The World Baseball Classic kicks off Friday. Seven players expected to be on the Giants’ opening day 25-man roster will take part in the WBC: pitchers Ryan Vogelsong and Jeremy Affeldt (USA), 2B Marco Scutaro and 3B Pablo Sandoval (Venezuela), OF Angel Pagan (Puerto Rico), pitcher Sergio Romo (Mexico) and P Santiago Casilla (Dominican Republic). Even hitting coach Hensley Meulens will coach for The Netherlands.
When spring training opened, it was thought 10 Giants would play in the WBC. But then pitcher Javier Lopez (Puerto Rico) withdrew from the event. Earlier this week, OF Andres Torres (Puerto Rico) learned he would be sidelined at least a week with an oblique strain and withdrew.
The most troubling injury-related WBC withdrawal was that of pitcher Jose Mijares. Mijares has an impingement in his pitching elbow, and the Giants won’t know more until the results of an MRI are back.
The Giants’ commitment to the WBC could have been bigger had outfielder Gregor Blanco not turned down pleas from Venezuela to play.
“Marco (Scutaro) was saying ‘Let’s go! Let’s go!” Blanco told the San Jose Mercury. “But I wanted to stay here with the Giants. Bad things happened the last I played (in the WBC).”
Blanco left Braves camp to play for Venezuela in 2009. When he got back, he had lost his job to a rookie.
While sending seven big-league players to the WBC is more than most teams, it is important to remember that not every player who will leave camp will be gone until the WBC ends on March 19.
With the Dominican, Venezuela and Puerto Rico playing in the same first-round pool, the Giants are guaranteed to get at least one player back in camp after pool play ends on March 10. The top two teams in each pool advance to the second round.
While having so many Giants in the WBC will increase interest among Giants fans, it will also provide the Giants the chance to get a good, long look at players trying to make the club.
The Giants have two spots open on the bench for an infielder and an outfielder, or two infielders if the Giants feel comfortable with Brandon Belt playing in the outfield from time to time.
With Scutaro and Sandoval gone, there will be more playing time for Kensuke Tanaka, Nick Noonan, Brock Bond, Wilson Valdez and Tony Abreu. The Giants may even give Brett Pill a look at third base this spring.
The Giants brought in a boat load of pitchers in camp to cover WBC absences. The Giants have two open spots in their bullpen, one if George Kontos makes the club after a solid 2012 campaign. There will be a lot of competition for that last spot. One pitcher who has impressed early this spring is Dan Runzler, who has sported a lively fastball and sharp breaking ball. If Mijares’ injury sidelines for a while, Runzler becomes a prime candidate to make the club.