvement from last season, the answer to that question is nobody.
In short, the success of the Giants outfield is contingent upon Morse, Pagan and Pence maintaining good health for the season's entirety. But that's only half the battle; Morse and Pagan must also revert to 2012 form after injury-riddled 2013 campaigns, and Pence is being asked to match his All-Star-worthy numbers from last year.
That's a lot to ask for.
The situation improves when moving to the infield, but perhaps not by much. Like the rotation and the outfield, the starters in the infield are solid. Brandon Belt will look to build on a breakout season, Marco Scutaro has hit .319 since coming to San Francisco, Pablo Sandoval is slimmed down and Brandon Crawford is a reliable defender and No. 8 hitter.
But after that? Joaquin Arias is perhaps the best second option, despite posting a .284 OBP in 2013. Utilityman Tony Abreu had a strong start to his season, but he tapered off near the end, batting .245 over his final two months. First base prospect Brett Pill had a .648 OPS in 92 plate appearances.
This issue goes back to the farm system. "Top prospects" like Nick Noonan, Roger Kieschnick, Pill, Abreu and Juan Perez were forced into an extended number of at-bats in 2013, and the results weren't pretty. (Excluding Kensuke Tanaka, who has only 30 at-bats, Perez led all nonregulars in OBP at .302.)
Yet, despite the issues after the starting lineup, the Giants look to be in good shape if they can avoid the slew of injuries that befell them last season. The addition of Morse and starter Tim Hudson, in addition to the returns of Pagan and Vogelsong, point toward an improvement from San Francisco's 76 wins in 2013.
The club will certainly be walking on thin ice all season, but if the injury bug stays away, the Giants could find themselves playing October baseball once again.
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