Spring Training is a time for hitters to get back into the swing of things, for pitchers to shake off the rust and for coaches and managers to figure out what their strategy for the upcoming year is going to be.
Spring is also a time for non-roster invitees, mainly top prospects looking to make a splash and prove they can hit big-league pitching, journeyman major-leaguers looking to latch on with a team, or proven players coming back from injury.
Over the past couple years, the non-roster invitee pool has been a gold mine for San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean. Santiago Casilla was a vital part of the bullpen in 2010 after being a non-roster invitee who missed half of Spring Training with a visa problem. Two years ago Sabean took flyers on Juan Uribe and Andres Torres, and we know how much they meant to the Giants last year.
In 2011, the Giants will be looking to add depth again, mostly up the middle and on their pitching staff. In addition to the 17 pitchers that they're carrying on the 40-man roster, the Giants have invited 10 pitchers to Spring Training, including two hold-overs from last year in Guillermo Mota and Waldis Joaquin.
Here's the low-down on the other eight:
Casey Daigle (RHP) -- 6'5, 230 lbs
Which non-roster pitcher has the best shot at making the team?
Daigle, 29, is a former first-round pick of the Diamondbacks, albeit ages ago in 1999. His major-league stats aren't very comforting (3-4, 7.16 ERA, 1.97 WHIP), but his minors lines are a little better (64-71, 4.72 ERA, 1.54 WHIP). In the past couple years he has made the transition to a reliever, saving eight games last year for Houston's AAA affiliate, but Daigle has started 131 games in his professional career. His strikeout rate has gone up over his career and his walk rate has gone down, but he gives up a lot of hits in the minors (almost 11/9IP in 11 seasons), which doesn't exactly bode well in the majors.
Shane Loux (RHP) - 6'2, 235 lbs
Loux, 31, also has big-league experience, pitching for the Tigers and Angels, including six starts for Anaheim in 2009. Like Daigle, his major league line isn't impressive (3-7, 6.14 ERA, 1.62 WHIP). His last two full seasons in AAA produced opposite results. In 2008 with the Angels AAA club, Loux was on track for a major league call-up, hauling in a 12-6 record with a 3.98 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. But in 2010 with the Astros AAA team, he was less than impressive, posting a line of 6-12, 5.25 ERA, and 1.40 WHIP. The plus is that his walks have gone down, but the minus is, like Daigle, he gives up a lot of hits.
Felix Romero (RHP) - 6'2, 200 lbs
Romero, 30, joined the Giants organization in 2009, and pitched pretty well between AA Richmond and AAA Fresno last year, posting a line of 5-3 with a 3.62 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. His career K/BB ratio is very good (3.78), and he started 14 games for the Flying Squirrels last year. Romero has bounced from the Toronto farm system to Baltimore before settling with the Giants, and he could possibly be in the mix for a relief role. With non-roster relievers, the biggest asset is a low walk rate. Being a reliever takes a lot, but one thing that must remain consistent is the ability to control where the ball is going.
Jason Stoffel (RHP) - 6'2, 220 lbs
Stoffel, 22, was drafted out of Arizona in the fourth round by the Giants in 2009 and is the youngest member on the list. According to Baseball America, Stoffel is the 15th ranked prospect in the Giants system. The closer for the Wildcats, he has a mid-90s fastball and a good slider as his secondary pitch. Last year he saved 25 games for high-A San Jose, and he also posted an impressive 11.7 K/9. Although his ERA jumped to 4.80, he has the stuff that could move him through the Giants minor-league system quickly, a la Dan Runzler/Daniel Turpen.
Ryan Vogelsong (RHP) - 6'3, 215 lbs
If you're any kind of Giants fan at all, you should know that Ryan Vogelsong is a fist-sized nugget of fool's gold, given to the Giants so that they could package him with Armando Rios to get Jason Schmidt and Jon Vander Wal in one of the most lopsided deals in Brian Sabean's GM career. Vogelsong last pitched professionally in both the Philadelphia and Anaheim systems last year after spending three years in Japan. His major-league stats aren't impressive, but his 10.4 K/9 last year, and the fact that he has experience as a swing-man out of the bullpen, were enough to convince the Giants to give him another shot.
Wilmin Rodriguez (LHP) - 6'2, 211 lbs
Rodriguez, 25, has worked his way methodically through the Giants system, splitting last year between low-A Augusta and AA Richmond. Like all of the non-roster invitees, his stats don't jump off the page. The ERA is pedestrian (4.02), the WHIP not bad (1.51). He's a left-hander, though, and you can never have too many of those. But, as is the case, if these guys were top prospects, they wouldn't be non-roster invitees at 25.
Ryan Verdugo (LHP) - 6'0, 195 lbs
Verdugo, 23, is getting an extended look because of his stellar season last year, when he went 8-1 with a 1.87 ERA between Augusta and San Jose. He also carried a 1.81 WHIP, and was extremely effective out of the bullpen. His K/9 is an outlandish 13.3 for his career, and his K/BB ratio is also very good (2.83). Verdugo is a little wild (six wild pitches last year), but he maintained his strikeout ratio over a pretty hefty workload of over 60 innings in 2010.
Matt Yourkin (LHP) - 6'3, 225 lbs
Yourkin, 29, spent his career in the Marlins organization before latching on with the Giants in 2009. He notched eight saves for AA Connecticut (now Richmond) in 2009 before making the move to the starting rotation for Fresno last year. His stats jumped a little bit, but he could be another one to add to the list of possible sixth starters if he impresses this spring. Yourkin has a low walk rate, a respectable WHIP, and although his strikeout rate isn't that impressive, he's still averaging almost a strikeout an inning.
Although nothing can actually be determined until these guys get out on the mound and perform, there is always a chance that one of them will go crazy on Cactus League hitters and make the Opening Day squad. With a Giants bullpen that was great down the stretch and through the playoffs, and with almost all of them under contract for 2011, it'll take a little more than an impressive spring to bump someone out. But pitching is a commodity than can never be overstated, and if the Giants can stock up on some, they'll be ready for another title run.