SF Giants' Spring Training Report: Full Update of Surprises, Busts and Injuries

Dan MoriCorrespondent IMarch 20, 2014

SF Giants' Spring Training Report: Full Update of Surprises, Busts and Injuries

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    Barry Bonds spent a week with the Giants as a hitting instructor.
    Barry Bonds spent a week with the Giants as a hitting instructor.Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    With less than two weeks remaining before the regular season begins, the San Francisco Giants are preparing in earnest for the upcoming season. 

    After a very disappointing 76-86 season in 2013, the Giants are focused on playing better fundamental baseball, making the playoffs and another postseason run.

    Perhaps the biggest thing that can be said about this spring is the lack of drama in the Giants' camp. While this can be a bit boring, what it really means is that things are progressing fairly smoothly and the Giants are going about their business.

    In this case, no major surprises is a good thing. If the biggest news out of Scottsdale is that Barry Bonds spent a week in camp as a hitting instructor, then things are just methodically moving forward, which is just how manager Bruce Bochy likes it.

    The Giants are preparing for the marathon of a 162-game season. They have made some key additions to their roster, including Tim Hudson and Michael Morse.

    In addition, the Giants brought back several of their own players whose contracts had expired at the end of the 2013 season. Hunter Pence, Tim Lincecum, Javier Lopez and Ryan Vogelsong, all members of the 2012 world championship team, are back in the fold.

    With the final cuts just a few days away, let's take a more detailed look at some of the more interesting storylines coming out of the Giants' camp this spring.

    All regular season stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com.

    All spring training stats courtesy of mlb.com.

Will Ryan Vogelsong Be a Solid Starter or Revert to His 2013 Form?

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    Ryan Vogelsong has had a rough spring.
    Ryan Vogelsong has had a rough spring.Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Ryan Vogelsong had two excellent seasons for the Giants, in 2011 and 2012. He was an integral part of the Giants' success in their run to World Series glory.

    However, Vogelsong struggled in 2013 and has been very inconsistent this spring. In 15 innings of work, Vogelsong has allowed 25 hits and two walks, while striking out 10. His ERA has ballooned up to 9.00 and his WHIP is an alarming 1.80.

    Vogelsong has not fooled anyone, as opposing batters are hitting .362 against him.

    Vogelsong had a particularly tough outing in his last start. In 2.2 innings, Vogelsong allowed 11 hits and nine runs, eight earned. Interestingly, he felt good about the way he was throwing the ball, as he discussed here with John Schlegel at mlb.com.

    The Giants need Vogelsong to get back on track as their fifth starter. He will have a few starts once the season begins to prove himself, but if he struggles, we could see rookie Edwin Escobar make his debut a lot sooner than the Giants expected.

Mark Minicozzi Was the Feel-Good Story of Spring Training

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    Mark Minicozzi got off to a good start and raised some eyebrows this spring.
    Mark Minicozzi got off to a good start and raised some eyebrows this spring.Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Mark Minicozzi broke into professional baseball in 2005 and toiled through various towns and the lower levels of the minor leagues for the next nine seasons.

    Minicozzi was hardly a household name when he reported to the Giants' camp, but he got off to a great start this spring.

    At the age of 31, Minicozzi is likely to open the year in Fresno, the Giants' Triple-A affiliate. He had never played above Double-A in his previous years of organized ball.

    Minicozzi has tailed off as of late.  He has eight hits in 36 at-bats, for a .222 average. Minicozzi's OBP is .300 and he has an OPS of .689. He does have good power and has belted two home runs this spring. 

    If anything were to happen to Brandon Belt that would keep him out of the lineup for an extended period of time, Minicozzi has a legitimate chance to make his major league debut this year.

    Seeing Minicozzi step onto a big league field would be a study in how perseverance can pay off.

Who Will Play Second Base If Marco Scutaro Can't Open the Season?

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    Brandon Hicks has forced himself into the discussion.
    Brandon Hicks has forced himself into the discussion.Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Marco Scutaro's troublesome back has given the Giants some cause for worry. It is unclear whether he will be ready to open the season on the roster, or if he will start off on the DL.

    At best, Scutaro will need periodic rest and is unlikely to be able to play every day. That means Joaquin Arias will see a lot of action at second, but he is also the primary backup at short and third.

    There is one remaining infield spot open and three players, Tony Abreu, Ehire Adrianza and Brandon Hicks are battling for the job. 

    Abreu played in 53 games for the Giants last year. He had 138 at-bats and hit .268, with two home runs and 14 RBI. Abreu's OBP was .301 and his OPS was a very respectable .743.

    Although a decent offensive player, Abreu is only an adequate defensive player, as knee issues have minimized his range.

    At the beginning of spring training, Abreu had the inside track for the roster spot, but he is playing himself out of a job by hitting only .158 this spring. 

    Ehire Adrianza is by far the best defensive player of the three, but he has never really been much of an offensive threat. In eight minor league seasons, Adrianza has a career batting average of only .248.

