SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – There are currently 67 players on the San Francisco Giants’ spring roster and just 25 men will get the honor of suiting up for Opening Day April 1 in Los Angeles.
While most teams around baseball have a handful of competitions developing for various roles, the San Francisco Giants are returning almost all of the members of their World Series roster. Only Aubrey Huff, Xavier Nady, Ryan Theriot and Guillermo Mota have left vacancies. Despite an oblique injury, Andres Torres is a near-lock to take Nady’s spot. That means all Bruce Bochy, Brian Sabean and the rest of the Giants’ brain trust have to debate is which three players – most likely a reliever, utility infielder, and fifth outfielder – can help the club the most.
Francisco Peguero is the early favorite to claim the extra spot in the outfield thanks to a .538 spring average, which dropped from .571 Tuesday as he went 2-for-4 in a 4-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians. His two hits included a line drive single and an infield single, which showcased his speed. Even his two outs were impressive. He hustled down the line and just missed beating out a routine ground ball to third. And in his final at-bat in the ninth against former Giant Joe Martinez, Peguero hit a screaming liner that was caught by the second baseman.
Peguero, 24, was signed as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2005 and made his big league debut on Aug. 25 last season. Bruce Bochy said after Tuesday’s game that Peguero definitely has a chance to earn a return trip to The Show.
“He’s doing what you want these kids to do,” Bochy said. “He’s playing well; he’s making solid contact. Even in the ninth inning, he smoked that ball to second. I like his approach up there right now and he’s seeing the ball well. This thing, as always, is going to be a tough decision. But he’s doing what he needs to do and that’s play well.”
With Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence locked into starting jobs in center and right, respectively, Bochy said that left field is where the competition lies. He even implied that a starting job could open up depending on what he sees from Torres and Gregor Blanco.
“We’re looking for help out there along with Blanco and Torres,” Bochy said. “A right-handed bat could come in to play and that’s what he is.”
It’s hard to pinpoint a clear-cut favorite to win a job in the bullpen or as a utility infielder. While Peguero has stated his case with his play, many of the relief pitchers haven’t racked up enough innings to escape from small sample size territory.
“It’s a bit competitive with all the guys here as far as the last guy or two in that bullpen,” Bochy said. “These guys are going to get work.”
On the infield front, Tony Abreu has been out of commission all spring with a strained quad, Brock Bond is hitting well but remains a longshot, and Kensuke Tanaka is finally starting to appear comfortable at the plate and in the field following a rough start to his American baseball career. Tanaka laced a single up the middle against fellow Japanese import Daisuke Matsuzaka, who he had faced in a high school tournament in Japan.
“I gotta think Tanaka won the battle,” Bochy joked with the Japanese reporters. “I’m sure that was fun for them, exciting for them to face each other. His play has picked up I think, defensively and with the bat. He’s playing some good baseball right now.”
With over three weeks to go until the Giants open the season against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Bochy is in no rush to make any decisions. In fact, getting his younger players to buy into the idea that everyone can force the issue and earn a roster spot is a motivational tool.
“That’s the way you want to keep it,” Bochy said. “There’s no decisions being made now. You want these guys to make it hard for you. What Peguero’s doing is what you’re hoping all these kids will do.”
Since Pablo Sandoval was the first of eight Giants to leave for the World Baseball Classic on Saturday, a lot of playing time has opened up. While Bochy has expressed some nervousness over his players being under someone else’s care, he knows it has created opportunities that will help him make a more educated decision when it comes to his 25-man roster.
“You couldn’t ask for more if you’re a young player to come in camp with this situation,” Bochy said. “A lot of times you come in camp and you’re lucky to get a handful of at-bats. These guys are getting starts, they’re getting at-bats everyday, they’re getting a chance to show what they can do, both on the position side and pitching side.”
On the pitching side, Bochy’s son Brett is highly unlikely to make the cut but is still getting his work in under his father’s watchful eye.
Brett turned in his second straight scoreless inning after allowing two runs in 0.2 innings in his first appearance of the spring on Feb. 25. He allowed a hit, walked one and impressed his father in the process.
“I thought he did a nice job,” Bruce said of Brett. “He threw strikes. He got in a little jam there, but he kept his poise and made some pitches to get out of it. He was pretty good about hitting his spots. He had one walk, but it was more of a strategic walk there with the runner on third. I thought he looked good.”
Javier Lopez hasn’t pitched since bruising his hand trying to short-hop a throw but is close to a return.
He threw to hitters on the back field at Scottsdale Stadium and, if he feels fine in the coming days, could see game action on Monday or Tuesday, Bochy said.
After the Giants enjoy their first full day off since the start of their Cactus League schedule on Wednesday, Tim Lincecum will return to the mound on Thursday on the road against the Indians.
Lincecum was scratched from his scheduled start on Saturday with a blister along the nail of his middle finger, an issue he has dealt with in the past.
Both Brandons, Belt and Crawford, hit solo home runs in Tuesday’s loss. They made their debuts within two months of each other in 2011 and head into the 2013 regular season with defined roles.
Belt’s home run was his team-leading third and Crawford’s was his first. The first baseman has 12 hits in his last 21 at-bats for a .480 spring average and the shortstop is 4-for-12 so far.
“Belt’s been right on since spring training started; good at-bat after good at-bat,” Bochy said. “Both of them had good days. They’ve both been swinging the bat well. It’s good to see.”