San Francisco Giants pitchers and catchers report to Scottsdale today signifying the official start of spring training. A few days later, all 69 players invited to camp will have arrived with the first full squad workout scheduled for Saturday. Of the 69 players, 40 are former San Jose Giants with many of those attempting to earn spots on the opening day roster while others will be appearing in their first big league camp looking to make a good impression.
As you would expect for a team coming off of a World Championship, there aren't many questions this spring with regard to the opening day roster. San Francisco has welcomed back 21 out of the 25 players that were on the World Series roster, including the entire starting rotation, the majority of the bullpen and the eight primary starting position players. Barring injuries, there should be few spring roster surprises this year.
Despite the lack of roster turnover, there are still a handful of former SJ Giants with opportunities to break camp with the big club for the first time. San Francisco is set with their four primary outfielders of Angel Pagan, Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres, but a fifth outfielder will almost certainly find himself on the opening day roster. The remaining outfielders currently on the 40-man roster vying for that coveted spot are all former San Jose Giants in Francisco Peguero, Roger Kieschnick and Juan Perez.
Peguero is the only one of the trio with previous major league experience after his late-season call-up in 2012. While he wasn't on the playoff roster, Peguero did appear in 17 regular season games last August and September, mainly as a pinch-runner. He recorded three singles in 16 at-bats overall and also stole three bases during his stint in "The Show." Peguero has enjoyed tremendous success at the minor league level earning California League All-Star honors with San Jose in 2010 before leading Double-A Richmond in hitting the following season. He owns a career .305 minor league batting average with 128 stolen bases and was recently rated the #8 overall prospect (#2 outfielder) in the organization by Baseball America. Peguero has split time between center and right field throughout his minor league career before playing mainly left during his brief stint in San Francisco last year.
Kieschnick would give San Francisco a left-handed power bat off the bench if he were to make the team out of camp. The slugging corner outfielder led Triple-A Fresno in home runs last season with 15 in just 55 games played (he missed nearly three months with a shoulder injury after crashing into the outfield wall). While his strikeout numbers throughout his professional career have been high, Kieschnick has connected for 58 home runs over four minor league seasons – two of which were significantly cut short due to injury. Baseball America ranks Kieschnick the #9 prospect in the system – just one spot below Peguero.
Meanwhile, Perez enters camp as the least likely of the outfield trio to make the team as he's yet to play above the Double-A level. Perez was added to the 40-man roster last offseason after leading the Richmond Flying Squirrels with a .302 batting average and 11 home runs. He was also second on the team with 18 steals. Perez has shown versatility in the outfield throughout his career seeing action at all three spots. He owns a .277 minor league batting average with 37 homers and 75 stolen bases in four seasons.
Peguero (2009, 2010), Kieschnick (2009) and Perez (2010) were all major contributors on recent San Jose championship teams.
It also figures to be an important spring for Gary Brown, who is still widely considered the top outfield prospect in the system. Brown hasn't yet required protection on the 40-man roster and is an extreme longshot to make the opening day roster. However, with only nine outfielders in camp (the seven on the 40-man plus non-roster invitees Brown and Cole Gillespie), he should expect to receive a substantial amount of playing time during exhibition games. A strong spring would not only solidify a spot on Fresno's roster as their likely leadoff hitter, but could position Brown for a big league call-up later in the year should the need for his services arise. Baseball America considers Brown the #4 overall prospect in the organization after he hit .279 with a team-best totals of 32 doubles and 33 stolen bases last season in Richmond.
On the infield, the starting quartet of Brandon Belt, Marco Scutaro, Brandon Crawford and Pablo Sandoval has little to prove this spring, but a back-up spot or two could exist for other former San Jose Giants this spring. Conor Gillaspie and Nick Noonan, two starting infielders on San Jose's record-setting 2009 championship team, enter this spring with realistic goals of making the opening day roster.
Gillaspie has seen sparse big league action the last two seasons combining for just 21 games and 39 at-bats. The majority of the last two years have been spent in Fresno, where he's performed well combining for a .289 batting average, 40 doubles and 25 home runs. Almost exclusively a third baseman throughout his professional career, Gillaspie also saw some action at first base in Triple-A a year ago.
Noonan endured back-to-back difficult campaigns mainly at the Double-A level in 2010 and 2011 to lose his top prospect status. The infielder though bounced back in a huge way last season when he established himself as the primary shortstop in Fresno batting .296 with 26 doubles and nine home runs. Noonan isn't an elite-level defensive player, but has shown the ability to play second and third, in addition to shortstop, throughout his professional career. While Gillaspie has a longer record of success offensively in the minor leagues, Noonan's versatility will be a factor in his chances to make the team. Both players are left-handed hitters.
There may not be room for both Gillaspie and Noonan on the opening day roster, but there would seem to be a good chance that one will find himself in San Francisco this April with a solid spring performance.
First baseman Brett Pill also enters spring training on the 40-man roster. The former San Jose Giant made the opening day roster last year after an impressive spring, but struggled to a .210 batting average in 105 big league at-bats before spending most of the year in Triple-A. Pill has hit 52 home runs over the last three seasons in Fresno, but faces a steep climb to make the team this spring with Belt's emergence as the primary first baseman and the necessity for Buster Posey to also play the position.
