Patience with Hwang is the best option for San Francisco Giants

Brewers Giants Spring Baseball

San Francisco Giants third baseman Jae-Gyun Hwang throws to first base during infield drills prior to a spring training baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers Sunday, March 19, 2017, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

So in preparing a blog post about decision the Giants have to make in cutting down to their Opening Day 25-man roster, I stumbled upon a blog post about last year’s final cutdown.

According to McCovey Chronicles:

“Also sent down? Chris Stratton (aka The Only Good Starting Pitcher In Camp), Mike Broadway (The Best Reliever In Camp), Ty Blach (About As Good As Josh Osich), and Clayton Blackburn (The Next and Future Prospect). None of the six non-roster invitees made it, either. Farewell, Connor Gilles–Conor Gillas–you know who I’m talking about.”

Everyone wants to see prospects get their shots. But sometimes, it’s better to wait.

Let’s take a look how those projections from last year’s spring worked out.

Stratton: After posting a 1.80 ERA last spring, Stratton went 12-6 with 3.87 ERA in Triple-A Sacramento. He posted a 3.60 ERA in 7 appearances for the Giants in his September call-up.

Broadway: Posted a 3.94 ERA in 29.2 relief innings in Triple-A before posting a 11.81 ERA in four September appearances for the Giants. He was released after the end of the season and signed with the Nationals.

Blach: Went 14-7 with a 3.43 ERA for Triple-A. He went 1-1 with a 1.06 ERA in four appearances (two starts) during the Giants’ postseason run last season and made the team’s playoff roster. He is in the running for a rotation spot this spring.

Blackburn: Went 7-10 with a 4.36 for Sacramento and did not make a big league appearance.

Oh, and that Gilles- Gillaspie guy? He opened the season in Sacramento, but was called up to the major league club by late April and spent the rest of the season with the Giants as a quality backup and performed some last-season and postseason heroics.

The moral to this look back Memory Lane is that more often than not prospects coming off a solid spring don’t always translate into instant big league season. In fact, more often than not, they don’t. And the best thing to do with prospects coming off a hot spring is to send them to the minors and call them up when necessity calls for it or when they’ve shown they ready for it.

Look back at 2010. Buster Posey hit .315 that spring and everyone wanted Buster on the big league roster. But the Giants only like to keep rookies on the big league roster when they are going to play, and the Giants had a veteran catcher in Bengie Molina.

So Buster went to Triple-A. He got called up in late May, went on to win Rookie of the Year and help the Giants to their first World Series title in 54 years.

The very next spring, everyone wanted Brandon Belt to make the big league roster after hitting .282 with power that spring. The Giants granted the fans their wish and kept Belt on the big club, forcing Aubrey Huff to play in the outfield.

But Belt hit .192 in 17 games before being sent to the minors before April was over.

Now, let’s fast-forward to this spring and the case of Jae-gyun Hwang.

Hwang had enjoyed a very nice spring, and that’s a good thing. Hwang won the the Barney Nugent Award given to the player “in his first big league camp whose performance and dedication in Spring Training best exemplifies the San Francisco Giants spirit.”

Hwang has enjoyed a very nice spring. He’s hit .349 with 5 homers and 15 RBI. But hitting in Arizona doesn’t not always equate into hitting in San Francisco, and we’ve seen many players struggle to make that transition.

Hwang is not your normal 21-year-old rookie. He’s a 10-year veteran in Korea, hitting .330 with 26 HRs and 104 RBI last season.

Still, it’s not the majors. So it’s not a terrible idea to take time to assess when Hwang brings to the club. That’s what the Giants have done this spring. A third baseman by trade, the Giants have played Hwang at first base and left field this spring as they hope he can be right-handed option who could spell Belt at first or Jarrett Parker in left.

The Giants came into this spring with their Opening Roster lineup pretty much set, at least in the field, when Belt is at first, Joe Panik at second, Brandon Crawford at short and Eduardo Nunez at third base.

Hwang was brought in to provide some depth this season and as possible option to start in 2018. Christian Arroyo is another option there.

So it is not unwise for the Giants to go with Nunez at third with Gillaspie and Aaron Hill in reserve, and send Hwang to Sacramento to start. If things continue to go well, we might see Hwang in San Francisco by Memorial Day or Fourth of July.

That’s not what the fans want. If they see a prospect, especially one who has not experienced any failure in the bigs, they want them playing – even starting for the Giants. That is, until that player fails in the bigs, then they want to see the next prospect.

But patience is a virtue. And good things come to those who wait.

