Do Giants have next Vogelsong in their midst?

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Do Giants have next Vogelsong in their midst?

Rael Enteen
CSNBayArea.com staff writer 

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The San Francisco Giants caught lightning in a bottle with Ryan Vogelsong. They say lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, but that didn’t stop the organization from bringing back two former players for second chances.

The Giants selected Boof Bonser with the 21st overall pick in 2000 and the right-handed pitcher got off to a promising start to his professional career. While Vogelsong was part of a package deal to acquire Jason Schmidt, who enjoyed immense success as a Giant, Bonser was involved in Brian Sabean’s infamous trade with the Minnesota Twins to acquire A.J. Pierzynski, who lasted one disappointing season in San Francisco.

“It’s something I’ll never forget,” Bonser said. “People still say it was the worst trade ever for the Giants.”

Now Bonser is hoping to follow in Vogelsong’s footsteps. The two pitchers share a connection other than returning to the team that drafted them before sending them to another organization: Tommy John surgery. While Vogelsong had his in 2001, Bonser is just two years removed from the complicated procedure.

“I feel like our story is about the same,” Bonser said. “He got traded right before I did and came back here to the big leagues. I got hurt and now I’m back here trying to get myself back to the big leagues.”

“Clearly injuries set him back a little bit, but when healthy he’s a guy that could provide that [long relief] role at the big league level,” Giants vice president and assistant general manager Bobby Evans said. “He didn’t sign here to play Triple-A; he signed here to help the big league club. But he’s prepared to go to Triple-A if he doesn’t make the club.”

“I’m not going to sit here and say ‘I want to be a starter or I want to be a bullpen guy,’” Bonser said. “Whatever they need, I want to do. My biggest goal is to be back in the big leagues, that’s the bottom line, regardless of what I’m doing.”

That’s a sentiment that bodes well for any player, let alone one with a history of injuries and inconsistent pitching performances.

Another familiar name in camp this year is Andres Torres, who, like Bonser, is willing to accept any role the Giants deem him fit for. Unlike Bonser, Torres signed a major league contract. But he’s not guaranteed the starting job he held in 2010 and has no qualms with his situation.

“Whatever [Bruce] Bochy needs me for,” Torres said. “I just want to help them. Whenever they need me I’ll be ready.”

That attitude is part of what attracted Evans and the rest of the Giants’ front office to reach out to Torres and Bonser about coming back.

“We’re constantly looking for ways to improve and there’s sometimes not a lot that separates some of that talent from one another,” Evans said. “So you have to consider the fact that you’ve had that talent in your system, you know they’re coachable, you know that they fit in well with your clubhouse.

“They’re guys that have always been players you believe in and have some investment in. There’s some satisfaction for us to bring them back and continue to see the fruit of both the work that’s gone into them in the past, but also the potential for what could come out in the present and future.”

While intangibles like familiarity played a part in the desire to bring back Vogelsong, Torres and Bonser, Evans said that all three offered something the Giants needed.

“There’s always a projection made as to what could this person potentially do if healthy and if successful and [Torres, Bonser and Vogelsong] had relative value. We brought [Torres] back partly after evaluating what he did in 2012 offensively against left-handed pitching. That was something we felt we needed to match up with [Gregor] Blanco.”

The switch-hitting Torres hit .296 against southpaws last season and owns a .291 lifetime average as a right-handed batter. That’s a big reason why he’s back, as is his knowledge of the expansive AT&T Park outfield.

“We look at how we won in 2012 and one of the key components was defense,” Evans said. “Andres being able to play all three [outfield spots], as can [Angel] Pagan and Blanco, it really gave us an advantage to have three guys that are athletes that can cover territory.”

While many Giants fans clamored for an offseason addition with a little more pop, such as Scott Hairston, Evans said the club made an educated decision.

“We weren’t necessarily out there looking for the big bat that was going to play a corner and possibly compromise our defense. There were other options we talked to and other options we made offers to. Ultimately [Torres] ended up being the best fit.”

Torres couldn’t be more excited Evans arrived at that conclusion and brought him back a year after he was sent to the New York Mets along with Ramon Ramirez for Angel Pagan. Now Torres has his locker right next to Ramirez’s in Scottsdale and will flank Pagan in the AT&T Park outfield.

“For me it’s an honor to be back with the 2012 World Champion team,” Torres said. “What they did in the playoffs and World Series was amazing. I’m looking forward to playing with them and helping them win games.”

Torres, barring injury, will certainly get a chance to contribute as early as Opening Day on April 1 in Los Angeles since the Dodgers are scheduled to send left-hander Clayton Kershaw to the mound. But Bonser has a lot of work to do before getting his opportunity. Evans was candid about what he wants to see from Bonser before considering a promotion.

“He’s got a little bit of a ways to go right now,” Evans said. “The only way to get yourself back into the position to do what Vogelsong did is pitch. [Bonser] missed a lot of time in 2011 and a lot of time in 2012. So the goal in a lot of ways for him is to have a healthy 2013 and then the sky’s the limit for what could happen.”

Lucky for Bonser, all he has to do is look at what Vogelsong has accomplished over the last two seasons to buy what Evans is selling.

