5 San Francisco Giants to Watch at Spring Training

Jasper SchererAnalyst IIFebruary 13, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 7:  Relief pitcher Heath Hembree #38 of the San Francisco Giants delivers a pitch against  the Arizona Diamondbacks during the ninth inning at AT&T Park on September 7, 2013 in San Francisco, California. The Diamondbacks defeated the Giants 2-1. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
Stephen Lam/Getty Images

The San Francisco Giants kick off their spring training schedule in less than two weeks, which means it's time to start looking at the players who are worth keeping an eye on in Arizona.

Before we start, however, let's get the disclaimer out of the way: Spring training statistics are hardly indicative of how players will perform in the regular season, and many of the best players in spring training are journeymen you'll never hear from again.

With that being said, certain aspects of MLB's preseason can be helpful in showing just how ready players, especially young prospects with something to prove, are for the season.

Let's take a look at five players on the Giants, in no particular order, who are worth paying particularly close attention to in the coming weeks.


Kyle Crick

The consensus No. 1 prospect in the Giants farm system, Crick dominated in 14 starts at High-A ball in 2013 with a 1.57 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 68.2 innings.

The big righty (6'4") has a fastball that can run in the high 90s but sits around 93-94 mph, and his off-speed pitches have steadily improved each year, particularly his curveball and changeup.

The knock on Crick is his issue with control, as he's averaged an alarming 5.5 BB/9 in his minor league career. But that total has decreased each season, and if he can learn to gain command of his pitches, he has the chance to be an elite pitcher.

Spring training will give us a chance to see how Crick matches up against big league talent and will provide of good indication of how close he is to spending time in the majors.


Pablo Sandoval

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 26: Pablo Sandoval #48 of the San Francisco Giants defends at third base against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on August 26, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies beat the Giants 6-1. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

If you're a San Francisco Giants fan, you're probably tired of hearing about Sandoval's weight problems and how they could affect his possibly impending contract extension with the Giants.

But the weight issues have constantly been a legitimate concern, at least until Sandoval put them to rest (for now) by showing he's put in some work this offseason, according to SFGate's Katie Dowd.

We've seen what Sandoval can do when healthy and reasonably sized, meaning he could be set for a big season if he stays in shape. He'll also be playing with plenty of motivation, as his contract runs out at the end of the season.

It will be interesting to see what type of shape Sandoval is in when he reports for spring training, but Giants fans should get excited if he shows up looking healthy.


Clayton Blackburn

Blackburn has proved to be a steady performer at the lower levels of the minors during the past couple of seasons, compiling a 2.87 ERA in just under 300 innings between rookie and Single-A ball from 2011-2013. He's great at missing bats (311 strikeouts in 297.2 innings) and also shows impeccable command (just 56 walks).

Blackburn doesn't have dominant stuff, relying more on his control than his stuff to get hitters out. According to FanGraphs, the Giants won't have to add Blackburn to the 40-man roster until after 2015 to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, so he can hone his repertoire in Double- and Triple-A before making the leap to the majors.

However, the rate at which Blackburn moves up the ladder could be determined in part by how he performs against high-level talent at spring training. Be sure to keep an eye on Blackburn, who could be a part of the Giants rotation in the next few years.


Heath Hembree

Hembree isn't at the top of most lists of Giants prospects, but he's certainly one of the most polished young pitchers.

At age 25, Hembree is already getting a late start on his big league career, but, luckily for him, he figures to make an impact in the majors in 2014.

Last season, Hembree was dominant in his 7.2 innings of work with the Giants, striking out 12 batters while allowing only six baserunners and no runs. That came despite his fastball sitting in the low 90s, somewhat slower than the 94-95 mph range he generally reached in the minors.

Despite the lack of velocity, however, Hembree did an excellent job of locating his pitches.

“Heath was impressive to me with his demeanor and strike-throwing ability,” general manager Brian Sabean said, via Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News.

If Hembree can carry those results into the spring, he'll be looking at a spot on the Giants roster.


Gary Brown

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 23: Gary Brown #86 of the San Francisco Giants poses for a portrait during media photo day at Scottsdale Stadium on February 23, 2011 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

At first glance, Brown's 2013 season was another disappointing performance in a career fraught with underachievement. Indeed, since the Giants drafted Brown in the first round in 2010, the former top prospect has traversed a rocky road through the minors.

After reaching his peak in 2011 with a .336/.407/.519 line, including 53 steals, at High-A ball, Brown crashed mightily in the following seasons, especially at Triple-A in 2013, when he batted .231 in 137 games.

Despite Brown's struggles while playing at the highest level in the minors, Brian Sabean said he hasn't lost hope in his formerly prized outfield prospect.

“He survived last year and sometimes that’s the goal,” Sabean said, via the San Jose's Mercury News' Alex Pavlovic. “He’s very competent (defensively) in the outfield and towards the end of the year he made strides. When you go through what he did as a No. 1 pick … I think he’s ready now, and relieved he’s on the (40-man) roster. We haven’t given up on him.”

Whether Brown's relief will help him relax and play to his potential remains to be seen, and we'll get an indication during spring training. The Giants need some added depth in the outfield, so a solid spring from Brown could certainly earn him a spot on the big league roster.