It seems like every year the San Francisco Giants enter spring training desperately looking for pieces to add on, not subtract. Guys who have nagging injuries stemming back to the previous season and a good number of non-roster invitees end up making the team.
Uncertainty came with those players (a lot of it) and the Giants' plans often went awry.
Now, for the first time in a long time, the Giants are just two weeks out from the start of the regular season with nearly every puzzle piece in place. The only remaining questions they face are "Who will take the last spot on the bench?" and "Who will take the last spot in the bullpen?"
With the Opening Day roster nearly set in stone, there is not much room for speculation about unlikely, unforeseen players making the team that will meet the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 1.
Instead, let's take a look at five players who are on the cusp and will be waiting to prove themselves when the first injuries of the season arrive.
Burriss, still just 26, is an interesting case for the Giants.
He has been given a few chances to perform at the major league level, only to show that he has great speed, a solid glove and just about nothing else.
Burriss actually had a decent shot at making the team last spring, after being chosen as the starting second baseman in 2009, but his recurring foot injuries kept him off the field.
Unfortunately, the addition of Mike Fontenot and return (can we even call it that?) of Mark DeRosa has left no room for Burriss on the 25-man squad until either of those players gets injured.
Burriss is hitting just .238 this spring, so it may be time for the Giants to cut ties with the speedster. Darren Ford could also make him obsolete as a pinch runner. Still, the Giants aren't usually ones to mess with a good thing so Burriss will likely lay in waiting at Triple-A for now.
Burriss can keep dreaming, for now.
This lefty reliever, now 28, is getting to the worry-point for the Giants. He still has electric stuff, but his control is never guaranteed and usually errs on the side of "total lack of."
With a power lefty coming out of the bullpen, the team needs consistency and accuracy in tough situations. With Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez already with solidified spots in the pen, along with the Dan Runzler-in-waiting situation, Hinshaw may have run out of options.
So far this spring, Hinshaw has failed to impress once again with an ERA over 11 and a WHIP of 2.75. Even if he was pitching well, it would have been difficult to make the Opening Day roster but with those numbers it's a surprise he's even getting pitching time.
Having seen Hinshaw pitch in person this spring, I can personally tell you that he is the exact same pitcher the Giants have seen in the past: great power and movement, but he just does not know where it's going.
Hinshaw does have major league experience, which is about the only positive for him right now, and he has not done horribly in The Show. Despite his struggles, he will likely be brought up if Affeldt or Lopez goes down early to give Runzler more time as a starter in Fresno.
Going into spring training, Brian Sabean said it would be a longshot for Belt to make the Opening Day roster, even if he hit the cover off the ball every time he came to the plate.
Unfortunately for Belt, that has not been the case as he's hit at a .256 clip with eight RBI, four doubles and three walks. Though he has shown himself to be an outstanding fielder at first base (J.T. Snow-esque by some accounts), his bat has been merely solid and not incredible this spring. There is not reason to panic for the Giants' top prospect, however, as he will be sent to Triple-A for more at-bats until a call-up in May or June (think Buster Posey last season).
Belt, even without the practice in the minors, has already shown he's major league-ready and could easily perform at that level to start the season, if given the chance. However, the Posey formula seemed to work (hah, understatement) and there is no reason to start him right away.
Brandon Belt is coming, however, and when he finally does I believe all of baseball will notice. At this point, Burriss and Hinshaw are fairly expendable so Belt is right at the front of the line to make it to San Francisco.
If this is the Giants' biggest issue of the spring, then I'd say they are in pretty great shape.
Currently the Giants bullpen has 11 of its 12 components set with the five starters, Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, Brian Wilson, Ramon Ramirez, Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla. Officially the last spot in the bullpen comes down to a battle between Dan Runzler, Ryan Vogelsong, Guillermo Mota and Jeff Suppan.
As an earlier article of mine noted, Suppan looked primed to take that final spot earlier in the spring. The Giants' true bullpen need is a "sixth" starter, a guy who can pitch long innings in relief and start reliably should an injury occur in the rotation. Though he was coming off a bad year, Suppan had a lot of experience (which the Giants organization always seems to over-value if anything) and was having a great spring. A recent string of bad (and I mean BAD) outings has basically taken Suppan out of the conversation altogether.
The Giants don't need another middle-relieving righty in Mota, so I think he's out of the picture as well. That leaves Runzler and Vogelsong, guys on two very different career paths.
Runzler is a flame-throwing lefty who could be anything from a future closer to a dangerous reliever to a starter. The Giants are just not sure what to do with the soon-to-be 26-year-old. His innings are being extended to test his durability, and so far he seems to be doing just fine. While they may change their minds, the Giants have never been a team that goes with the younger, more inexperienced guy over a veteran (even one that hasn't been good enough to pitch in the states for most of his career).
Vogelsong has been downright fantastic this spring, and after seeing him throw against the Rangers he seems to be for real (at least for now). He is 2-1 with a 2.13 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP so far, which is pretty good for a guy trying to be the team's sixth man. At this point, the edge has to go to Vogelsong because of his career-starter status and uncertainty with Runzler. However, Vogelsong could easily perform poorly early and, if that's the case, Runzler will be right there to take over.
The Giants' bench situation is very similar to their bullpen issue with just one spot left for two guys.
After the Giants' starting eight, their bench consists of Eli Whiteside (my boy), Mark DeRosa, Aaron Rowand and his contract, and Mike Fontenot. That leaves one spot for either Ishikawa or Schierholtz.
The team has recently become more aware of this fight for the final spot, playing both players more frequently and trying Ishikawa in left field, a position he has never played before.
The choice here is a tough one. Ishikawa is fantastic defensively and though he has not lived up to expectations on offense, he performed well enough to be the Giants' best pinch hitter last year with an average over .300 in those situations that included many clutch hits. He's had a decent spring, but not an outstanding one. He did, however, hit an RBI double in the ninth inning to give the Giants the lead against the Diamondbacks on Tuesday night, so that couldn't have hurt.
Schierholtz has had a better spring, hitting .303 with a .515 slugging percentage and playing a great right field as he always has. In my opinion, Schierholtz plays right field at AT&T Park better than anyone and that's not a fact to be overlooked. He has a great arm and already has an outfield assist this spring.
With Brandon Belt waiting to come up at first base, here's what I see happening. The Giants will put Ishikawa in Triple-A and keep Schierholtz on the major league squad. DeRosa can always be used in the meantime to back up Aubrey Huff at first base. When Belt does come up, Huff will move to left field and Pat Burrell will go to the bench. Schierholtz will still be a useful option in the outfield, able to pinch-hit effectively and take over for Cody Ross or Burrell when needed.
Ishikawa is a solid player, but unless there are unforeseen injuries it will be hard for the team to find a place for him.