    Although this is Adrianza's ninth year with the Giants organization, he is still only 24 years of age. He was rewarded with a September call-up last year and got into nine games at the big league level.

    The jury is still out as to whether Adrianza can hit major league pitching. In the spring, he has done very little to dispel that uncertainty. In 31 spring at-bats, Adrianza is hitting just .194, with an OBP of .219 and OPS of .703. He does have two home runs and six RBI, but those came early on in the spring.

    Adrianza is out of minor league options so the Giants risk losing him if they try to send him down. That may be his saving grace, as the Giants have invested a lot of time and effort into this prospect.

    The one player that has emerged in this battle is Brandon Hicks. He has had a very good spring and has actually moved ahead of both Abreu and Adrianza. The only thing that could keep him off the roster is if the Giants don't want to risk losing Adrianza by sending him to the minors.

    In 31 at-bats, Hicks is hitting .419, with two home runs and 10 RBI. He also has seven doubles. Nine of Hicks' 13 hits are for extra bases. His OBP is .525 and OPS is an astounding 1.364.

    Hicks also has played parts of three seasons in the majors, so he does have big league experience. He deserves to make the team and, hopefully, the Giants make that decision.

Pablo Sandoval Reported to Camp in Far Batter Shape Than in Years Past

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    Pablo Sandoval reported to camp some 30 pounds lighter than in 2013.
    Pablo Sandoval reported to camp some 30 pounds lighter than in 2013.Chris Carlson/Associated Press/Associated Press

    One of the most pleasant surprises of the spring is how good Pablo Sandoval looks. He reported to camp roughly 30 pounds lighter than he was in 2013. 

    This winter, Sandoval worked out harder than in years past and also ate more sensibly. He hired his brother, who is a chef, to prepare his meals. The difference in Sandoval is amazing. 

    This is the last year of Sandoval's contract and he wants to cash in with his next deal. The Giants will need to believe that this is not an aberration and Sandoval can keep the weight off, in order to offer him a lucrative long-term contract.

    The svelte-looking Sandoval is quicker and more active in the field. His bat speed is also quicker, so look for him to have a big year.

    In addition, with Sandoval carrying less weight, he should be healthier and less susceptible to the nagging leg injuries that have plagued him.

The Giants Will Go as Far as Their Starting Pitching Will Take Them

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    Madison Bumgarner is the ace of the Giants' pitching staff.
    Madison Bumgarner is the ace of the Giants' pitching staff.Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    Madison Bumgarner will start on Opening Day. He deserves the honor and has forged ahead as the ace of the Giants' pitching staff.

    Still only 24 years of age, Bumgarner was the Giants' best starter last year. In 2013, Bumgarner pitched 201.1 innings, allowed 146 hits and 62 walks, while striking out 199. His ERA was 2.77 and his WHIP of 1.033 were both career bests.

    In the second and third spots in the rotation the Giants have Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. Both are looking to rebound from a subpar 2013 campaign and they have thrown the ball well this spring.

    Tim Hudson is arguably the most important pitcher in the starting rotation. He will act a a mentor to Lincecum and also bounce ideas off of Cain and Bumgarner. His presence brings professionalism to the Giants.

    Hudson has already had a positive impact with Lincecum, especially on being able to get hitters to hit your pitch earlier in the count. This will enable Lincecum to stay in games later, which will result in more wins.

    The fifth starter is Ryan Vogelsong. You can read my specific feelings about Vogelsong earlier in this article.

    Vogelsong did not pitch well in 2013 and the Giants will be watching his progress very carefully. 

    If the Giants pitching holds up, they will contend for another league title and be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.

The Giants Must Avoid Injuries

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    Angel Pagan is a catalyst at the top of the order for the Giants.
    Angel Pagan is a catalyst at the top of the order for the Giants.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The biggest concern for the Giants is whether can they stay healthy. If they can, they will compete for the Dodgers. If they cannot, the 2014 season, like 2013, will be a long one.

    The pitching staff is healthy, but three of the Giants' eight starting position players are battling injuries.

    Marco Scutaro's chronic back problems will force him to take frequent days off. The Giants have depth at second base with Joaquin Arias likely to be the starter on Opening Day, if Scutaro can't go.

    In center field Angel Pagan has also been nursing a strained lower back. The Giants offense relies on Pagan to be on base and create some havoc. 

    In 2013, when Pagan was out for an extended period, the Giants still battled, but came up short. Expect Gregor Blanco to see action in center. He is a very capable spot-player, but cannot be expected to play every day and be effective.

    The Giants' left field acquisition, Michael Morse is a fine offensive player, with big-time power. However, he must be able to stain on the field if he's going to have an impact.

    If the Giants can stay healthy, 2014 will be an exciting year for the fans of San Francisco. After the injury-plagued season of 2013, the Giants must prove that they can stay healthy and produce.

    2014 will be a very interesting and exciting season for Giants fans.