Michael Morse on returning to Giants: 'I know I’m not done'

Michael Morse on returning to Giants: 'I know I’m not done'

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Two years and one month after the biggest moment of his career, Michael Morse found himself back among the Giants. Morse, a fan favorite in 2014 and clutch bench bat during that postseason run, returned to San Francisco in November for Hunter Pence’s wedding, and at some point he found himself standing with general manager Bobby Evans.

“I know I’m not done,” said Morse, who received just eight at-bats from the Pirates before being released last April.

“If you want to see if you’re done or not, come to camp,” Evans replied.

Pence’s wedding was a long one, taking place on both sides of the Bay Bridge. Morse didn’t need much time, however, to accept the surprising offer. He ran into Larry Baer later in the wedding and told him he would see him in the spring. Then he saw Pence, one of his close friends.

“He was so excited. He was like, ‘No way!” Morse said. “I said, 'I think we just shook on a little deal here.' If (Evans) is telling me I can come to camp, I’m coming. I’m coming hard. I’m giving everything I have.”

Planning a reunion was easy, but Morse flew back to his Fort Lauderdale home knowing there could be speed bumps. He had briefly talked to the Giants about a comeback last summer, but they signed Chris Denorfia. Morse started doing cardio and kept a close eye on the Giants during the Winter Meetings to make sure his potential role wasn’t filled.

In December, the Giants made the deal official. On Thursday, Morse, slimmed down from his first stint in San Francisco, walked back onto the field at Scottsdale Stadium, a wide smile on his face.

“I want to prove to myself I can still play this game,” he said. 

The history of this organization says Morse will get another shot, that he’ll follow the Ishikawas and Gillaspies and turn his comeback into postseason heroics. Morse knows it’s not that simple, but he also knows that he has put himself in a good position to succeed. He is 34 years old and more than two years removed from a significant big league role, but he feels like a player 10 years younger. The half-year off — spent relaxing with family and trying out life as a TV and radio analyst — was a godsend. 

“I feel good … I feel very athletic this year,” Morse said. “Other years, it was more about strength. This year I feel more mobile and agile. It was very refreshing. I let my body heal, which you wouldn’t believe it, it’s such a nice, refreshing feeling. Everybody’s contract should have one year where you don’t have to play, just to heal your body.”

Morse’s last contract took him away from the Giants. He hit .279 and bashed 16 homers in 2014, returning from a bad oblique injury to hit an NLCS homer off the Cardinals’ Pat Neshek that set up Travis Ishikawa’s walk-off. A two-year, $16 million contract put him with the Marlins. He was traded to the Dodgers for a day in 2015 and then was shipped to Pittsburgh.

This current deal is not guaranteed, as Morse is in camp as a non-roster invitee, fighting for one of the open bench jobs. There’s a chance, Morse admitted, that he looks up two weeks from now and realizes it really is over. There’s a chance that the Giants ask him to continue his comeback in Triple-A, and Morse said he’s not sure what he would do if that’s the case. There’s also a chance that he has a big spring but there’s simply not room in orange and black. Morse said that would make for an easy decision. 

“I’m pretty sure that even if I hit .900 this spring and don’t make the team, I don’t think I’d go anywhere else,” he said. “I’d rather go home than not play for them.”

In a way, Morse has done both. He has played just 142 games for the Giants but considers the clubhouse his baseball home. He’s hoping that none of the other possibilities matter, that he runs with this spring opening and once again joins Pence in the outfield. He’s hoping that the wedding handshake was just the beginning.

“This is an opportunity and the Giants have given me that opportunity,” he said. “It’s not something I’m not going to take seriously. I’m 110 percent in it to help this team, and I told Bobby I don’t want to play anywhere else. I don’t want to play anywhere but for the Giants.”

Giants spring preview: Last outfield job up for grabs

Giants spring preview: Last outfield job up for grabs

SAN FRANCISCO — Three springs ago, Jarrett Parker opened eyes with a Cactus League grand slam that cleared the batter’s eye at Scottsdale Stadium. Last July, Mac Williamson scorched one off the scoreboard at Chase Field, a few miles from the Giants’ spring home. 

The two sluggers have always looked comfortable in the desert, but the intensity will be stepped up when position players report to camp later this month. Parker and Williamson have been Plan A in left field throughout the offseason, but it turns out there’s a twist. This isn't a Parker and Williamson situation. It's likely Parker or Williamson on the Opening Day roster. On a conference call with beat writers recently, general manager Bobby Evans said the Giants aren’t looking at a timeshare. 

“In a perfect world, one guy would win the job,” Evans said. “You’re not necessarily looking for a platoon. You’re looking for one guy to win the job.”

The job, held by Angel Pagan a year ago, is one of few available for the Giants. They need to sort out the bullpen pecking order, decide on a bench, and see if Ty Blach can unseat Matt Cain, but no competition is as intriguing as the one in the outfield. Parker and Williamson are similar players, power-packed corner outfielders who have shown flashes but have also spent plenty of time on the shuttle from Triple-A to the Majors. 