Bochy to touch base with Cueto on WBC preparation

Bochy to touch base with Cueto on WBC preparation

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jeff Samardzija whirled and fired a strike to Eduardo Nuñez shortly after 11:30 a.m. on Monday. With that, the Giants took another step back toward actual baseball.

Monday was the first day of live batting practice sessions, but the most important one took place thousands of miles east of Scottsdale Stadium. Johnny Cueto faced teenage prospects at the club’s facility in Santo Domingo, and Bruce Bochy said he would call Cueto to check in on his progress. 

The Giants are not concerned that Cueto — who is tending to his ill father — is missing so much of spring training. They know him well enough by now to know that Cueto paces himself and takes care of his body. They are, however, starting to get a little concerned about Cueto missing so much camp and then going straight to the World Baseball Classic. 

“The spring started early so he’s got plenty of time to get ready for (opening day),” manager Bruce Bochy said. “The question will be will he be ready for the WBC. That’s the question we have to answer.”

Bochy said he would like to see Cueto in the 50-60 pitch range before he goes off to compete for the Dominican Republic. The Dominican team opens play March 9 at Marlins Park. 

“We’re going to talk about a lot of things,” Bochy said. “We’ll see where he’s at, see where he’s at mentally, and see how his father is doing.”

Bochy noted that Nolan Ryan used to show up to camp on March 1 and throw 80 mph, working his way up from there. The Giants view Cueto the same way, but at some point there will be a breaking point where the WBC participation becomes a real concern. At the very least, Bochy said, Cueto might be asked to join the DR team later in the tournament. 

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On one of the many nights last season when his bullpen imploded, Bruce Bochy nearly put a catcher on the mound. Trevor Brown ended up playing an inning of third base on June 28 as the Giants gave up eight runs over the final two innings in a brutal loss to the A’s, and he said this week that he was told he was the next man up on the mound. 

That night was an odd one, as a tired bullpen was waiting for Sergio Romo to get activated off a rehab assignment and trying to get by without long reliever Chris Stratton, who had thrown 57 pitches out of the ‘pen the night before. The bench was also short because Joe Panik was about to be put on the concussion DL.

Bochy hopes he doesn’t have to deal with such a situation this season, and not just because the bullpen should be much improved. The disabled list lasts 10 days now, not 15, and Bochy is thrilled with the new rule.

“The DL thing, I really like it,” he said. “You get caught in that gray area so often.” 

Bochy met with league officials on Saturday to go over some of the rule changes. DL stints can now be made retroactive just three days, but it’s still a vast improvement overall. 

“With (position) players and pitchers it’s going to make it easier to DL guys,” Bochy said. “If you’re looking at (starting) pitchers, they could miss just one start.”

The Giants have often played a man or more short, trying to get by day-by-day to give a position player or starter time to heal. Around camp, this could be called the Angel Pagan Rule, as the former Giants outfielder often missed a week or so before officially going on the DL. At times, Bochy has been patient with players like Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, knowing that even if they missed a week, keeping them off the DL could still earn the Giants seven or eight games with a big bat back in the lineup. If a future diagnosis is that a player will miss a week, it’ll be much easier to swallow putting him on the 10-day DL than it was for the 15-day. Likewise, the Giants will take advantage of the change if a pitcher will have to miss a start. 

Bochy has said often that he would like every reliever to go on the DL during the season to freshen up. That’ll make more sense now, and it should keep the Giants from having to play as many games where the bullpen is gassed and a backup catcher is preparing to pitch. For guys like Stratton — a versatile pitcher on the 40-man roster — it should also lead to increased trips up to the big leagues to fill gaps. 

INJURY UPDATE: Pence (side muscle) took 25 swings during a live BP session in the cage and Bochy said he’s doing much better. That was about the only significant activity Sunday. Once again, the workout was rained out. Bochy said the Giants have enough time to get guys ready for the Cactus League opener on Feb. 24, but they’ll likely hold some big-name pitchers out of the early games. Brandon Crawford and Posey will get plenty of early starts to prepare for the WBC. 

PROSPECT WATCH: If the early games are turned over to prospects, Dan Slania will be an interesting guy to watch. Slania is listed at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, so he always had the look of an imposing reliever. But his greatest success last season came after a surprise move to the rotation. 

Slania, a 2013 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame, got a call on his 24th birthday telling him to prepare to start because of an injury in Richmond’s rotation. He had not started a game since high school, but his four-pitch mix worked. He had a 5.32 ERA out of the bullpen but it dropped to 1.48 in 10 starts for the Flying Squirrels. In two Triple-A starts, he struck out 14 over 13 innings while allowing just eight hits and two runs. The Giants put him on their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. 

“He had a great year last year,” Bochy said. “He’s in camp for a reason. He’s got great stuff and a good makeup.”

RULE CHANGE: One more thing that came out of that rules meeting: Managers who are out of challenges now have to wait until the eighth inning to ask an umpire to look at a play.

QUOTABLE: “We know he’s better off taking some days. We talked about it (with him). He agrees that it’ll help him.” Bochy on Pence’s workload. The right fielder is coming off two injury-marred seasons, and the Giants have no intention of even trying to get him back to his Iron Man days.