It’s hard to know what to make of these Cactus League games this year. Teams being pulled off the field in the middle of innings. Pitchers coming back into the game after they’ve been replaced by a reliever. And yesterday, when the Giants and Indians agreed to play the bottom of the ninth inning–even though the Giants, the home team, had the lead–and the umpires said, “No, it’s time for margaritas at The Mission.” The Indians’ catcher was calling balls and strikes. Jon Miller and Duane Kuiper decided they were done at some point during the inning and went to join the umpires for drinks.
The Giants are 5-5-3 in the Cactus League and won a couple of games this week, but who the heck knows what “won” means under these strange rules? They also “lost” a game in which the Brewers kept rolling innings after the Giants had loaded the bases and then Milwaukee had a late rally off some A-ball pitchers. So we shouldn’t take the W-L record very seriously, in other words.
It’s much more interesting to look at individual progress, and there have been some interesting storylines. In no particular order, let’s talk about six will-be or wanna-be Giants.
Brandon Belt’s absence from camp until this week with a lingering illness described as “non-COVID-related” was mysterious and certainly raised questions about his readiness for the season, especially after having offseason heel surgery. However, the news is good. Belt emerged this week, taking batting practice and running on the treadmill and Zooming with reporters. He explained that he actually did have a mild case of COVID in January but that a nasty bout with mononucleosis is actually what had caused his February/March absence. That’s a lot of offseason trouble, but he seemed to be in good spirits yesterday. From Steve Berman’s article in The Athletic:
Giants manager Gabe Kapler added Friday that Belt hopped on the treadmill after batting practice and ran 17 mph. “Moving a little bit,” Kapler said with a smile.
Belt met with the media over Zoom on Saturday for the first time this spring and was asked whether Friday’s treadmill sprint means he’ll enter this season as one of the fastest players on the team. Belt, who’s never shied away from a chance to trumpet his athletic prowess, seemed like he was dying for someone to ask him this.
“Oh, no question,” he deadpanned. “I mean, my 50 percent is like everybody else’s 100 percent. So I think people are on alert now. I put them on alert and they’ve got to be aware that Brandon Belt’s coming for the stolen base crown this year.
Even before the illnesses, it was no sure thing that Belt would be ready for Opening Day after the surgery. I still think the smart money is on him starting the season on the injured list, especially with several lefty starters waiting for the Giants in Seattle. But it sounds like it shouldn’t be too much longer than that before Belt returns to the lineup.
For several years there, Duggar was considered the center fielder of the future, an outfielder version of Matt Duffy, if you will–not a high draft pick, skinny and scrappy. After making a promising debut in 2018, cut short by a season-ending shoulder injury, Duggar was the Opening Day center fielder for the Giants in 2019, but things haven’t gone well for him since. A week later, the Giants traded for Kevin Pillar, moved Duggar to right field, and eventually sent him off to AAA when his hitting never picked up. Last year he spent very little time in the majors and had only 36 plate appearances with the big club. Mauricio Dubon took over as the everyday CF, and right behind are Heliot Ramos (more on him in a minute), Hunter Bishop, and Alexander Canario. Oh, and the Giants traded a few weeks ago for a left-handed hitting fourth outfielder type, LaMonte Wade, Jr.–so basically another version of Duggar.
Things weren’t looking good for Duggar when he struck out in 6 of his first 8 plate appearances this spring, and with 40-man roster spots tight, you wondered if he’d even last all the way through camp before getting DFA’d like his former minor league buddies Mac Williamson, Chris Shaw, and Aramis Garcia. But he’s had a good week. He’s now hitting .333 (5 for 15), with an OBP of .524, two opposite-field homers, two stolen bases, and six walks. And suddenly you remember how valuable Duggar could be with his elite outfield defense and his speed if he could just hit enough to justify a roster spot–a (much) cheaper version of Jackie Bradley Jr., if you will. In a San Jose Mercury News article about Duggar this week, Kapler said this about him:
“He’s a great all-around athlete. Elite speed and an incredible person and a great teammate. I think we can see him step, you know, take a step forward.”
This week, anyway, Duggar appears to have a bit of an edge over his main competitors, Wade Jr. and 2020 Opening Day right fielder Joe McCarthy. Wade is hitting .286 with one homer in the Cactus League, and McCarthy is no longer on the 40-man roster. If the season opened today, I’d predict that Duggar would be on the roster, but we shall see. (And I do keep forgetting about Jaylin Davis, who’s in RF for the Giants today, but I just don’t think he’s in the mix for Opening Day at this point.)