 

 

 

Barry Bonds is back with the Giants; now let’s retire his number

Bruce Bochy, Berry Bonds

San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy, left, listens as former player Barry Bonds speaks at a news conference before a spring training baseball game in Scottsdale, Ariz., Monday, March 10, 2014. Bonds starts a seven day coaching stint today. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

From 1993 to 2007, the San Francisco Giants’ Opening Day left fielder was Barry Bonds every year except one.

That was in 2005 when Pedro Feliz started in left field when Bonds was rehabbing a knee injury that all but wiped out his 2005 season.

But since Bonds’ retirement after 2007 season, left field has been a carousel of different players.

There have been nine different players to start in left field for the Giants in those nine Opening Days since Bonds’ retirement.

Trivia time: Can you name those nine players who have started in left field on opening day since 2008? (Answer below).

Well in 2017, that number will move to 10, regardless of who starts in left field. At this point, it looks like that will be Jarrett Parker.

But there was some news Tuesday regarding some consistency in left field.

Barry Bonds is back.

The MLB all-time career home run leader — yeah, that’s an unmitigated fact so stick it you baseball revisionists — rejoined the club as a special adviser to club president and CEO Larry Baer.

While Bonds did serve as a spring training instructor in 2014, this is his first official capacity with the club since it decided not to offer him a contract after the 2007 season.

That decision did not sit well with Bonds, who still wanted to play at age 43 and chase the 3,000-hit milestone. He finished his career with 2,935 hits.

Bonds worked last season as one of the Marlins’ hitting instructor but was let go at season’s end.

“I am excited to be back home with the Giants and join the team in an official capacity,” Bonds said in a statement. “San Francisco has always been my home and the Giants will always be my family. I look forward to spending time with the team, young players in the system as well as the Bay Area community.”

After spending the next week as a spring training instructor, Bonds’ role will include representing the organization in various community events and touring the team’s Minor League affiliates to work with prospects.

As the king of Splash Hits, MoreSplashHits welcomes the return of Bonds and hopes it leads to something bigger.

To start with, that includes retiring his number. It’s an idea Baer said will be discussed.

“It’s on the table for coming attractions,” Baer told Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Giants have a standing policy that the only numbers they retire are for players who have reached the Hall of Fame.

To date that includes Bill Terry (3), Mel Ott (4), Carl Hubbell (11), Monte Irvin (20), Willie Mays (24), Juan Marichal (27), Orlando Cepeda (30), Gaylord Perry (36) Jackie Robinson (42 – hey, he was traded to the Giants in 1957), Willie McCovey (44), along with Christy Mathewson and John McGraw (both pre-dated uniform numbers).

MoreSplashHits agrees in principle with this policy. I mean, the Giants don’t want to become the Portland Trail Blazers of MLB. Among the 12 numbers retired by the Blazers is the No. 30 of Bob Gross, or as he’s better known around the rest of the country, “Who?”

However, Bonds has been kept out of the Hall of Fame, largely thanks to a block of old farts in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Among voters who publicly released their ballots, Bonds received 60.2 percent of the vote. However, his final percentage was 53.8 percent. That’s because Bonds only earned 38.3 percent of the vote among voters who lacked the stones or the mental faculties to release their vote publicly.

But no more. Beginning next year, all voters must release their ballots to the public. That fact, and the provision that BWAA members lose their Hall of Fame vote after 10 years of inactivity (i.e. old farts) should help get Bonds elected. Even with that, it will take a few years for Bonds to close the more than 21-point chasm between his current vote total and the 75 percent needed for election.

So the Giants simply need to forgo the HOF election provision and retire Bonds’ number.

No Giant has worn No. 25 since Bonds’ last season in San Francisco in 2007. So for intents and purposes, it’s been retired now for almost 10 years. Make it official. Put his number on the wall.

Barry Bonds, without the possible exception of his godfather Willie Mays, is the greatest Giant of them all.

His number should be retired.

OK, now for the trivia answer. Ready?

  • 2008: Dave Roberts
  • 2009: Fred Lewis
  • 2010: Mark DeRosa
  • 2011: Pat Burrell
  • 2012: Aubrey Huff (did you block that one from your memory? If so, we apologize)
  • 2013: Andres Torres
  • 2014: Michael Morse
  • 2015: Norichika Aoki
  • 2016: Angel Pagan

 

Injuries to Will Smith, Michael Morse juggle up Giants’ roster decisions

San Francisco Giants’ Michael Morse hits during a spring training baseball game against the Colorado Rockies, Friday, March 17, 2017, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

So this was where we were planning to wrap up our look at spring position battles for the San Francisco Giants with one last spot: reserve infielder.

