Good Vibrations–Spring Training, Week 1

15-year-old Mauricio Dubon visits AT&T (Oracle) Park. Photo credit: SFGate/Richey Family

by DrLefty

The Giants’ spring training camp, complete with a brand-new clubhouse complex, opened this week. Everyone slunk in, sad about how PECOTA says they’ll finish dead-last with just 68 wins in 2020, glum about the loss of Madison Bumgarner and Kevin Pillar, and sullen that Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris didn’t do more (anything?) to improve the team in the offseason.

Except that’s not what happened.

From everything I’ve seen and heard so far, the mood in Scottsdale is light-hearted, optimistic, and even excited. Part of it may be the gorgeous new facility with a deluxe clubhouse, state-of-the-out workout room(s), and a…whatever this is.

 

The main reason for the good vibrations, I take it, is that all of the players are embracing the new regime. While it’s not surprising that young guys trying to prove themselves or new guys trying to make an impact would welcome working for a young, forward-thinking manager and coaching staff, it’s been refreshing to sense good energy from the guys who played years for Bruce Bochy, from Buster Posey to Brandon Belt to Jeff Samardzija. (And let’s not forget Johnny Cueto bonding with Gabe Kapler over what kind of beard oil Johnny uses to make it glisten so.)

 

Oh, and speaking of Johnny: Happy Birthday!

I think the take-home message is that the Giants’ veterans were just as tired of losing as we fans are. I’m sure it’s no disrespect to Bruce Bochy and the previous coaching staff, but sometimes things can get into a low-energy rut, and change can be good. Anyway, it’s a good start.

 

Three Themes for Spring Training 2020

I’m going to talk about three things I’ll be watching over the next six weeks, and I’ll encourage you in the comments to add your own.

The new leadership: Gabe Kapler and the coaches

OK, enough about beard oil and enough video of Alyssa Nakken hitting fungoes. I’m very curious to get some deep-dive information about how the new coaches are working with the players at camp. Andrew Baggarly’s latest article mentions that Kapler is having one-on-one meetings with every single player in camp, all 71 of them. I read that the players have already been surprised and impressed about the analytic and biometric information the coaches have been presenting them with. I started thinking about how much time and effort it must take to do research and watch videos on every single player and prepare reports for them, and I’m now understanding why Kapler wants such a large staff. There’s a ton of work to do. Is it all voodoo, or as Kodachrome put it, a mad scientist experiment? Time will tell. But I’ll be very interested to read more stories like the one Kerry Crowley published about Logan Webb yesterday, detailing how, after consulting with the new pitching coaches, Webb has changed his grip on his two-seamer, added a cutter, and replaced his curveball with a slider. Alex Pavlovic wrote about Tyler Rogers and how the coaches are working on very specific changes (hitting his spot up and in) to help him pitch to lefties effectively, since the new three-batter rule won’t allow relievers to be match-up specialists anymore.

That’s all good stuff and I want more.

 

The young guys

Keeping an eye on younger players has always been one of my favorite parts of spring training. In fact, after a few years of trial and error, we’ve learned we like to go to Scottsdale earlier rather than later in camp, before the top prospects get cut and sent to minor league camp. I don’t care if I see Buster Posey take an at-bat. I want to see Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos (who will certainly be over from minor league camp for some games) and maybe even…Marco Luciano?

In the new regime, there aren’t as many top prospects who have been invited to spring training as non-roster invitees. Bart and pitcher Sean Hjelle are pretty much the only ones, and Bart is there in part because the Giants need lots of catchers in camp to receive all those bullpens. (Oh, and get well soon, Aramis. What bummer news that was.) Beyond those two, the “young” guys to watch are:

