San Francisco Giants: Analyzing the Biggest Position Battles
It's safe to say for the San Francisco Giants, everything looks different now than it did at the beginning of spring training.
Mark Minicozzi became a household name among Giants fans before getting optioned to the minors. Brandon Hicks has completely changed the infield battle. Ryan Vogelsong has worried many with his performance, but the other pitchers have quieted many critics.
Oh, and we have learned that Marco Scutaro's back is worse than it seemed.
But what does that mean for the position battles?
Teams usually don't option or release their main roster contenders until the end of the spring.
That's why it was a bit surprising to see Heath Hembree optioned to the minors when the team trimmed its roster to 33 players. Hembree didn't give up a run in nine major league appearances last spring, and he appeared to be ready. However, the Giants want a long reliever, and Hembree doesn't fit the bill.
This leaves Jean Machi, David Huff, Derek Law, J.C. Gutierrez and Yusmeiro Petit to compete for three spots.
Petit has had a fairly rough spring, but his near-perfect game and his incredible 2013 season (he had a 3.56 ERA) means he'll likely make the roster. Machi has a 2.87 ERA in his career, and he is a favorite of manager Bruce Bochy's. It would be a major surprise if he doesn't make the cut.
That leaves Huff, Law and Gutierrez.
Gutierrez is a journeyman with a career 5.68 ERA. He isn't likely to make it, and quite frankly, it's surprising that he's made it to this point.
Law will likely crack the big league roster at some point, but the Giants would be smart to let the prospect develop a bit more in the minors. He has a 5.40 ERA this spring, and he has walked three batters in five innings. He did very well this winter, but the Giants shouldn't rush him.
That leaves Huff.
Huff is more of a long reliever, which serves him well. While he had a poor 2013 season, he is a fly-ball pitcher who played at Yankee Stadium last year.
The seven home runs he allowed came at hitters' parks. Five were at Yankee Stadium, one was at the Rogers Centre (in Toronto) and one was at Camden Yards in Baltimore. According to ESPN.com's Park Factors, all of those parks were relatively easy to hit home runs in.
A switch to AT&T Park could do wonders for Huff, who has excelled this spring. He has a 1.29 ERA, and that should allow him to earn the final spot. Also, he is a left-hander, and Bochy likes having three southpaw relievers.
Look for Huff, Petit and Machi to secure the last three spots but look for Law to crack the big league roster at some point.
Second Utility Infielder
With backups Joaquin Arias and Hector Sanchez penciled in on the roster, there are two legitimate candidates vying for one final roster spot.
At the beginning of the spring, it appeared that just Tony Abreu and Ehire Adrianza would fight for that last job. However, Abreu was just put on waivers. Hicks is hitting .421 this spring, and he is now in contention for the spot. His odds are actually solid.
Why? Adrianza has a .244 OBP and has yet to prove himself as a hitter. Hicks has a career .133 batting average, but his torrid spring shows that he can hit major league pitching. After all, he did hit a home run off of reigning Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw.
Oh, and if Scutaro can't play on Opening Day, he might start the year on the DL. That would all but assure Hicks a spot.
But if not, he still has a chance. Adrianza is well-known for his defense, but that might not serve the Giants well. He doesn't have much experience at second or third base, and the Giants already have a defensive whiz at shortstop in Brandon Crawford.
Adrianza's natural position is shortstop, which could prevent him from making an impact.
Hicks can also play shortstop, but he's done well at second base. In the minors, his career fielding percentage at second base is .993. He could spell Scutaro, who has back issues and could miss Opening Day, competently.
Unfortunately, there is something huge working against Hicks. Adrianza is out of minor league options. This means the Giants would have to put him on waivers if he doesn't make the team, which would likely lead to his departure from San Francisco. The Giants don't want to risk this.
Even though it's hard to send someone down who has reached base on more than half of his spring at-bats, the Giants will likely slot Hicks in the minors.
This could cost them, as Hicks has the pop the Giants need (he has hit a home run in 3.9 percent of his minor league at-bats). He appears to be a perfect substitute for Scutaro.
Unfortunately for Hicks, that's likely not going to be enough.
Expect the Giants to keep Hicks if Scutaro starts the year on the DL, but look for Adrianza to stay no matter what. The Giants don't want to lose him, and even though they shouldn't, that will likely outweigh his offensive deficiencies.
The Giants brought Tyler Colvin in to hit home runs off the bench, but at this point, his chances of making the roster aren't great.
Colvin has a .160 OBP this spring, while Juan Perez, Colvin's main competitor, is hitting .315 with a .403 OBP. Perez also had a stellar major league stint last year, posting a .748 OPS and making many phenomenal defensive plays.
He had an insane eight outfield assists in his 32 major league innings. His fielding percentage was .987, and he could definitely fill in capably if the Giants were to need a replacement in the outfield.
Colvin isn't known for his defense, but his .982 fielding percentage in the majors is similar to Perez's. His offense is better, though. He hit a noteworthy 18 home runs in 2012, and he could provide much-needed power off the bench. After all, he has hit a home run on 4.37 percent of his major league at-bats.
The Giants would benefit from Colvin's presence, but it seems unlikely they keep him on the big league roster.
Fourth outfielder Gregor Blanco is an incredible defender. However, he is likely to fill in for Michael Morse in the later innings often. If the Giants were to need someone else to step in as a pinch-runner or as a defender, Perez would be a great fit.
The Giants value defense, which is great for Perez. Don't be surprised if they cut ties with Colvin, even though he can opt out of his minor league contract on March 31 (meaning he's unlikely to accept a minor league assignment).
Blanco can provide defense off the bench, so Perez isn't as necessary. Colvin, however, can fill a huge need. San Francisco needs offense, and Colvin can provide that.
And if the Giants don't realize that, it could hurt them.
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