With spring training now in full swing, and cactus league games less than a week away, I thought now would be a good time to take a closer look at the top five battles that will be going on in Giants camp over the next 6 weeks. The battle for the 5th starters job, the starting second basemen spot, the final bench and bullpen spots as well as the fight for the bulk of the at-bats at first base will all be under the microscope as the Giants try attempt to field their first winning team since 2004.
The 5th Starters Spot:The most publicized battle this spring has been and will continue to be the battle for the fifth starters spot. There are only 2 contestants in this one so it's pretty cut and dry: Either Jonathan Sanchez or Noah Lowry will be in rotation come April,
Starting 2nd Basemen:
This fight is going to be a three-way tussle between the favorites, Kevin Frandsen and Emmanuel Burriss, and the underdog, Eugenio Velez. I guess Juan Uribe should also be considered here, but a lot of things would have to go wrong for him to end up the Giants starting second basemen on opening day. Frandsen has been in line for a few years and with Ray Durham now finally gone, this was supposed to be his time. He's hit .300 at every minor league stop and when he got a got his look in September of '07, he hit .370 with 14 runs in 73 at-bats. However, he got injured last season and it really put him behind the 8-ball. Many around the organization feel that Burriss has more upside than Frandsen, but feel his future with the team is at shortstop. Still, if he outplays Frandsen, he'll likely get the job. I still envision K-Frand winning this job out of the gate, putting Burriss at shortstop in Fresno and Velez on the bench as a utility guy in San Francisco. This is going to be another good one though because nobody is being given the edge. There is no veteran incumbent and this should be a good old fashion case of "whoever plays the best, wins the job".
Bullpen Spots:The fight for the final remaining bullpen spots won't be as heavily watched as the others, but it's still going to be something to keep an eye on. The Giants currently have 5 guys who are pretty much locks to make the team: Brian Wilson, Bob Howry, Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo, and Jack Taschner. That leaves 2 remaining spots for about 6 guys to battle for. The most likely candidates to fill those spots are Alex Hinshaw, Merkin Valdez, Keiichi Yabu, Justin Miller, and Billy Sadler. Rule V draftee Luis Peredomo will also be given a look but isn't as likely to make the team as the others mentioned. If Merkin Valdez is healthy, he should be on the team for sure as he proved to be one of the Giants' most effective relievers in the early part of last year. Alex Hinshaw should also have a leg up on the rest as he threw well for the most part during his stretch in SF last year. Keeichi Yabu and Justin Miller are two veterans who were very effective last year in their own right though too, so those two can't be counted out, even if the odds are against them. Again, my 2 favorites to take those spots will be (if healthy) Merkin Valdez and Alex Hinshaw. If Valdez isn't healthy, I'd expect to see Yabu or Miller to swoop up his spot.
This job really is Travis Ishikawa's to lose, but there are some other options in Giants' camp this year in case he does struggle. John Bowker got a long look at the big league level last year, and although he has to improve, he definitely showed some positive signs. The team also added Josh Phelps this winter for depth at the position and he has been putting together great seasons in AAA ball over the last few years and is itching for another look at the big leagues. Then there is the young Jesus Guzman who isn't really battling for first base, but if he plays like he's capable of this spring at third base, he may force the Giants hand at moving Pablo Sandoval across the diamond to first while Guzman gets his look at third. Again, though, all signs are pointing towards Ishikawa, who at least will provide very solid defense over there. The Giants are also still exploring other options at third base as well (Joe Crede, Andy Marte) so a move could still happen that would push Ishikawa out of a starting job.
Bench Spots:Now, the battle for the bench spots aren't what people are going to think about as they're sitting in sunny Scottsdale this spring watching baseball, but it's something the Giants will be monitoring closely. Rich Aurilia, Nate Schierholtz, Eugenio Velez, the loser of the second base battle, and a handful of catcher are all trying to make the team as reserves, but the Giants will only have room for 5. There is a good chance that Dave Roberts will be let go before the end of spring, but if he isn't, that's one spot that will be taken. Also right now you'd have to assume that Bruce Bochy will carry a back-up catcher and Steve Holm would be the favorite for that and that would be 2 spots taken. So there really are only 3 spots available right now for about 6 guys to battle for. Nate Schierholtz is likely to get the job as the 4th outfielder unless he tanks this spring and I don't thing the Giants brought Rich Aurilia back to have play for Fresno, so I think they'll have themselves a spot. So that would leave one remaining spot for: Velez, Bowker, Guzman, Uribe, Ryan Rohlinger, etc... Velez has the versatility and Bochy will likely want to keep him on the roster as they head north, so he'd be my pick at this juncture.
- Update: The Joe Crede watch is officially over as he has signed a one year deal with the Twins after all. Again, I'm glad he won't be in San Francisco this year as he wasn't what this team necessarily needed and wouldn't have been much of an upgrade to what they already have in the infield. However with him on a one-year deal, something tells me that we haven't heard the last of the "Joe Crede to the Giants" rumors that started in 2006.
Trevor Cole The San Francisco Giants Blog