Kevin Gausman/Scott Kazmir
There was a bit of mystery about why Gausman didn’t appear in a Cactus League game until Friday, almost three weeks into spring training play, but there was no indication that he was injured, and his bullpens were going well. Anyway, Gausman had a sharp start for the Giants on Friday, going two innings and giving up one hit and striking out one. Kapler has not yet announced his Opening Day starter, and you’d think that Gausman, who was the Giants’ best starter last year by far, would get the honor, but I could also see one last opener for Johnny Cueto out of respect for his long career and his years on the Giants.
Scott Kazmir also pitched in Friday’s game, and this was notable because it was his first appearance on a major league mound in five years. He was nervous and wild and crossed up Buster Posey a couple times, but he settled down, struck out two, and finished a scoreless inning.
Raise your hand if you assumed, once the Giants had filled out their rotation by re-signing Gausman and adding Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, and Aaron Sanchez (not to mention extras like Kazmir, Nick Tropeano, and Shun Yamaguchi), that Logan Webb was ticketed for AAA to start the season. Webb is still young (just 24) and was arguably rushed into the majors before he was ready, having made only one AAA start before being promoted in 2019. The Giants still have high hopes for his future, but a couple of low-pressure months in Sacramento could be good for him, especially since he seems to be tightly wired and hard on himself.
Well, that all sounds fine on paper, except that Webb is having a great spring and seems to be saying “Not so fast” on sending him back to AAA. In his third start yesterday, he went three innings and struck out six, including four in the first inning(!). His numbers so far: 6 IP, ERA 0.00, WHIP 0.50, 10 Ks. What do you think about Webb’s spring, Gabe?
It’s as good as I’ve ever seen his changeup look,” Gabe Kapler said after the technically 5-4 victory over Cleveland at Scottsdale Stadium, in which the Giants added two runs in a theoretical bottom of the ninth. “I don’t want to overdo it here, but he’s been really impressive in this camp. And he’s been really impressive because he’s doing exactly what we had hoped and kind of prompted him to do, which is use the secondary weapons with the same level of confidence that he uses his fastball.”
Rule 5 Guy (Dedniel Núñez)
Núñez was looking like he had a good chance to stick on the Opening Day roster. But in Friday’s game, he walked three straight batters (his only walks to that point), his velocity dropped 5-6 MPH, and he left the game with an arm injury (described as a wrist problem). In one day, his future went from bright to murky. We’ll have to see what the diagnosis is and what the Giants decide to do with him (they could choose to return him to the Mets or put him on the IL to start the season). Bummer.
Ramos is the consensus #3 prospect for the Giants and was their first-round draft pick in 2017. Still just 21 years old, Ramos is making a big impression in the Cactus League–9 for 21 with 3 homers and only 5 strikeouts. He hit all three homers this past week, including two in Sunday’s game (one to LF and one to RF) and this monster shot in Tuesday’s game versus the Brewers.
Look where this Heliot Ramos bomb landed 😮 pic.twitter.com/ncIXjE7ekj
— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) March 9, 2021
Ramos is a confident young man who feels he’s ready for the majors. He’s not likely to get an immediate opportunity, but it’s not ridiculous to imagine a July debut for him. It’s been easy for Ramos to get overlooked. Joey Bart has already made his major league debut. Marco Luciano gets all the buzz. And Ramos was drafted by the previous regime, unlike Hunter Bishop. But the Giants are very excited about Ramos’s future. I loved this tidbit, in an Andrew Baggarly article this week, from farm director Kyle Haines about how they worked with Ramos at the Alternate Site last year:
They would not only watch video of Ramos’s minor-league at-bats but also break down the at-bats of big-league right-handed power hitters and point out how different pitchers attacked them.
When Bart struggled at the plate as a rookie last season, it was more than an educational experience for himself. It was an educational experience for Ramos, too. Haines made sure to cue up Bart’s at-bats so the two of them could break them down pitch by pitch and swing decision by swing decision.
Will Wilson is having a good spring. He could be playing on the Giants sooner than we think.
Less than a week remains until our March 21 deadline. Send an email to HaakAway (MySFGiantGuy@gmail.com) or reply to any HaakAway post with your choices. Who will be on the 26-man Opening Day roster?
Giants at Diamondbacks, 1:10 p.m. at Salt River Fields
Connor Menez vs. Caleb Smith
Here’s the Giants lineup. Yaz in CF, Duggar in LF.
Giants lineup today at Dbacks:
Tommy La Stella – 1B
Mike Yastrzemski- CF
Donovan Solano – 3B
Wilmer Flores – 2B
Evan Longoria – DH
Brandon Crawford – SS
Curt Casali – C
Steven Duggar – LF
Jaylin Davis – RF
Conner Menez – LHP
— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) March 14, 2021
Have a lovely Sunday. Lefty out.