Predicting San Francisco Giants Depth Charts a Month Ahead of Spring Training
After finally running out of even-year magic in 2016, the San Francisco Giants don't have many questions to answer before they try to conjure some odd-year magic in 2017.
After filling their closer need by signing Mark Melancon, the Giants should only have a couple roster spots up for grabs when they arrive for spring training next month. That makes it easy to spell out their depth charts on paper, which is what we aim to do.
Ahead, we'll run through the favorites for San Francisco's 25-man roster and the players who have first dibs should any spots open up. At the end, we'll look at the next wave of players who will be in camp looking for work this spring.
That's all there is to it, so let's get to it.
Starting C: Buster Posey (RHB)
This is still Buster Posey's spot and that's not changing any time soon. The former MVP didn't have his finest offensive season in 2016 but still managed a solid .796 OPS. He also won an overdue Gold Glove after nabbing 37 percent of base stealers and, per Baseball Prospectus, rating as an elite framer and blocker. The 29-year-old stands alone as baseball's best catcher.
Backup C: Trevor Brown (RHB)
Trevor Brown is the only other catcher the Giants have on their 40-man roster. There's quite the drop-off from Posey to Brown, as he's not much of a hitter (career .636 OPS) or defender. The Giants likely won't look to increase the 25-year-old's playing time from the 75 games he appeared in last season.
Next in Line
Tim Federowicz (RHB)
Of the catchers the Giants have invited to spring training, Tim Federowicz is the best bet to upset their projected depth chart. The 29-year-old doesn't have numbers but does have experience on winning ball clubs after having played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs.
Starting 1B: Brandon Belt (LHB)
Maybe it wasn't the huge breakout Giants fans have been waiting for, but 2016 was Brandon Belt's best season to date. He set career highs with a .395 on-base percentage and an .868 OPS, and also made his first All-Star team. Also not to be forgotten: The 28-year-old is an excellent defender.
Starting 2B: Joe Panik (LHB)
Speaking of excellent defenders, being limited to 127 games last season didn't prevent Joe Panik from winning his first Gold Glove. With that part of his game squared away, the 26-year-old heads into 2017 looking for better health and more offense. His OPS tumbled 138 points from 2015 to 2016.
Starting SS: Brandon Crawford (LHB)
Brandon Crawford, 29, also won a Gold Glove in 2016 and generally continued his emergence as one of baseball's best two-way shortstops. He OPS'd a solid .772 and hit double-digit triples for the second time in three years, a testament to his line-drive stroke.
Starting 3B: Eduardo Nunez (RHB)
This is the spot on the Giants infield that's less secure, but Eduardo Nunez has a hold on it for now. Although Nunez's best role may be as a super-utility player, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reported in October that general manager Bobby Evans is fine with Nunez as an everyday player.
Of course, whether Nunez deserves this kind of skepticism is a good question. The 29-year-old was an All-Star last summer and finished the year with a .758 OPS, 16 home runs and 40 stolen bases.
Backup INF: Conor Gillaspie (LHB)
Even before he was knocking big hits in October, Conor Gillaspie had already established himself as a useful player. The former first-rounder played in 101 regular season games and put up a .767 OPS against right-handed pitching. At worst, the 29-year-old looks like a good platoon partner for Nunez.
Backup INF: Ehire Adrianza (SH)
The knock on Gillaspie is that he can only be used on the corners of the infield. Ehire Adrianza, 27, is the guy who can cover the middle of the diamond. It's a bonus that he bats from both sides of the plate, even if his bat has produced just a .605 career OPS.
Next in Line
Kelby Tomlinson (RHB)
Kelby Tomlinson has done some good work for the Giants in the last two seasons, putting up a .739 OPS in 106 games. However, the 26-year-old is a better fit as Panik insurance rather than a bench player. Given Panik's injury issues, odds are he will be needed in 2017 at some point.
Starting LF: Jarrett Parker (LHB)
The Giants could use a more established option in left field, and nobody should rule out them going and getting one before Opening Day. But to hear Evans say it, they can also live with what they have.
"I think there are some big market options, but we've got two young guys that we want to get a good evaluation on, and you can't really do that until they get major league at-bats," Evans told ESPN.com's Buster Olney in December, via CSN Bay Area. "That's Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker and both of them are really in-waiting for an opportunity to get everyday playing time and show what they can do."
Although Williamson and Parker figure to be a platoon, there's more right-handed pitching out there than left-handed pitching. That makes the 28-year-old Parker the de facto "starter." His .942 OPS against righties in the majors would advise you not to underestimate him.
