Extra Baggs: Johnny Monell having an eye-opening spring, etc.

Extra Baggs: Johnny Monell having an eye-opening spring, etc.
March 13, 2013, 5:45 pm
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Giants catcher Johnny Monell's father was a professional baseball player who was a one-time teammate of Hensley Meulens. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Cactus League stats only count for so much.

Just ask Brian Dallimore, who hit .500 one spring. Or Randy Elliott, who persists in memory for that .547 performance (29 for 53, 18 extra-base hits) amid the crisp sunshine in 1977. Neither of them stuck around the big leagues long enough to fill a cup of coffee.

But Johnny Monell is acting like he belongs – in more ways than one.

The Bronx native officially became the “most impressive Giants player in camp” on Wednesday, when he started at designated hitter and went 3 for 4 with a pair of doubles in a 9-5 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear. The left-handed hitting catcher is batting .600 this spring (9 for 16), and he crushed a home run Tuesday night.

“He’s doing what you want these young guys to do,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

Monell’s no pup, though. On March 27, he’ll celebrate his 27th birthday. That same day, Buster Posey will turn 26.

Any team could have plucked Monell from the Giants in the Rule 5 draft. So it’s hard to label him as an up-and-coming prospect.

But scouts will tell you his left-handed swing is legitimate. He has functional major league power. And if he has a big league air about him, if it seems like he knows he belongs, that’s because he has spent his life in baseball clubhouses.

His father, Johnny Sr., played 17 professional seasons on three continents, from Taiwan to Mexico to Puerto Rico. An outfielder, he played in three major league organizations but didn’t reach the big leagues.

“Wherever he played, I was always in the clubhouse running around,” Johnny Jr. once told me. “Being here now, it’s like a flashback.”

He had Jim Thome throw him batting practice. He got to know Ruben Sierra and Carlos Delgado. Several of the Giants’ coaches, including roving infield coach Jose Alguacil, roving baserunning coach Henry Cotto and big league hitting coach Hensley Meulens, had played with his father at one time or another.

“He had a long career – no regrets,” Monell said of his dad. “He never took anything for granted. He always says he got to see the world. … And he can still hit a little bit, too.”

There’s no question the younger Monell can hit. He tore it up this past winter in Puerto Rico, when he played for Caguas and led the league in home runs (seven) and OPS (.934).

But is he a candidate to make the big league club?

“He’s drawing attention to himself,” Bochy said. “A left-handed catcher who can swing the bat is a rare commodity. I’d like to get him behind the plate more, but we’ve got other guys we need to look at.”

That, more than anything, tells you the Giants aren’t considering Monell as a possible alternative to backup catcher Hector Sanchez. Defense remains the priority, and Guillermo Quiroz is considered a better backstop. Monell has worked hard to change a reputation as a spotty defender, and it helps that he has above average arm strength.

And yet …

“The way he’s swinging, that’s how you force the issue,” Bochy said. “That’s what he’s doing this spring.”

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Francisco Peguero singled and scored on both of Monell’s doubles. The dynamic outfielder is having quite a spring in his own right. He’s batting .424 and stole his second base of the spring, too.

Ricky Oropesa and Juan Perez hit back-to-back shots in the eighth inning – the first of the spring for each player. Bochy said he was encouraged to see the younger guys letting the bats go.

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Andres Torres let out a little frustration when he stroked a double, but he got thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple.

Then Torres let go of his breakfast in the dugout. He was replaced by Gary Brown and Barry Zito drove him home early.

There’s a stomach bug going around the team right now, which means I’m bathing in Purell.

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Zito alternated between good and bad while allowing a run on five hits and a walk in 3 1/3 innings. He acknowledged he worked too many deep counts while throwing 71 pitches.

Zito said he’s working on pitch sequences and feels physically strong, but his rhythm isn’t there yet. He did get away from a more damaging line score when the Reds lined into a double play with the bases loaded.

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Dan Otero got hit HARD.

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The Giants will play Japan in an exhibition Thursday, and they’ll put on a good show. Bochy said he’d play most of his regulars, but probably pull them after two at-bats.

Hector Sanchez’s calf was improved and he will start behind the plate against Japan, Bochy said.

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I asked Bochy if he still planned to play Brandon Belt in left field. He said he would, but he wanted to give time to Cole Gillespie and some of the other candidates for a bench job.

“Probably at some point, I’ll get him out there,” Bochy said. “We’ve got some games yet.”

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Meulens can recruit. He was able to convince Jurickson Profar of the Rangers to join the Netherlands roster as an injury replacement.

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Is it really a story that Belt likes The Olive Garden? C’mon, folks. Let’s not be snobs. Let people like what they like!

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