23 Feb 19
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.–Baseball is finally back.
As the San Francisco Giants prepare to open Cactus League play Saturday against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, we’re taking a closer look at 10 players with a lot at stake this spring.
From a star catcher recovering from hip surgery to a pair of well-compensated pitchers looking to seize important roles, the Giants’ spring slate promises plenty of intrigue.
Of the nearly 70 players in big league camp, we chose 10 who you should keep your eyes on right up to Opening Day.
1. Buster Posey: Everything starts with the Giants catcher, who continues to progress after undergoing August hip surgery. Posey won’t begin catching in games until around March 1, but if he can’t handle a full workload at the beginning of the year, the Giants’ depth will be tested quickly. Posey’s ability to drive the ball and hit for power will be worth monitoring throughout March.
2. Jeff Samardzija: Samardzija insists he’s completely healthy after shoulder issues wrecked his 2018 season. The right-hander has earned good reviews from manager Bruce Bochy, who is eager to pencil Samardzija into the starting rotation. Samardzija said he’s cleared three hurdles –two bullpens and a live batting practice– and now must jump over five more –five Cactus League starts– before he’s all the way back.
3. Steven Duggar: Duggar could be the starting center fielder and an everyday fixture in the outfield, but he’ll need to prove he’s healthy after undergoing shoulder surgery last August. Like Posey, Duggar won’t play in games until March 1, but the Giants are hopeful the top defensive outfielder on their club is ready for Opening Day and able to handle hitting in the leadoff spot.
4. Dereck Rodríguez: After a marvelous debut season, Rodríguez is locked into a competition for a spot in the starting rotation this spring. He has four pitches, understands sequencing and oozes confidence, but he also has minor league options available. If he sputters at all this spring, the Giants may send Rodríguez to Triple-A until they have a need for more rotation depth.
5. Pablo Sandoval: The signings of Yangervis Solarte, Gerardo Parra and Cameron Maybin made the Giants a deeper club, but they also made it more difficult for Sandoval to earn a roster spot this spring. It’s difficult to see the Giants parting ways with a versatile, team-first player set to make the major league minimum, but Solarte and Alen Hanson could make it harder for Sandoval to find playing time.
6. Chris Stratton: The former first round draft pick is out of minor league options and must earn his way onto the roster with his performance this spring. Stratton can be brilliant at his best, but maddening and inconsistent at his worst. Finding the right mechanics has always been a key for Stratton, who will challenge for one of the final spots in the Giants’ starting rotation.
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7. Mac Williamson: Williamson’s power is prolific, but he has yet to deliver the breakthrough season he and the Giants believe is long overdue. If not for a concussion that wiped him out for much of last year, Williamson may have asserted himself as the odds-on favorite to start in one of the outfield corners. Because he’s out of options, Williamson needs an impressive spring to guarantee himself an opportunity.
8. Aramis Garcia: President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi admitted he didn’t know much about Garcia before he arrived in San Francisco, but the young catcher has impressed the team’s new executive in several ways. If Posey’s workload must be limited, the Giants may turn to Garcia to handle much of the catching duties at the beginning of the year.
9. Drew Ferguson: A Rule 5 draft choice coming off an outstanding season in the Pacific Coast League, Ferguson has never played a major league game yet could have a huge role in this year’s Giants outfield. Bochy plans to test Ferguson at all three outfield spots this spring and the Giants are eager to see if his mastery of the strike zone carries over from Triple-A to the majors.
10. Mark Melancon: Melancon hasn’t been healthy since his tenure in San Francisco began, but he says his arm trouble is behind him and he’s hungry to take over the closer job. The right-hander enters an open competition with a real chance of pitching in the ninth inning this year, but he’s now in a situation where he must prove himself to earn Bochy’s trust.