Spring training is underway, and the camp battles for the San Francisco Giants are beginning to take shape.
The San Francisco Giants have much of their roster already spoken for, but the competition for many of the bullpen and bench spots is still wide open.
Every team sets lofty expectations during spring training and the optimism is as high as it is going to be.
In particular, players come to camp with new swing mechanics, pitch mixes, or they are in the best shape of their life.
Despite the never-ending optimism, the Giants Cactus League season quickly took a negative turn. In the early part of the first game of Cactus League play against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Giants committed three errors.
Rust and a wet field could have certainly been a factor, but it was not the way the Giants wanted to start the season.
Since then, the Giants have played much better baseball. The starting pitching, in particular, has been solid in the first turn through the rotation.
Most of the pitchers from this group will form the starting rotation once the 2020 season gets underway.
Veteran players are usually a bit slow out of the gates. However, this has not been the case with Samardzija, Gausman, Smyly, and Cueto.
With that being said, spring training stats can be misleading. The success players experience in Arizona does not always carry over into the regular season.
For instance, Chris Marrero blasted seven home runs during spring training on his way to making the Giants Opening Day roster in 2017. However, he only accumulated one home run during the regular season before being cut loose after 41 plate appearances.
Despite this, the Giants roster consists of plenty of veteran players who have a lot to prove in 2020. So, even though spring training stats should not be looked at in too much detail, it is a positive sign when a player who has struggled in previous seasons starts off the Cactus League with a good first impression.
Let's take a quick look at who has impressed in the early going and who has struggled.
Brandon Crawford is off to a nice start following a forgettable 2019 season in which he posted a .654 OPS across 560 plate appearances. With the addition of Yolmer Sanchez and Wilmer Flores, to go along with Mauricio Dubon and Donovan Solano, the Giants have more depth behind Crawford than at any point in his career.
No one has more to prove than Crawford in 2020. In terms of OPS+, Crawford has been a below-average hitter (85 OPS+ in 2017 and 75 OPS+ in 2019) in two of the last three seasons. In addition, the defensive metrics paint him as an average shortstop at this stage in his career as he was worth 0 DRS in 2019.
With the added depth at shortstop, Giants team president Farhan Zaidi has essentially communicated that the long-time Giants shortstop will need to produce, or see a dip in his playing time going forward.
To his credit, Crawford has made a solid first impression to the 2020 season by collecting four hits in nine at-bats with a home run and six runs scored.
He seems to be running around the bases better as well:
It goes without saying that there will be plenty of eyes on the heir apparent to long-time Giants catcher Buster Posey. Joey Bart has shown plenty of power in his brief, professional career, and this has carried over into spring training.
Bart's professional resume has been slowed by injuries. Specifically, he sustained a broken hand twice in 2019 due to errant pitches. Despite that, Bart remains one of the best catching prospects in baseball.
He has looked the part of a top prospect in a brief showing. In 10 at-bats, Bart has recorded six hits, including two extra-base hits and four runs scored. One of those extra-base hits was on an off-balanced swing, but the ball was sent over the fence anyway:
Carlos Navas is a non-roster invitee who split time his time between Triple-A Sacramento and Double-A Richmond in the Giants organization last year. The reliever was signed as a 17-year-old by the Oakland Athletics in 2010, and he joined the Giants organization prior to the 2019 season.
Navas made 35 appearances in 2019, including seven spots starts. Across 84.2 frames, he posted a 3.40 ERA with a 8.7 K/9 rate.
This spring, Navas has impressed in the early going.
In three appearances, the right-handed has recorded three scoreless innings with five strikeouts. Navas has an uphill battle to climb to make the Opening Day roster as a non-roster invitee, but the bullpen competition remains wide open. If he continues to pitch well, he could be rewarded with a roster spot.
Shaun Anderson had an up-and-down inaugural campaign to his career last season, but appeared to find his niche in the bullpen. Despite posting a 6.08 ERA as a reliever in 2019, Anderson looked like he had the mentality and power fastball to handle a high-leverage bullpen spot.
The bullpen is not uncharted territory for the right-hander as he worked primarily as a closer at the University of Florida.
Despite the experience, Anderson has gotten off to a rough start in spring training. Through 1.2 Cactus League innings, the 25-year-old has yielded seven earned runs. With that being said, three of those runs were given up by Melvin Adon after Adon a gave up a home run to Colorado Rockies prospect Dom Nunez.
Still, it is not the best first impression to the new coaching staff for Anderson. He has three minor league options remaining, and a stat line like this will likely lead to assignment to Triple-A Sacramento rather than San Francisco.
Steven Duggar has been on the Giants radar for the past several years, but major injuries in three consecutive seasons have stunted his development.
The left-handed hitter showed some promised in his rookie season in 2018 when he posted a 92 OPS+ and played stellar defense. A shoulder injury on a dive back to second base ended that season prematurely.
The 2019 season was one to forget for Duggar as he produced a .619 OPS across 281 plate appearances. His season again ended early as he re-aggravated his surgically repaired shoulder on a dive for a ball in the outfield.
With a clean slate of health, Duggar is hoping to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster. So far, he has collected just two hits in 11 at-bats, with five strikeouts on his ledger. The strikeout frequency is a concern that continues to plague the left-handed bat after he has struck out in 28.2 percent of his plate appearances at the major league level.
Yolmer Sanchez was the AL Gold Glove winner at second base in 2019, but only managed to score a minor league deal after being non-tendered by the Chicago White Sox during the offseason.
Sanchez has a similar skill set as Billy Hamilton in that he is tremendous with the glove, but struggles in the batter's box. The switch-hitter has generated a .244/.299/.357 (80 OPS+) line in six seasons with the White Sox.
The infielder chose to sign with the Giants due to expectations about playing time at second base. In addition to second base, Sanchez has experience at shortstop and third base as well, so he could see time all around the infield if he makes the team.
With that being said, Sanchez will not be handed the starting gig at second base. He remains hitless in 11 Cactus League at-bats. The Giants have been tinkering with Sanchez's swing mechanics, so they will be patient with the switch-hitter.
The good news is first impressions can be forgotten pretty quickly with a good game or two, and there is still plenty of Cactus League baseball left.