Starting CF: Denard Span (LHB)
Now 32, Denard Span's days of being an above-average hitter and defender are likely over. But he at least stayed healthy enough to play in 143 games in his first season in San Francisco. He was also a good guy to have atop the lineup, as he worked counts and put up a solid .331 OBP.
Starting RF: Hunter Pence (RHB)
After playing in 162 games in back-to-back seasons in 2013 and 2014, Hunter Pence has played in a total of 158 games since 2015. Given that he's now 33, the possibility of further injury trouble is not a small concern. But with an .808 OPS and 22 bombs over the last two seasons, at least his talent is holding stronger than his durability.
Backup OF: Mac Williamson (RHB)
Williamson, 26, doesn't figure to see as much playing time as Parker does in left field, but the Giants will like having his bat around. It has some decent power in it. He's also solid injury insurance for Pence, as he can slide over and play right field if need be.
Backup OF: Gorkys Hernandez (RHB)
It's pretty simple: Gorkys Hernandez is the only other outfielder the Giants have on their 40-man roster. As such, it's a good thing the 29-year-old is also the only guy the Giants have who can play all three outfield positions.
Next in Line
Orlando Calixte (RHB)
The next man up in the Giants' outfield depth chart could be anyone, but Orlando Calixte gets the slight edge for now. He's already on the 40-man roster after being purchased from the Kansas City Royals. And while the 24-year-old isn't much of a hitter, his glove plays anywhere it's needed.
No. 1: Madison Bumgarner (LHP)
Last year was Madison Bumgarner's fourth straight season with over 200 innings and an ERA under 3.00. The 27-year-old's a legit No. 1. End of analysis.
No. 2: Johnny Cueto (RHP)
Nobody really knew what to expect from Johnny Cueto in his first season with the Giants. So, his 2.79 ERA and 219.2 innings count as a pleasant surprise. I can't explain how he does it within the space allotted here, so I'll just suggest to expect more of the same from him in his age-31 season in 2017.
No. 3: Jeff Samardzija (RHP)
Jeff Samardzija, 31, didn't exceed expectations like Cueto did in his first season with the Giants. But with a 3.81 ERA in 203.1 frames, he at least met expectations that he would provide solid innings. There's a case to be made that he should be the club's No. 4 starter, but his $90 million contract comes with a built-in edge.
No. 4: Matt Moore (LHP)
Matt Moore had the exact same ERA (4.08) in 12 starts with the Giants that he did in 21 starts with the Tampa Bay Rays last year. With a mixed track record of effectiveness behind him, the 27-year-old's real attraction is the promise of a big workload after packing in 198.1 innings last season.
No. 5: Matt Cain (RHP)
According to Alex Pavlovic of CSN Bay Area, Cain is going to have to earn a rotation spot this spring. With a 5.13 ERA in just 49 appearances since 2014, that's no sure thing. But if all things are equal, the Giants will likely prefer that Cain's $21 million salary go toward a starter rather than a long reliever.
Next in Line
Ty Blach (LHP)
Ty Blach will be Cain's primary competition this spring and the first man in line for his spot if he doesn't get it. The 26-year-old won't wow anyone with his stuff, but he showed an impressive know-how for pitching in a breakout 2016 season that culminated in a 1.06 ERA in four major league appearances.
Albert Suarez (RHP)
Albert Suarez will also be gunning for the No. 5 spot in the Giants rotation. After making 22 appearances (including 12 starts) last year, he has more experience to lean on than Blach. However, the 27-year-old arguably profiles better as a long reliever.
Closer: Mark Melancon (RHP)
Mark Melancon is the Giants' $62 million answer to a 2016 bullpen that held leads about as well as Lane Kiffin holds jobs. And really, that's not a bad price for a guy whose 1.80 ERA since 2013 is the best of any pitcher who's appeared in over 200 games. The 31-year-old is quite the upgrade.
Setup: Hunter Strickland (RHP)
With an average fastball of 96.8 mph, Hunter Strickland brings the heat. The 28-year-old also brought a solid 3.10 ERA in 2016. The only thing the Giants need to beware is his platoon split, as his performance suffered greatly when he faced left-handers last year.
Setup: Derek Law (RHP)
Derek Law unexpectedly emerged as the Giants' best reliever in 2016, putting up a 2.13 ERA and an excellent 5.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 61 appearances. Since he doesn't have overpowering stuff, he could suffer from the scouting book being out on him. But for now, there's a spot in the late innings for the 26-year-old.
Setup: Will Smith (LHP)
The Giants will need to be prepared for the occasional walk when Will Smith comes into games, but he continued a three-year run of success after coming over from the Milwaukee Brewers last summer. The 27-year-old also isn't a typical relief lefty in that his platoon split is basically nonexistent.
