Early, early, early musings on a slow Saturday

by Dr Lefty

I woke up, remembered it’s Saturday, and started thinking about my post. I’m struggling a bit. It’s not quite as bad as in, say, January, when we’d go weeks on end, not only without any Giants news but pretty much no baseball news, period. Imagine how the baseball writers must have felt, with nothing to write about except (a) why the free agent market was so slow and (b) Bonds and Clemens not getting enough Hall of Fame votes for the sixth year in a row.

The Giants have played just four games in the last seven days, and nearly 72 hours will have elapsed between the start of the Giants’ second home game against Seattle and today’s 3:05 p.m. first pitch. The minor leagues have only been going for two days, and even MLB had only nine games (including the Giants’ rained-out one) scheduled on a Friday night. The entire baseball season is, to use Bochy’s term, being “slow-played.” It’s time to get it going.

Here are a few mostly unrelated musings about the Giants and their minor league affiliates.

 

The bench has been pretty good

Yeah. The best game of the year so far, with respect to those two nail-biting 1-0 wins, was Wednesday’s 10-1 drubbing of the Mariners and “King” Felix, who may need to be demoted down to “Sir” Felix after that performance. Team Venezuela (Gregor Blanco, Gorkys Hernandez, and Pablo Sandoval) were all in the starting lineup, and they brought some energy and made some noise: 5 for 13 with two homers and 5 RBIs. It started, oddly enough, with Sandoval drawing a bases-loaded walk in the first inning to extend a rally and bring in the first run (of many to come). The biggest hit was this three-run water shot by Pablo, putting him, at least for now, second on the all-time splash hit list (one ahead of Belt). The one that made Matthew the happiest was this solo shot by Gorkys, who gets the coveted “featured image” slot up top today.

The bench overall (Hundley, Tomlinson, and Team Venezuela) is so far 11 for 31 with 2 HRs and 5 RBIs. That is better than the starting position players as a group are putting up. And that’s just hitting. Having Gorkys and Blanco in the outfield (with McCutchen in right) is a defensive upgrade over anything the Giants put out there last year.

 

Panik and Belt are a great 1-2 punch

Other than bench players, the two guys off to the hottest starts are Joe Panik (.381/.458/.810/1.268) and Brandon Belt (.353/.450/.588/1.038) with a combined four homers, a double, and six walks. This is notable considering that the Giants have faced lefty starters in four of their six games so far. The two of them together at the top of the order are a nightmare for starting pitchers, with Panik being the hardest guy in the majors to strike out over the past couple seasons and Belt’s typical OBP north of .350. Now the middle-of-the-order guys, McCutchen (.083, 0 RBIs) and Posey (also 0 RBIs), need to step up and make some things happen.

 

OK, maybe the Giants did need some new coaches

I’ve been vocal, ever since The Great Coaching Purge of last October, about how much I disdained the practice of making underlings be the fall guys for the failures of the head honchos. In principle, it still bothers me. In practice, and it’s early yetmaybe the Giants did need some new ideas. The biggest story so far is Panik’s unexpected power to go along with his pristine plate discipline. In several articles this week, including this one by Alex Pavlovic, Panik credits the new hitting coaches with encouraging him to adjust both his approach and his batting stance. Posey also, in a recent interview with Tim Kawakami, cited how new hitting coach Alonzo Powell has been discussing his approach with him.

Then there’s the pitch-calling. Here are some thoughts from a Baggarly column (linked for convenience, but behind a paywall) a couple days ago:

If you could criticize Buster Posey for one thing, it was that he could get too fastball-happy at times while calling pitches. Posey is very smart and also very old school in many of his baseball sensibilities. “Establish your fastball” is something he had drilled into his head. He was once a pitcher, too, remember?

We’re seeing some subtle changes this season. Posey is showing a greater willingness to pitch backwards with guys, whether it’s a starter or a reliever.