  • Jaylin Davis (OF, age 25): Davis came over in the Sam Dyson trade with the Twins at the deadline last year and made an inauspicious major league debut in September, hitting just .167 in 45 plate appearances. However, his first major league homer, on Sept. 25, led to a walk-off win for the Giants, and he hit 35 homers in AAA last year. So the Giants will be giving Davis a lot of opportunity to make the team with that right-handed power.
  • Mauricio Dubon (IF?, age 25): Dubon also came over at the trade deadline from the Brewers, in exchange for Drew Pomeranz and Ray Black. Dubon had 109 plate appearances for the Giants in August and September, putting up a .754 OPS with four homers and playing a slick second base. My favorite Dubon game was the one at Dodger Stadium where he made Clayton Kershaw kick a water cooler.  Maybe the most interesting thing to watch this spring is where they’ll be playing Dubon, as their intent seems to be to move him around the infield and even the outfield. In a recent podcast interview with Henry Schulman, Dubon appeared fine with that, saying that he’s an “athlete” and should be ready to play anywhere. He seems like a confident and level-headed young man who believes in himself.
  • Tyler Beede (RHP, age 26): This is an important year for Beede, who’s had a couple of opportunities to establish himself as a big-league starter. I was fascinated to read about Beede’s years-long connection with Kapler that goes all the way back to 2004. That cannot be a bad thing for Beede, a bright and sensitive young man with lots of talent who needs more confidence.
  • Logan Webb (RHP, age 23): Webb is the youngest player on the 40-man roster and almost the youngest player in camp. (Hjelle and Bart are a bit younger, as is former Angels pitcher Luis Madero.) As already noted, Webb has been working with the new coaches on changing his repertoire. Though it sounds likely that the Giants want Webb to start the year in AAA to manage his innings, if he outperforms Beede or a veteran starter gets injured, he could make the Opening Day roster.
  • Joey Bart (C, age 23): So far Bart’s BP sessions suggest he’s picking up right where he left off before a Pirates pitcher broke his right thumb, ending his Arizona Fall League season. Despite the injury to Aramis Garcia, the Giants do not appear to be considering him for the Opening Day roster. But we shall see. If Bart mashes in spring and the other backup prospects don’t impress…well, who knows?
  • Steven Duggar (OF, age 26): This is also an important year for Duggar, who was considered the center fielder of the future for several years but has struggled with injuries and with plate discipline. Like Billy Hamilton (see next section), Duggar is considered to be a plus-defender in the outfield, a guy who could win a Gold Glove, but…you have to be able to stay on the field and to hit enough to justify your spot.
  • Tyler Rogers (RHP, age 29): OK, it’s pushing a point to call Rogers “young” when he and his Twin brother Taylor will turn 30 in December. But he’s still officially a rookie in the major leagues, and after how long it took him to get there, and how impressive he was in September, I’m definitely rooting for him. I was glad to see that Kapler is bullish on him and sees him as one of the few locks in a wide-open bullpen competition.  Taylor, by the way, was recently named one of the top-10 relievers in baseball by MLB Network.  Wouldn’t it be fun to see both of them on the list next year?

 

The new guys

OK, this won’t take long because there aren’t that many, and no, I’m not counting either Pablo Sandoval or Hunter Pence as “new” guys. But I’ll be keeping an eye on:

  • Kevin Gausman, the biggest free-agent acquisition as to total dollars, who is expected/hoped to be a valuable part of the rotation. I heard him being interviewed during FanFest last week, and he seems very excited to be a Giant–as it happens, he grew up in Colorado rooting for the Giants, thanks to a buddy who was a Giants fan. (Gausman is still in touch with that friend and plans to fly him out for his first home start in San Francisco.)
  • Wilmer Flores, the first multi-year free agent signing of the Zaidi Era. Flores is known for his walk-up song (the theme from “Friends,” which he watched as a teenager in the minors to help learn English) and for dissolving into tears on the field in 2015 when he thought he’d been traded from the Mets (the trade fell through). More importantly, Flores and Pence were two right-handed hitters targeted early in the offseason by Zaidi because of their success against lefties last year, and the Giants went out and got both of them.
  • Billy Hamilton and Yolmer Sanchez: These two guys are both great-field/no-hit players, and I mean elite defenders. Sanchez won the AL Gold Glove last year at 2B, and Hamilton has always been a plus-plus centerfielder and an elite base stealer in an era where that hasn’t been emphasized much. They bring something to unique to the table, and I’ll be interested to see if either of them can make enough of an impression to stick.
  • Tyler Heineman and Rob Brantly: So Stephen Vogt is a Snake, Nick Hundley is retired, Aramis Garcia is recovering from hip surgery, and Joey Bart isn’t ready (probably). Someone is going to have to back up Buster Posey, and these two guys are the leading candidates unless the Giants go out and get a veteran in light of Garcia’s injury (Russell Martin and Jonathan Lucroy are still out there). Heineman is a switch-hitter (and amateur magician) and Brantly bats lefty, so they both offer platoon advantages that righty-hitting Chadwick Tromp (also in camp) do not.

There are others (Drew Smyly, Jerry Blevins, Tyson Ross, Trevor Cahill), but I’ll leave it at that for now.

So what is your list of the three questions/themes/players you’ll especially be watching?

 

Other Baseball News

The Astros: yeeessh. So much written about them and their weak “apologies” this week. The strongest, most controversial reactions were from Trevor Bauer (who always has a lot to say about things) and Cody Bellinger, who among other things said Jose Altuve “stole” the 2017 MVP from Aaron Judge just like the Astros stole the rings from the Dodgers.

Happy to see that Good Giant Kevin Pillar finally landed a job this week, with the Red Sox. Less happy to see Madison Bumgarner in a Diamondbacks uniform, just six miles from Scottsdale Stadium. I don’t think I’m ever really going to get over that.

 

Upcoming Post(s)

So next weekend, as I’ve mentioned, I’ll be in Arizona. My tentative plan is to post a brief pregame thread on Saturday morning and then a more in-depth post on Sunday after I’ve attended the Saturday game against the Dodgers. Can’t wait to actually sit in the stands and watch some baseball!  Lefty out.