Parker, 28, is a left-handed hitter with a .267/.371/.494 slash line and 11 homers in 205 big league at-bats. He had a memorable stretch in 2015, hitting six homers over nine games, including three in one game against the A’s. The 26-year-old Williamson has the better minor league numbers, but he has batted just .222 in 144 scattered big league at-bats. His resume also includes an intriguing stretch; in the five weeks before the trade deadline last year, Williamson posted a .407 on-base percentage in 27 appearances (20 starts), hit five homers, and made several diving catches in the outfield.

The Giants see plenty of talent in both, which is why Evans held firm in his belief that his 2017 left fielder was already on the roster when the offseason kicked off. The Giants have not added an outfielder on a big league contract, instead focusing on non-roster invitees. That leaves Parker and Williamson as the frontrunners for the job alongside Hunter Pence and Denard Span, and both players hold an edge that could matter when rosters are cut down two months from now. 

Parker is out of options, so the Giants would have to subject him to waivers if Williamson (who can still be optioned to Triple-A) wins the job. Williamson should benefit from the simple fact that he bats right-handed and the rest of the lineup leans to the left in a division where the reigning-champion Dodgers are heavy on southpaw starters.

The competition will be decided over 40 days in Scottsdale. For now, here’s a look at the rest of the outfielders who will gather at Scottsdale Stadium to battle for one open starting spot and two bench jobs … 

ON THE 40-MAN ROSTER: 

Gorkys Hernandez: He’s the only outfielder on the roster other than the four already mentioned, and he’s likely the heir apparent to Gregor Blanco, who is now a Diamondback. Hernandez can provide the same defense/speed profile, albeit from the right side (which is helpful given the rest of the lineup). It would be a surprise if Hernandez is not the fourth outfielder. 

NON-ROSTER INVITEES: 

Michael Morse: The Giants listed him as an outfielder on their non-roster release, but Morse has played just 35 innings in left since leaving in free agency after the 2014 season. To be a fit for the opening day roster, the 34-year-old will need to show he can still handle a start in left, because there aren’t many at-bats to be had at first after Brandon Belt’s All-Star campaign. If he can, it’s clear what else he brings: A big bat off the bench and a bigger personality, one the clubhouse could use after several years of losing energetic players to free agency and retirement. 

Justin Ruggiano: The veteran has three homers off Madison Bumgarner and he’s a career .275/.338/.527 hitter against lefties. Again, that's a skill that would fill a huge need given the makeup of the NL West. The Dodgers starting staff will have at least three left-handers (Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Julio Urias) and also could include Hyun-jin Ryu and Alex Wood at some point. 

Chris Marrero: The former first-rounder hasn’t played in the big leagues since 2013, but after hitting 23 homers in the minors last season, the right-handed-hitting outfielder/first baseman will get a long look this spring. He’s exactly the type of waiting-for-his-breakout player that has succeeded in Giants camp in the past, and Evans made a strong push to sign him early in the offseason. 

Austin Slater: Players and coaches who were called up from Sacramento last September raved about Slater’s bat, and he’s an intriguing dark horse now that the Giants have decided to go young in left field. An eighth-round pick in 2014, Slater has a .305/.369/.439 slash line in three big league seasons. He hit 13 homers in 68 games after a promotion to Triple-A last season.

Steven Duggar: Giants executives rave about him, and he’s a regular on lists of the organization’s top 10 prospects. He’s a plus-plus runner and hits from the left side, giving him a much different profile than most recent Giants outfield prospects. Duggar played 70 games in High-A and 60 in Double-A last season, batting .302 with a .388 on-base percentage, 10 homers, 28 doubles and eight triples. He's not ready for the big leagues, but spring training will give him a chance to make a lasting impression on Bruce Bochy and his staff. 

Wynton Bernard: The 26-year-old is coming off three seasons in Detroit’s system after two with San Diego. He plays all three outfield spots and has plenty of experience in center, which would give him a leg up on others if there’s an injury to Span or Hernandez. In 104 games at Double-A and Triple-A last season, Bernard hit .279 and stole 23 bases in 28 opportunities. 

A WILD CARD OPTION?

At some point, you can bet that Bochy will be asked about playing Belt in left field, but it’s a plan the Giants have shown no interest in now that Belt is an All-Star and Gold Glove candidate at first. Evans is a big believer in a strong defense, and he has said repeatedly that the best option on a nightly basis is to have Buster Posey behind the plate and Belt at first.

There still is an infielder to keep an eye on, though. Ryder Jones, a former second-round pick, started to take fly balls last year and he’s certainly athletic enough to make a switch. It’ll be interesting to see if Jones, still just 22 years old, gets any meaningful time in left this spring. 

Morse, Rollins among Giants' 28 non-roster invitees

Morse, Rollins among Giants' 28 non-roster invitees

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants signed only one free agent to a significant deal this offseason, but a winter of minor moves led to one of the most intriguing non-roster invitee groups in years. The list, released Wednesday, includes a former MVP, a 2014 fan favorite, top prospects, former Giants, a Korean slugger, and plenty of veterans who will try to play their way onto the opening day bench or bullpen. 