Now, Buster’s a bright guy and a student of the game. Are these “pitching backwards” insights his own, or did they emerge from conversations with the new pitching coaches? Dave Righetti had been in his job a long time, and it’s not a stretch to imagine that he had old-school ideas that were imparted to a young catcher when Posey arrived on the scene in 2010. Did the arrival of new pitching coaches help Buster to think more out of the box than he had been in the past?

 

Who will be the #5 starter?

Even with last night’s rainout, the Giants will need a fifth starter no later than April 11. Who will it be? The Giants clearly hadn’t made up their minds as of Thursday, sending Tyler Beede to pitch for San Jose while Andrew Suarez started for Sacramento, lining either up for a major league debut on Tuesday or Wednesday. Beede is on the 40-man roster, so it would be easier to import him for a start or two (depending on how Jeff Samardzija comes along), but the sense seems to be that Suarez is the more ready of the two, after a strong 2017 season. Their two outings Thursday night did not shed much additional light, as they were quite similar (one hit allowed by each, a few walks, a few strikeouts), though it’s worth noting that Suarez was facing AAA hitters and Beede was not.

My guess? Suarez. They won’t let the 40-man issue stop them because chances are they’ll need Suarez at some point this season, anyway, and he’d have to be added after the season to avoid Rule 5 exposure in any case. Besides the fact that Suarez’s recent track record is better than Beede’s, he’s also left-handed, and with Bumgarner out for a while yet, and Blach and Holland being arguably the weakest links among the ambulatory starters at this point, they might want to take a look at Suarez sooner rather than later.

Welcome to the big leagues, kid. Have you met Paul Goldschmidt? Don’t worry–he’s off to a slow start (.091).

 

Minor league notes

The minor league season kicked off ominously for the Giants, with all four affiliates, all on the road, losing their Thursday openers. Things looked up last night, though, with AA Richmond and AAA Sacramento getting nice wins. Though the sample sizes are ridiculous so far, here are a couple of early notes:

  • Black is back! Ray Black earned the save for Richmond last night, throwing a clean ninth inning with two strikeouts. With our other fireballer, Julian Fernandez, out of the picture until next year, it will be fun to see if Black can finally stay healthy and find some success.
  • Mac stays hot: Mac Williamson’s revamped swing was a big story in camp, as he went from “DFA candidate/bust” status to “probable first guy up when Pence gets hurt” in just a few weeks. He was clearly discouraged by his demotion to AAA, but so far he’s kept the good roll going: In two games, he’s 4 for 7 with a homer and 4 RBIs, plus an outfield assist.
  • Slater says “Move to the back, Mac.” Austin Slater took full advantage of his major league opportunity last year until an unfortunate injury cut his season short. So far in AAA, he’s 4 for 9 with two doubles and 2 RBIs. Slater’s ability to play all three outfield positions competently could work in his favor at some point.
  • Top prospect Heliot Ramos is not off to a hot start, but he did get his first hit, a double, for Augusta last night.
  • Shaun Anderson, obtained from Boston in last July’s trade for Eduardo Nunez, had an excellent first start for Richmond last night, earning a win with 5 innings pitched, 3 hits, 1 run, 2 walks, and 7 strikeouts.
  • The Giants’ minor league Darwin Award winner: C.J. Hinojosa, their #17 prospect, was busted for the second time (50-game suspension) for violating the substance policy. This helps explain why you never heard his name during spring training.

At this point, HaakAway would like to remind you that this year’s MyGuy™ picks are due April 22 (Clark/Clark/Cutch Day). Pick a position player and a pitcher from the major league roster and from each of the four full-season minor league teams (Augusta, San Jose, Richmond, Sacramento) to be your “Guy” for the year, with points allotted for year-over-year improvement and bonuses for promotions. You can register your picks by replying to any HaakAway post or by emailing him at mysfgiantguy@gmail.com.

 

Today’s game

Dodgers at Giants, AT & T Park, 3:05 p.m. (note that the start time was pushed back)

Rich Hill (1-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Chris Stratton (0-1, 5.06 ERA)

I’ll update the post later when lineups are available. Enjoy Saturday and–finally!–Giants baseball!