As the Spring Training days count down, the Opening Day roster gets more and more set, and the battles for those final roster spots get more and more heated.
This year is no exception, but due to injuries and some surprising spring performances, the spots open at the beginning of the offseason are not the same spots we see open now.
For example, most people thought that after his impressive debut, Madison Bumgarner was the favorite for the fifth starter spot. And he was.
But throw in Todd Wellemeyer and his dominance of opposing hitters (1.35 ERA in a team-high 20 IP), coupled with Bumgarner's loss of velocity and underwhelming lack of a strikeout in seven innings, and you've got a whole new ballgame.
I'll go through this process much like Selection Sunday for college basketball, providing you readers with locks, bubble players, and sleepers to make the 25-man roster.
All photos are courtesy of Joseph Pun over at AZGIANTS.COM, who does a terrific job with pictures of Spring Training, extended Spring Training, and the Arizona Fall League.
Locks: Aaron Rowand, Mark DeRosa, Nate Schierholtz
On the Bubble: John Bowker, Eugenio Velez, Andres Torres
First One In: Darren Ford
First One Out: Fred Lewis
The Giants' outfield is pretty much set. At least it was, before last week. Mark DeRosa was signed to play left field, Aaron Rowand (pictured) is in the third year of his five-year deal as the starting centerfielder, and Nate Schierholtz was proclaimed as starting in right after the departure of Randy Winn.
But then John Bowker slammed his way onto the scene, posting an MLB-high RBI total for Spring Training (18) and a team-high 57 at-bats. Bowker has been given an extended look this Spring, and he hasn't disappointed.
On the other hand, Schierholtz hasn't been hitting too well (.237 AVG), but I would like to point out that seven of his 11 hits have been for extra bases.
Brian Sabean recently announced that the rightfield competition has re-opened, which makes me think that Bowker is more in the guaranteed spot on the roster. That leaves Velez and Torres both competing for that last roster spot.
Velez has hit almost .300 this spring, but the spurts of power that he displayed last year haven't been there, and his defense is still very streaky. He does have the advantage of being able to play second base, which could be a game-changer because of the lack of infield depth.
Torres has the advantage in my book because he can legitimately back up Rowand in center, which can't be said for any of the other candidates. He's also a scrapper and hustles more than anyone I've ever seen.
If you watched games last year, you'd see him flying in to back up other outfielders on seemingly every play, even if it was a routine fly ball to straightaway right. He has also shown some pop, and has three triples this spring.
It looks like Fred Lewis's time with the team is over. They're actively shopping him and have been all offseason. Once heralded as the leftfielder of the future, that mantle has since been passed to minor league stud Thomas Neal, and Lewis is being run out of town by Neal and Darren Ford, who can do pretty much everything Lewis can but is a couple years younger.
Locks: Juan Uribe (2B/SS), Freddy Sanchez (2B), Edgar Renteria (SS)
On the Bubble: Eugenio Velez (2B), Emmanuel Burriss (2B/SS)
First One In: Matt Downs
First One Out: Kevin Frandsen* (traded to the Red Sox yesterday for PTBNL and cash)
The injury to Freddy Sanchez still has the Giants very thin in the middle infield. Juan Uribe (pictured), if he performs up to last year's standard, will fill in nicely at second until Sanchez gets back, and then go back to being the super-utility man, giving Pablo Sandoval and Edgar Renteria some much-needed rest.
Renteria claimed that last year's offensive struggles were due to the bone chips floating around in his elbow. Many dismissed that as an excuse, citing his age and general wearing down of his game.
But this spring Renteria hearkened back to his days with the Atlanta Braves, showing a much better swing that produced a solid .277 average. More importantly, he looked a lot more comfortable pulling the ball and also connected on two home runs.
I know that Burriss is out for 10 weeks with another screw in his foot, but he's still on the bubble for me because he provides something that the Giants lack past Uribe, and that's a backup who can play both second and short. He had an impressive spring debut as well, hitting two doubles before leaving the game with another broken bone in his foot.
Velez is only on this list because he can play second in a pinch, as can Mark DeRosa. But their lack of versatility on both sides of the bag is a problem.
That's also what pushed Frandsen out the door. He's good enough that he can play in the majors, but there was just never any space for him in the Giants system after he ruptured his Achilles in 2008.
He could play third base, but then Pablo Sandoval came into the picture. He was penciled in a second, but with the emergence of Burriss and the trade for Sanchez, he became expendable there as well. He was traded to the Red Sox, where he'll be united with long-time friend and fellow NorCal native Dustin Pedroia.
Matt Downs is also a second baseman, but he'd probably be more content as a backup than Frandsen would have been. Downs also impressed with a .355 average in 31 at-bats this spring.
The Giants have also been said to be searching for a backup middle infielder on the trade market, dangling Lewis.
Locks: Pablo Sandoval, Aubrey Huff, Mark DeRosa
On the Bubble: Travis Ishikawa
First One In: Buster Posey?
First One Out: Kevin Frandsen
The Panda (pictured) didn't blow anyone away this spring, but he's lost some weight, is taking more pitches, and looks poised to make a run at another batting title. Aubrey Huff has been as advertised (in 2008, not 2009), batting .357 with three HR and 13 RBI this spring. Juan Uribe will back up at third when the Panda needs a rest, and Mark DeRosa can fill in if need be.
The question remains at first base. Travis Ishikawa should make the club, given his superior defense. His hitting was a little spotty, striking out six times and only getting four hits, but he showed real promise last year.