But recent events have changed the landscape dramatically.

The Giants’ relatively injury-free spring was dealt a couple of blows when left-handed pitcher Will Smith had a flare up in his pitching elbow. And then outfielder Michael Morse suffered a hamstring injury on Monday.

It appears now that both injuries are significant enough to keep both players from making the Opening Day roster and that changes decisions up and down the roster.

We were going to talk about the two open bench spots for infielders in this post. We were going to discuss that after starters Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford and Eduardo Nunez, the Giants would carry Connor Gillaspie, plus one other infielder – a right-handed hitter to go with the left-handed Gillaspie.

Battling for that spot were Aaron Hill, Jimmy Rollins, Jae-gyun Hwang and Kelby Tomlinson.

But Smith’s injury now makes it look more and more like the Giants will break camp with an eight-man bullpen. Smith had a flare-up of the sore elbow that delayed his start to spring. An MRI Monday raised concerns with the Giants, who sent Smith back to San Francisco for further examination.

At best, the Giants can hope Smith can work through the injury and perhaps be ready by late April. At worst, it’s surgery and a 12-month rehab. Either way, the Giants must prepare as if they won’t have Smith for a while.

That means Steven Okert is almost guaranteed to make the club. But the Giants will want another lefty in the pen. That could be Josh Osich orTy Blach, if the latter doesn’t beat out Matt Cain for a spot in the starting rotation. There is also non-roster invitee Matt Reynolds.

The uncertainty around the lefties in the pen lead me to believe the Giants will opt with an eight-man pen, meaning the bench will consist of four players – catcher Nick Hundley, Gillaspie, outfielder Gorky Hernandez (Justin Ruggiano has made a late push and could be an option) and …… Aaron Hill.

Hill has played the past 10 season in the majors at either second base or third base. But he has dabbled a bit at shortstop this spring – a position he hasn’t played in the bigs since 2006 – and he showed himself to be a capable outfielder in Monday’s game against the Brewers.

And that could tip things in Hill’s favor if the Giants go with a four-man bench.

So here is how we see the Opening 25-man roster looking like, as of Tuesday, March 21:

  • STARTERS: 1B Belt, 2B Panik, SS Crawford, 3B Nunez, C Buster Posey, LF Jarrett Parker, CF Denard Span RF Hunter Pence.
  • RESERVES: Gillaspie, Hill, Hernandez, Hundley.
  • STARTING PITCHERS: Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Moore, Matt Cain.
  • BULLPEN: RH Mark Melancon, RH Derek Law, RH Hunter Strickland, RH George Kontos, RH Cory Gearrin, LH Steven Okert, LH Josh Osich, LH Ty Blach.

Look at Giants’ roster battles, part III: The outfield

San Francisco Giants’ Jarrett Parker hits during a spring training baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Sunday, March 12, 2017, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Opening day is less than two weeks, there appears to be one position battle that appears to be over.

Barring some unforeseen turn of events, Jarrett Parker will be the starting left-fielder for the San Francisco Giants in 2017.

Parker came into spring training expected to battle Mac Williamson for the left-field job. They both put on spirited battle this spring.

The numbers (through Sunday)

Parker – 12 for 38 (.316), 4 HR, 12 RBI, 7 BB, 10 Ks, .435 OBP, .658 SLG

Williamson – 11 for 34 (.324), 2 HR, 7 RBI, 2 BB, 7 Ks, .378 OBP, .559 SLG

Considering that Parker is out of minor league options (and Williamson still has one left) and the fact that Williamson is now hampered by a quad injury, it would only take an injury by Parker in the last couple weeks of spring to keep him out of the Opening Day roster.

Ever since he was drafted in second round out of Virginia in 2010, Parker has been a free-swinging, all-or-nothing power hitter who struck out nearly 30 percent of the time in six minor league season.

But this spring, Parker has displayed greater discipline at the plate, resulting in .435 OBP.

“His discipline has improved so much,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy told the San Jose Mercury News. “Even though he’s shortened up, he’s not sacrificing power. It’s maturing as a hitter, and he’s doing that. Coming into this spring, he knew what was at stake and he’s doing the job.”

The biggest question remaining for Parker is can he be an everyday left-fielding.

He has a.267/.371/.494 slash line in 205 big league plate appearances over the past two seasons. But his splits against righties and lefties remain a concern.

Vs. righties: .294/.411/.532 in 151 PAs.

Vs. lefties: .200/.259/.400 in 54 PAs.