Other former San Jose infielders in big league camp include 40-man member Ehire Adrianza and non-roster invitees Brock Bond, Adam Duvall, Ricky Oropesa and Joe Panik. It's highly unlikely that any of these players make the team, but the chance to make a strong impression on the big league coaching staff exists. Given his past offensive success in the upper levels of the system, Bond would seem to have the best chance to work himself into the discussion. The former San Jose second baseman hit an impressive .332 with Triple-A Fresno last season. Bond has little power with just 86 doubles and four homers in six professional seasons, but he does possess a career .313 batting average and .410 on-base percentage while garnering significant playing time at both second and third base.
Adrianza struggled offensively in Richmond last season (.220), but is the top fielding shortstop in the farm system and has the advantage of a spot on the 40-man roster. It remains to be seen whether Adrianza will be asked to repeat Double-A or if he'll be given a promotion to Fresno. Duvall, Panik and Oropesa were all key performers with San Jose last year and should see some action in early spring games before moving back to minor league camp.
With Hector Sanchez likely retaining his role as Posey's back-up in San Francisco, the competition among other catchers in camp will be more about jockeying for position. Former San Jose backstops Jackson Williams and Johnny Monell will both be in big league camp and each have substantial experience in the upper levels of the farm system. Williams' career minor league batting average is just .217, but he's still considered an excellent defensive player. He enjoyed career-high totals of 11 home runs and a .247 batting average with Fresno last year. Monell has spent the last two seasons in Richmond combining for a .252 batting average, 51 doubles and 21 home runs. Monell provides the unique asset of a power-hitting left-handed catcher, but has yet to play above the Double-A level in his career. The two could both end up in Fresno at the conclusion of spring training.
Andrew Susac will also be in big league camp as the top catching prospect currently in the system. The former second round pick had an up-and-down rookie professional season in San Jose last year when he hit .244 with nine home runs, but is still very highly thought of in the organization. This spring will give Susac a chance to work with some of San Francisco's top pitchers along with the coaching staff before moving back to minor league camp.
Posey and Sanchez are the only catchers on the 40-man roster.
Over on the pitching side, the organization hopes there is little drama with the club's vaunted starting rotation this spring. Former San Jose starters Chris Heston and Justin Fitzgerald though are both in big league camp and will be looking to position themselves as the "next in line." Heston had a stellar 2011 campaign in San Jose before taking his game to another level in Richmond last season where he earned the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year award. Heston, who has won 21 games over the last two seasons, possessed a spectacular 2.24 ERA and struck out 135 batters over 148 1/3 innings with the Flying Squirrels. For his efforts, he was placed on the 40-man roster after the season and figures to anchor the Fresno starting rotation with a shot at a big league call-up should a starter be needed.
Fitzgerald isn't on the 40-man, but has enjoyed back-to-back solid seasons as a workhorse in the Richmond starting rotation (3.51 ERA in 2011, 3.22 ERA in 2012). With uncertainly in the San Francisco rotation moving past 2013 (Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito are free agents), it's a pivotal year for starting pitchers in the upper levels of the system to prove that they should be considered for future big league roles.
Eric Surkamp could also be among this group, but the left-hander, who made six starts with San Francisco late in 2011, is still recovering from Tommy John Surgery on his elbow last summer.
Former San Jose relievers Heath Hembree, Dan Runzler and Dan Otero are among the top candidates that will compete for a final bullpen spot this spring. Hembree isn't yet on the 40-man roster, but is rated the top relief pitcher prospect in the system by Baseball America (#7 overall). He's amassed 53 saves over the last two seasons, including a team-high tying 15 a year ago with Fresno despite missing time due to injury. Armed with a mid 90's fastball and averaging well over a strikeout per inning throughout his minor league career, Hembree will be watched closely throughout upcoming spring games to see if he might be ready for a bullpen role at the major league level.
Runzler and Otero have prior big league experience and will be looking to impress this spring so that they can return to "The Show." The hard-throwing Runzler was a key part of San Francisco's bullpen in 2010 (3.03 ERA in 41 games), but was ineffective throughout much of 2011 and endured an injury-plagued 2012. He threw well with the Giants during a September call-up last year, but still has a lot to prove. Meanwhile, Otero has excelled in the minors with 86 career saves and a 2.13 ERA over six seasons. He doesn't project as a closer in the majors and often struggled with the Giants last season (5.84 ERA in 12 games), but is still among those pitchers competing for a bullpen spot.
Veterans Steve Edlefsen and Mitch Lively are other former San Jose relievers that will be in camp as non-roster invitees. Edlefsen has some prior big league experience, but both right-handers spent the majority of last season in Fresno. Jake Dunning has an opportunity to make a positive impression for the future as the right-hander was placed on the 40-man roster after last season. Dunning, San Jose's co-Relief Pitcher of the Year in 2011 (with Hembree), had a 4.10 ERA out of the Richmond bullpen last season.
Finally, 2012 San Jose relievers Edward Concepcion, Josh Osich and Jose Valdez are each making their first appearances in big league camp. Osich, with his mid-to-upper 90's fastball from the left side, is considered the top prospect of the bunch and could move quickly through the upper levels of the system if he can remain healthy.
San Francisco's first exhibition game is scheduled for Saturday, February 23 against the Los Angeles Angels in Scottsdale. The 37-game Cactus League schedule concludes on Saturday, March 30 before the regular season opener on Monday, April 1 in Los Angeles. San Jose's season is set to begin on Thursday, April 4 at Visalia.