But the dark horse is Buster Posey, who had a few games at first base this year solely to help him make the team, it looks like.
Remember, Posey came up as an infielder, once played all nine positions in a game at Florida state, and tore the cover off the ball this spring. Because of his hitting, he could very well make the team over Ishikawa, or even as a utility catcher/first baseman a la Victor Martinez.
Locks: Bengie Molina
On the Bubble: Buster Posey, Eli Whiteside
Obviously the most contentious signing the Giants made was to re-sign Bengie Molina when they all but announced Buster Posey as the Opening Day Starter.
Posey was seen to be too young, unable to catch over 100 games, and Molina was seen as the safer bet for success. Molina delivered this spring, batting .390, but is still clogging the bases like he always has.
I think Posey took offense to this, because he came out this spring and, behind Bowker and Aaron Rowand (hitting an unreal .474), is the third best hitter on the club, batting .415. He also played some pretty good catcher and, like I said, is a dark horse as a backup first baseman.
Eli Whiteside (pictured), last year's backup, is also making a case. He doesn't expect to start, but he can. He's great with the pitchers. He's not a playing time hungry top prospect either. But his .185 average might push him to AAA while Posey takes over as the twice-a-week backup to Molina.
Locks: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Barry Zito, Jonathan Sanchez
On the Bubble: Todd Wellemeyer, Kevin Pucetas, Madison Bumgarner
First One In: Kevin Pucetas
First One Out: Madison Bumgarner
Bumgarner came in with the advantage, being the fifth starter for the last couple weeks of last year. But from then to now, he lost something. And since he's only 20 years old, and he knows it, he's fine with going back to Triple A to find it again.
That left the fifth starter spot up for grabs, with non-roster invitee Todd Wellemeyer (pictured) and minor league stud Kevin Pucetas battling it out.
Both had electric stuff all spring. Wellemeyer threw 20 innings, and had an ERA of 1.35. Pucetas did one better, throwing 14 innings and posting an ERA of 0.65.
But Wellemeyer has the experience of pitching at the big league level, going 13-9 for the Cardinals in 2008, and it looks like he'll be the guy. Pucetas might take the long relief role in the bullpen previously held by Justin Miller, so he'll be able to step in if need be as well.
Locks: Brian Wilson, Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo, Dan Runzler, Brandon Medders
On the Bubble: Guillermo Mota, Alex Hinshaw, Denny Bautista, Waldis Joaquin, Santiago Casilla
First One In: Guillermo Mota
First One Out: Alex Hinshaw
There is always a lot of competition for those last couple bullpen spots on a team, and with all the guaranteed contracts this year, the number of spots is down to only two.
Brian Wilson (pictured) is coming off another great season and was rewarded with a huge deal for two years and $15 million. Jeremy Affeldt was also rewarded with an extension through the end of next year. Brandon Medders has a guaranteed contract as well.
The other for sure spots go to Romo, last year's semi-setup man who hasn't given up a run all spring, and Runzler, whose journey up the ranks last year was capped off by an equally dominating stint at the big league level, and who has struck out twice as many batters (13) as he has allowed baserunners (six).
This is where it gets tricky. Mota, a veteran with some clubhouse issues, has the experience and has pitched well (11 Ks in 8.0 innings). Hinshaw has been great this spring, but with Affeldt and Runzler already in, he could be pushed out just because of his left-handedness.
Waldis Joaquin had a great debut last year marred only by a walk-off home run, and can provide the same short-inning, hard-throwing depth that Merkin Valdez did last year. Another veteran, Denny Bautista, has also been superb in the spring, with an ERA of 2.00 and 12 strikeouts in nine innings.
I think the biggest question is around Santiago Casilla, the former Athletic who was absent for a majority of Spring Training because of visa issues, but showed up and dealt straight cheese since he got here. He's also got experience and throws 95-97 MPH, which is always nice to have in your 'pen.
Here's what I think it is going to be on Opening Day.
1. Rowand, cf
2. Renteria, ss
3. Sandoval, 3b
4. Huff, 1b
5. DeRosa, lf
6. Uribe, 2b
7. Molina, c
8. Schierholtz, rf
9. Lincecum, p
1. Bowker (lf/rf)
2. Ishikawa (1b)
3. Torres (of)
4. Whiteside (c)
5. Matt Downs (2b)
SU - Romo
SU - Affeldt
LHP - Runzler
RHP - Medders
RHP - Pucetas
RHP - Joaquin
Posey is tearing it up, but if he's not going to play every day, I don't want him on the team. He needs experience, and last year when they brought him up, he got zero.
I hope they start him at Triple A, where he can break records and tear up pitching all year, and then have him as the starter in 2011 (if not earlier). Even though Whiteside isn't fantastic, he holds his own and handles the staff real well.
I've got Downs in there basically as a placeholder for when Freddy Sanchez comes back, or if they end up trading for a backup middle infielder.
I also have Pucetas making the team as a long reliever who can take over if there is any trouble in the rotation. I was torn between Pucetas and Casilla, but there are already enough short relief guys in the pen, with only Medders having any significant experience going multiple innings. I'm not a big Mota fan.
With Ishikawa there's a few first basemen, but his defensive prowess and potential as a hitter cannot be ignored. The versatility is also key. Huff and Downs can play outfield, while Bowker and DeRosa have experience on the infield as well.
Those are my bold predictions for the Opening Day Roster. Commenters, let me know who you think will make those last couple roster spots.
All pictures provided by Joseph Pun at AZGIANTS.COM.