Final Prediction for San Francisco Giants' Key Spring Training Position Battles
As the San Francisco Giants prepare for their regular-season opener, there are still a few roster questions that must be answered. Fortunately, the starting eight position players appear set, even with the injury to Hunter Pence.
Manager Bruce Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean will make the remaining roster decisions. They have proven their prowess in the past, so the Giants are in good hands.
Over the course of a long, 162-game season, the roster will always be fluid. Injuries and roster moves occur regularly, and even if a player is sent down, he could still end up playing a major role during the year.
Let's take a closer look at some of the final roster decisions to be made and who has the inside track to win those coveted jobs.
Hector Sanchez opened the 2014 season as Buster Posey's backup, but a series of concussions cut his year short.
In 2014, prior to getting hurt, Sanchez played in 66 games and had 163 at-bats. He hit just .196 with an OBP of .237 and OPS of .538. Sanchez had three home runs but drove in a respectable 28 runs.
Andrew Susac was called up from the minors and did a solid job as Posey's backup. He played in 35 games and had 88 at-bats. Susac hit .273 with an OBP of .326 and OPS of .793. He had three home runs and 19 RBI. Defensively, Susac improved and did a good job learning the pitchers.
Neither player has distinguished himself this spring. Sanchez is hitting just .217 in 23 at-bats, and Susac has been limited to just 10 at-bats due to a sore wrist.
This is a battle that will likely go down to the wire. However, if Susac can return from the wrist problem and show some offensive punch, then he has the inside track for the job.
If the wrist proves to be a nagging problem, then Susac could open the season on the disabled list, and Sanchez would get the job by default.
4th and 5th Outfielder
When spring training got underway, the Giants' starting outfield appeared set, with Hunter Pence in right field, Angel Pagan in center and Nori Aoki in left.
However, injuries have already taken their toll on the Giants. Pence was hit by a Corey Black fastball and suffered a broken left forearm. He is expected to miss a large portion of April.
Angel Pagan's chronic back problems have resurfaced, and he cannot be counted on. To date, Pagan has played in only seven of the Giants' 17 spring training games.
The San Jose Mercury News' Carl Steward reported that Pagan was just given an injection to help relieve the lower back pain he has been suffering from. If Pagan cannot get back on the field soon, he will be a candidate to open the season on the DL.
The injury to Pence and the uncertainty regarding Pagan's availability will create opportunities for others.
Gregor Blanco will start at one of the outfield spots, and manager Bruce Bochy is likely to use a committee of three at the other spot.
If Pagan cannot start the season, look for Juan Perez, Justin Maxwell and Travis Ishikawa to split time. However, if Pagan is able to play, then either Perez, Maxwell or Ishikawa will not make the team.
There are three keys to the construction of the Giants' 25-man roster. Will Pagan start the season on the active roster, will the Giants opt to keep 12 or 13 pitchers and will they keep two utility infielders or just one?
If Pagan opens the season on the roster, the Giants start with 13 pitchers or they opt to keep an extra infielder, then the odd man out could be Maxwell.
Both Perez and Ishikawa have history with the Giants organization, and Maxwell has yet to show he belongs. He is hitting just .214 with an OBP of .313 and OPS of .598.
Matt Cain and Tim Hudson are both trying to return from offseason surgeries. If they are successful, the Giants' starting rotation will be set.
In addition to Cain and Hudson, Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy and Tim Lincecum will be in the rotation.
At the beginning of spring training, Alex Pavlovic of CSN Bay Area (h/t Michael Hurcomb of CBSSports.com) reported that Bochy will go with Lincecum as his fifth starter and Yusmeiro Petit and Ryan Vogelsong will come out of the bullpen.
Vogelsong had a very good outing in his last game, so if Cain and Hudson are not ready, he should be able to step into the void. In addition, Lincecum is likely to be on a short leash, so if he is ineffective, he could also be pulled out of the rotation early in the season.
In recent years, pitching has always been the key to the Giants' success. With Pence out and Pagan very questionable, it will be critical for the Giants to open the season pitching well.
The Giants may have trouble scoring a lot of runs, so holding the opposition down is a must if the Giants hope to get off to a good start.
The core of the Giants bullpen is set with Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez. This group of four pitchers has been a part of all three world championship teams.
Yusmeiro Petit and Ryan Vogelsong look like they have spots locked up, too.
The one uncertainty is whether manager Bruce Bochy will opt to go with 12 or 13 pitchers. The Giants open the season with 23 games in the first 24 days, so starting the season with 13 pitchers might be a necessity.
Jean Machi will likely earn one of the open jobs, and if the Giants do start with an extra reliever, it appears to be between George Kontos and Hunter Strickland.
If that is the case, look for Kontos to get the nod, as Strickland has minor league options remaining. It would likely benefit Strickland if he can go down to the minors to start the season. He can fine-tune his secondary pitches and work to improve his overall command of the strike zone.
Strickland throws in the high 90s, but as he is learning, big league hitters are not impressed by velocity alone. He has excellent potential, and if he can make those improvements, he has the stuff to be a dominant relief pitcher.
If the San Francisco Giants keep only one reserve middle infielder to begin the regular season, it will likely be Joaquin Arias.
Arias has experience playing all four infield positions, which gives him an advantage over his competition, namely Brandon Hicks and Matt Duffy.
If the Giants opt to keep two reserve infielders, then it will be a tough call between Duffy and Hicks.
In 2014, Arias played in 107 games, but many of those were as a late-inning defensive replacement for Pablo Sandoval. Arias had 193 at-bats and hit .254 with an OBP of .281 and OPS of .581.
Arias has minimal power and did not hit a home run last year, but he did drive in 15 runs. His value is his versatility and the ability to play multiple positions and not hurt the team defensively.
Brandon Hicks is primarily a second baseman and has a much better chance to stick if the Giants keep an extra reserve infielder.
Duffy may be the most consistent hitter of the three, as he had 60 at-bats, hitting .267 with an OBP of .302 and OPS of .602. However, with minor league options remaining, he will likely be sent down.