And that makes the decision regarding the backup outfielder positions key.

Assuming Williamson starts the season in Triple-A (because he has the option) or on the DL, Michael Morse appears to be the frontrunner in the home stretch to secure a reserve role. Morse has 2 HRs, 6 RBI and is hitting .276 this spring, and has the edge of the fading Chris Marrero.

The question regarding Morse is whether makes the team depends on what decision the Giants make regarding the bullpen.

In past season, Bochy has opted to leave Arizona with an eight-man bullpen, leaving four position players on the bench.

If the Giants do that, a four-player bench likely means a four-man outfield. And if the Giants go with Hunter Pence, Denard Span, Parker and Morse, it will leave them on shaky ground in center.

Span is not the most durable center fielder, and Parker has only logged 11 innings in the majors in center.

That leads you to believe the Giants would lean with someone with center field experience. And that leaves Gorkys Hernandez and Justin Ruggiano, neither of whom is impressing at the plate this spring. Even so, Hernandez would have the edge here.

But if the Giants go with a five-player bench, they could break camp with Pence, Span, Parker, Morse and Hernandez.

Look at Giants’ roster battles, part II: The bullpen

FILE – In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Mark Melancon throws during spring baseball practice in Scottsdale, Ariz. The closer got a big free-agent contract from the Giants. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)

In the past years, Giants manager Bruce Bochy has generally chosen to break camp with an eight-man bullpen and a four-man bench.

But this year, the schedule is a bit more favorable. The Giants open on Sunday, April 2, get April 3 off, and then play games over the next 13 days before getting two days off around a two-day trip to Kansas City.

The Giants first 14 games are played in Arizona, San Diego and San Francisco, meaning a call to Sacramento will be quick and convenient if reserves are needed. So the Giants may opt for the more traditional 7-man bullpen.

Working off that premise, let’s start building a bullpen. We’ll begin with the gimmes: Closer Mark Melancon, righties Derek Law and Hunter Strickland and lefty Will Smith – although Smith has been slowed this spring by elbow soreness. Smith expects to pitch in games later this week, which should give him time to be ready by opening day. Still, it’s something to watch.

Assuming Smith will be ready, that leaves three spots left. And as I can’t remember a time when the Giants didn’t have at least two lefties in the pen, we’ll assume one of those three spots goes to a lefty.

And the lefty candidates include Josh Osich, Steven Okert and non-roster invitee Mark Reynolds. Osich made a solid debut in 2015 but struggled last year, leading the Giants to acquire Smith. Okert impressed in his September call-up with his 14 Ks in 14 innings. Reynolds seems like a candidate for Triple-A. The edge here has to go to Okert.

That leaves two spots left to righties. The candidates are George Kontos, Cory Gearrin, Albert Suarez and non-roster invitees David Hernandez and Bryan Morris. None of these players can be sent to Triple-A, at least without their consent. Kontos, Gearrin and Suarez would need to clear waivers.

Conventional thinking is that the last two righty spots will go to Kontos and Gearrin. But that would leave the Giants without a long man in the pen.

And that’s where Ty Blach could be a factor. Assuming Cain claims the No. 5 starter job, the Giants could opt to keep the lefty starter in the pen as a potential long man option, but also a sixth-inning guy or used against a specific righty.

If we had to make a call right now, we’d say the final bullpen spots go to Kontos, Gearrin and Blach, with Okert in the wings if Smith has any continuing elbow issues.

Look at Giants’ roster battles, part 1: The No. 5 starting pitcher

Yaaaaaaaaawwwwwn. What time is is?

March 7? Well, I guess it’s time MoreSplashHits emerged from our winter baseball hibernation and start blogging about the San Francisco Giants.

Let’s start with some key positions battles as the Giants work toward their opening day 25-man roster for their April 2nd opener in Arizona.

And we’ll begin with the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation.

This past offseason, the Giants lost three members of the Three Ring Club – i.e. players who were on all three of the Giants World Series championship teams of 2010, 2012 and 2014 – when Sergio Romo left to sign with the Dodgers, Santiago Casilla left to sign with Oakland and Javier Lopez retired.

That leaves just three remaining – Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain.

The big question now is whether or not Cain will be part of that club when the team opens the season in less than four weeks.

The Giants certainly hope so. Cain is in the final guaranteed year of the five-year contract he signed prior to Opening Day in 2012. The Giants owe him $28.5 million between the $21 million for 2017 and the $7.5 buyout of the $21 million option for 2018 that the Giants are certain to pay Cain.