Many of the 28 names had previously trickled out, including Michael Morse, a key member of the last title team, and Jimmy Rollins, a Bay Area native who won the MVP award with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2007. Tyler Beede and Christian Arroyo are among the many top Giants prospects who will be back in camp. 

Morse disappeared from the game early last season after being released by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He hit 16 home runs for the Giants in 2014 and added a clutch shot in the NLCS, but he has just 237 at-bats over the past two seasons. He was extremely popular with teammates, the staff and fans, and the Giants will take another look to see if the 34-year-old can provide some much-needed pop off the bench and if he is still viable in left field. 

Rollins, 38, is attempting a comeback with a team that nearly signed him a year ago. The former Encinal (Alameda) High star chose the White Sox last spring because he wanted one last shot at an everyday job. He hit just .221 before a June release, but Rollins has always intrigued the Giants, and he’ll compete for a utility infielder job. The Giants do not have a set backup for Brandon Crawford after designating Ehire Adrianza for assignment. Rollins, a three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove Award winner, will also play second base and third during the spring. 

"The challenge for Jimmy -- he hasn't necessarily had the bat recently that he's had in the past. And coming off the bench is very different than starting every day," general manager Bobby Evans said recently on KNBR. "And playing second or third is not something he's done. So there's going to be challenges for him, but I'm excited that he wanted to come here. That says a lot about him and about the organization and about his interest in the Bay Area."

Beede, the organization’s top pitching prospect, and Arroyo, the top position player, highlight a group of younger players who have plenty of experience already in big league camp. Coming off a strong Double-A season, the 23-year-old Beede is likely ticketed for Triple-A as the next man up behind Matt Cain and Ty Blach, and the Giants expect him to make his MLB debut sometime in 2017. Beede will get a chance to speed up the timetable this March, and the budding rapper will also get a second shot at cracking Crawford’s batting practice soundtrack. 

Arroyo, 21, has looked right at home in two previous springs at Scottsdale Stadium, going 14-for-26 at the plate with a pair of homers. The focus this spring will likely come on the defensive side, as Arroyo will primarily play third base going forward. Like Beede, he has put himself within shouting distance of a call-up, and he’s viewed as the future starter alongside Brandon Belt, Joe Panik and Crawford. 

Austin Slater is the young position player who is perhaps closest to the majors, and he'll be in camp for the first time. The 24-year-old outfielder hit .298 with 13 homers in 68 games at Triple-A last season and could benefit from the front office's decision to go young in left field. Ryder Jones and Aramis Garcia, who represented the Giants in the Arizona Fall League, will be back in camp, along with Sam Coonrod and Matt Winn.

The Giants traditionally identify a list of minor league free agents (like 2012 non-roster addition Gregor Blanco) who might be able to thrive with a fresh start. One of the first who signed this year was Chris Marrero, a former first-rounder who brings some more power potential. Jae-gyun Hwang signed in late January and the Giants are hoping his bat translates from Korea. He will fight for a backup job at third base. Bryan Morris, a right-handed reliever, signed shortly after Mark Melancon as a depth option in the bullpen. 

In all, the Giants invited 11 pitchers. The right-handers are Beede, Coonrod, Morris, Carlos Alvarado, Jose Dominguez, Roberto Gomez, and Neil Ramirez. The lefties are Matt Reynolds, Michael Roth, Kraig Sitton and Andrew Suarez, who is one of the organization's top prospects. 

Former big leaguers Tim Federowicz and Josmil Pinto will join the younger catchers. The eight infielders are Rollins, Arroyo, Hwang, Marrero, Jones, CJ Hinojosa, Kyle Blanks and Juniel Querecuto. The five outfielders are Morse, Slater, veteran left-handed-masher Justin Ruggiano, Steven Duggar and Wynton Bernard. 

Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 13 and the first full squad workout at Scottsdale Stadium comes on Feb. 17. All 28 non-roster invitees are listed below.

Pitchers (11)

  • RHP Carlos Alvarado
  • RHP Tyler Beede
  • RHP Samuel Coonrod
  • RHP Jose Dominguez
  • RHP Roberto Gomez
  • RHP Bryan Morris
  • RHP Neil Ramirez
  • LHP Matt Reynolds
  • LHP Michael Roth
  • LHP Kraig Sitton
  • LHP Andrew Suarez

Catchers (4)

  • Tim Federowicz
  • Aramis Garcia
  • Josmil Pinto
  • Matt Winn

Infielders (8)

  • Christian Arroyo
  • Kyle Blanks
  • CJ Hinojosa
  • Jae-Gyun Hwang
  • Ryder Jones
  • Chris Marrero
  • Juniel Querecuto
  • Jimmy Rollins

Outfielders (5)

  • Wynton Bernard
  • Steven Duggar
  • Michael Morse
  • Justin Ruggiano
  • Austin Slater