Lefty Specialist: Josh Osich (LHP)
Steven Okert will also be in the running to be the Giants' lefty specialist. What Josh Osich has on him is a strong track record against left-handed batters, who he's held to a .184 average and .562 OPS. With an average fastball in the mid-90s, he also brings some extra gas to the Giants pen.
Middle Relief: George Kontos (RHP)
George Kontos, 31, has found his stride in the last two seasons, putting up a 2.42 ERA in 130 appearances. He's not going to blow anyone away, but the Giants can generally count on him to come in and throw strikes.
Middle Relief: Cory Gearrin (RHP)
Last year was Cory Gearrin's biggest taste yet of the majors, and he handled it OK. Although he only logged a 4.28 ERA in 56 appearances, he did have a solid 3.2 K/BB ratio and was able to suppress both righties (.649 OPS) and lefties (.655 OPS). The 30-year-old should get another shot in 2017.
Next in Line
Steven Okert (LHP)
If Okert doesn't get into the Giants bullpen as a lefty specialist, he'll be on speed dial for the role. Albeit in only 16 appearances, the 25-year-old impressed with 14 strikeouts and a 3.21 ERA in his first taste of the majors last year.
Dan Slania (RHP)
Of the assorted arms with eyes on the Giants pen, Dan Slania stands out after rising up through the ranks in 2016. After a slow start at High-A San Jose, the 24-year-old impressed with a 2.50 ERA at Double-A Richmond and did well in a pair of starts for Triple-A Sacramento as well.
The Next Wave
C: Josmil Pinto (RHB)
Josmil Pinto isn't on the Giants' 40-man roster, but he is a catcher with some major league experience who could be heard from in 2017.
INF: Christian Arroyo (RHB)
Christian Arroyo has plenty of work ahead of him after being humbled by Double-A competition in 2016. But since he's still arguably the club's No. 1 prospect, he's a guy to keep an eye on.
INF: Jimmy Rollins (SH)
Jimmy Rollins will be around this spring after signing with the Giants on a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. Even if the 38-year-old is out of productive seasons to give, it never hurts to have a former MVP around.
INF: Ramiro Pena (SH)
Speaking of veteran switch-hitting infielders not on the 40-man roster but who will be around this spring, that applies to Ramiro Pena as well.
INF: Miguel Gomez (SH)
Despite the fact he's only advanced as far as High-A, Miguel Gomez is on the Giants' 40-man roster. They must like the sound of a switch-hitter with a .314 career minor league average who also has some defensive versatility.
INF/OF: Michael Morse (RHB)
Michael Morse's career hit the skids after his big season with the Giants in 2014. The 34-year-old isn't ready to call it quits, though, so he accepted a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.
OF: Justin Ruggiano (RHB)
Justin Ruggiano is yet another veteran who's on a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. With a career .865 OPS against left-handed pitching, he presumably has eyes on the spot the Giants have marked for Mac Williamson.
OF: Austin Slater (RHB)
Although he may not have a role to earn, Austin Slater is worth paying attention to this spring. The 24-year-old had a breakout at Double-A and Triple-A in 2016, putting up and .893 OPS with 18 home runs.
SP: Josh Johnson (RHP)
And now for another fallen star who will be in camp with the Giants this spring. Josh Johnson hasn't pitched in the majors since 2013 and hasn't had a healthy season since 2012. But at 32, he's not yet ancient by baseball standards, so...maybe?
SP: Clayton Blackburn (RHP)
Clayton Blackburn has had ups and downs over the last few seasons. But he's still on the 40-man roster and is technically still one of the best prospects the Giants have.
SP: Chris Stratton (RHP)
Chris Stratton hasn't lived up to being chosen 20th overall back in 2012. But like Blackburn, he's on the 40-man roster and is still technically one of the club's better prospects.
SP/RP: Kyle Crick (RHP)
Kyle Crick was a fast-rising prospect several years ago, but he has yet to get his control to match his stuff. At this point, his best hope is probably turning his spot on the 40-man roster into a bullpen role somewhere down the line.
RP: Joan Gregorio (RHP)
Although Joan Gregorio's rise hit a snag at Triple-A last season, you can't help but be intrigued by a 6'7" right-hander with a power fastball/slider combination. He also has a spot on the 40-man roster.
RP: Ray Black (RHP)
On the topic of intriguing right-handers on the 40-man roster, how about a guy who can throw 100 miles per hour? That's Ray Black, who has struck out 17.2 batters per nine innings in the minors. It's too bad he also has some Nuke LaLoosh in him, walking 7.2 batters per nine innings.