But the Giants will pay Cain that money whether he’s pitching for them or not. And now the 32-year-old right-hander must prove he can recapture some of his old form.

Cain is the longest-tenured Giant, making his debut in 2005. When the Giants signed him to that five-year contract in 2012, it started out looking like a good deal.

In 2012, Cain had a career year, going 16-5 with 2.79 ERA. He started the All-Star Game, placed sixth in Cy Young voting, threw a perfect game that June and started all three of the Giants’ postseason clinching series.

He was the Opening Day starter in 2013, but got completely lit up in his second start that season. And things didn’t get much better.

After going 14-8, 13-11, 12-11, 16-5 In 2009-2012, he’s gone 8-10, 2-7, 2-4 and 4-8 since. His ERA, which was 2.89, 3.14, 2.88 and 2.79 from 2009-12, has inflated to 4.00, 4.18, 5.79 and 5.64 since.

He’s struggled to stay healthy and the early returns this spring did not been good.

His fastball lacked life and location. And with decreased velocity over recent seasons, Cain has to have command to be successful.

Luckily for Cain, the World Baseball Classic has prolonged spring training this season, which will give him more time to get himself ready.

In Cain’s third spring start on Monday, things appeared to make a turn for the better. Cain became the first Giants pitcher to throw into the fourth inning this spring, giving up two runs on two hits in 3.1 innings pitched.

The first run Cain allowed was aided by a bloop single that Hunter Pence lost in the sun. The second run came in when Cain walked the final batter he faced, and Ty Blach allowed an RBI double two batters later.

Blach followed with 2.2 scoreless innings of work, allowing three hits.

Make no mistake: The Giants want Cain to win the No. 5 spot. Loyalty and sentimentality aside, they feel better off with Cain in the No. 5 hole, Albert Suarez in the long-man role and lefty Ty Blach in Triple-A in reserve.

But Cain must show he can get big-league hitters out. And in the early results, Blach has shown a better ability to do that.

Blach impressed the Giants late last year by sporting a 1.06 ERA in four games – two starts – earning a spot on the postseason roster. The 26-year-old lefty would be the Giants’ No. 1 option if Cain falters, although Suarez, former top prospect Clayton Blackburn or current top prospect Tyler Beede would be options.

But Monday’s outing seemed to show Cain is starting to work things out.

“I feel like we’re moving in the right direction,” Cain said. “Instead of sitting there hoping I can physically make the next start, it’s nice to be able to work on things between starts and be able to fine-tune things.”

It should be noted that the lineup the Indians rolled out Monday we made up for mostly players who are not expected to make the big-league roster.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy noted that the Giants could consider keeping Blach on the big-league roster in a relief role. Blach has been relieving Cain in the previous two starts, but Monday was his first in which Blach came in mid-inning.

“I think a guy like Tyler can give you some different options,” said Bochy, who proceeded to name them: starting, working in long relief, becoming a specialist against opposing left-handed batters, or being the first man out of the bullpen in the sixth or seventh inning.

It’s an interesting revelation as the Giants’ bullpen options are limited in lefties. Right now, they are limited to Will Smith, almost certain to make the big-league club, and Josh Osich, who is less certain. Steven Okert is another lefty bullpen option.

Giants fans, looking for a good sign for Game 4? Here you go

Joe Panik

San Francisco Giants’ Joe Panik, center bottom, is congratulated by teammates after hitting a double to score Brandon Crawford during the thirteenth inning of Game 3 of baseball’s National League Division Series against the Chicago Cubs in San Francisco, Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. The Giants won 6-5. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

If you are looking for a sign for the San Francisco Giants in Tuesday’s Game 4 of the NL Division Series against the Cubs, we’ve got one.

The San Francisco Giants have played eight best-of-5 playoff series, and each one has ended  with one of two results.

Result No. 1 – The Giants are eliminated by losing three consecutive games.

Result No. 2 – The Giants win and advance.

Check is out.

THREE STRAIGHT LOSSES

1971 NL Championship Series

Giants win Game 1.

Pirates win Games 2, 3 and 4.

1997 NL Division Series

Marlins win Games 1, 2 and 3.

2000 NL Division Series

Giants win Game 1.

Mets win Games 2, 3 and 4.

2003 NL Division Series

Giants win Game 1.

Marlins win Games 2, 3 and 4.

GIANTS WIN AND ADVANCE

2002 NL Division Series

Giants beat the Braves in 5 games

2010 NL Division Series

Giants beat the Braves in 4 games

2012 NL Division Series

Giants beat the Reds in 5 games

2014 NL Division Series

Giants beat the Nationals in 4 games