We Have Seen The Future–And It May Not Be Far Off

Best pals Heliot Ramos and Joey Bart may be coming soon to the Shores of McCovey Cove

Box score here

by DrLefty

After split-squad day/night games on Friday, the Giants’ spring record now stands at 5-2-1, and, really, they could be 7-1 with some better ninth-inning work earlier in the week. The only really bad game thus far is the one I was at last Saturday, and even that one had its fun moments.

I started this post yesterday afternoon (after the first of the two split-squad games) with the intent of just slightly updating it after the evening game from Scottsdale Stadium. Indeed, the original cover photo was going to be of Andy Suarez, who quietly has been having a very nice spring so far. But then the star-studded night game happened, and I had to go with Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos up top. What a fun game that was!

I’m not saying this was all marketing, but you couldn’t help but notice how it lined up last night. First Friday night spring game. First game televised back to the Bay Area. First start for Johnny Cueto (who I’d think is the likely Opening Day starter, but who the heck knows with the new regime?). First appearance of the spring for fan favorite Pablo Sandoval. Oh, and–top prospects Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos not only on the list to play but in the starting lineup. This was the first Cactus League start for either of them. Even 2019 first-round pick Hunter Bishop made a cameo late in the game. I’m honestly half-surprised that Marco Luciano wasn’t in the house.

There seemed to be clear intent to give the fans back home a little taste of what they can look forward to. These things don’t always work out as planned, but this time it certainly did. Bart continued his scorching-hot spring (5 for 8 with two walks, .625/.700/1.125/1.825) by going 1 for 2 with a walk and scoring two runs. Ramos, after being outsmarted in his first AB, followed that with an RBI single and a two-run homer, the latter of which put the Giants, who had fallen into a temporary 5-1 hole, ahead to stay.

 

 

He also showed off his cannon arm on a one-hop throw from right field to the plate (“I don’t need no stinkin’ cut-off man”) that caused the Rockies to hold Daniel Murphy at third. All of this got Ramos a Bart Hug (or is it a Joey Hug? We’ll have to decide.)

 

In postgame interviews, both Bart and Ramos talked about their close friendship and their admiration for the other. Bart even expressed some mild indignation that his buddy isn’t in major league camp. From Henry Schulman’s gamer:

“He’s a really good player and he’s not here with us,” Bart said after Ramos’ homer helped the Giants beat the Rockies 9-6 at Scottsdale Stadium.

“I’ll be the first one to tell you he deserved to be here this year, but obviously things happen.”

Two things strike me about this quote. One is that Bart sounds like a born leader, which is what you want from your catcher-of-the-decade prospect. The other is that Bart, who hasn’t made his major league debut, sounds like a guy who knows where he belongs (“he’s not here with us“). In any event, it’s fun to think about these two guys playing together for many years to come. We may be looking back on the photo above like we look back on that early 2009 photo of Posey and Bumgarner in San Jose.  And it’s worth remembering that both Buster and Bum were in the major leagues by September of that year.

When Ramos was drafted in the first round in 2017, he came to AT&T Park to sign his contract and be introduced. He memorably said that his goal was to be back as a major leaguer in three years. Well, it’s 2020 now, and if he makes noise in the minors, there’s no one in particular standing in his way. So we shall see.

Other highlights of the game included a solid two innings from a very fit-looking Johnny Cueto and a great game from Brandon Belt, who’d been off to a slow start in the Cactus League. Belt was 2 for 2 with a walk, double, and homer, and he also threw a runner out at the plate. Pablo Sandoval made his first appearance of the spring as DH and promptly blooped an RBI single to give the Giants an early lead. Pablo did not look like he’d been on the Johnny Cueto Tommy John Rehab Program–I’d say rather the Wedding/Honeymoon Banquet Tour–but he can still hit. Billy Hamilton got off the schneid and had a double and a triple, and it would have been two triples had not Chris Shaw been on first base when he hit the first one.

OK, so we’ve covered last night’s game. Let’s round up the first week of Cactus League play with some notes about positive trends, areas of concern, and some sleepers to watch in March.

Bright spots

Rotation: The starting pitchers have given up 0 earned runs through eight games. Seven starters (D-Rod twice, Cueto, Samardzija, Gausman, Smyly, Beede, Webb, and Suarez) have gone 14.1 innings (or 16.1 if you count Suarez’s two innings backing up D-Rod yesterday), allowing only seven hits. Suarez in particular has stood out, with six strikeouts in four innings of work and his velocity up. Since the Giants are short of lefties both in the rotation and the bullpen, if he keeps that up, there’s a path for him to make the Opening Day roster.  But all of them are off to a great start, and that’s not even counting top prospect Sean Hjelle, who’s a starter but has pitched two scoreless, hitless innings in relief.

This great start by the rotation may or may not be significant, given that pitchers tend to be ahead of hitters in spring training, and it’s only the first week of games. But as Andrew Baggarly noted in a recent article, the Giants were absolutely dreadful in the early innings last year, with a catastrophic run differential (-107 in the first three innings, +12 thereafter). Now, the pitchers are only half of that, but they’re an important half. Baggarly observed that the new coaching staff is urging the starters to jump in and compete from the first pitch, rather than pacing themselves to go deep into games (a staple of the Bochy era). In early spring training games, the starters are only going 1-2 innings anyway to build up their arms, so we get a glimpse of how a changed approach could work. This will be an interesting and important factor to watch in the coming weeks and months. The state of the rotation, in the post-Bumgarner era, was one of the most troubling things to contemplate going into spring training, but so far it’s looking like a strength.

Young hitters: A lot of prospects, rookies, and near-rookies are at the top of the stats chart at the moment.  Most notable, of course, is Joey Bart, but Ryan Howard, Bryce Johnson, and Jamie Westbrook have gotten off to fast starts. Two young-ish players, Dubon and Yastrzemski, seem to be picking up right where they left off last season.

But I promised that I would talk about Sean Roby (Whoooo?), as in “the Giants’ leading hitter in the Cactus League” (.725), who is also leading the team in RBIs with six. Bart is slightly ahead of him in OPS (1.825 to 1.800). Roby is not in major league camp and is just being borrowed for late-game appearances. He’s a third baseman who was a 2018 draft pick (12th round) out of Arizona Western JC and is still just 21 years old. He hasn’t played above low-A Augusta yet, but he mashed in Salem-Keizer last summer. Roby is not a candidate to make the Opening Day roster, but he could be a MyGuy™ name to remember for this season.

Team speed: The Giants have six stolen bases in eight games, which I’m pretty sure is more than they had for the whole 2019 season. Too lazy to check, though. They’ve also been aggressive in taking extra bases–the most memorable was Bart(!) turning a routine single to the right side into a hustle double the other day, notably when he was leading off the ninth inning in a tie game.

 

Areas of early concern

Power: The Giants have hit eight homers total in eight games, and three of them were in that first loss to the Dodgers and two were last night (Belt and Ramos). Of the guys who have homered, only Belt, Crawford, and Dubon actually figure to make the team.

Veteran hitters: The “legacy players” (Belt, Crawford, Posey, and Longoria) were all off to slow starts, but Belt and Posey each had a couple of hits yesterday. Duggar so far appears as clueless at the plate as he did last year (0-3 with three strikeouts on Friday).

Bullpen: For some reason, manager Gabe Kapler thinks Trey McNutt is the guy to call on in the ninth inning with a lead to protect. On Monday, he blew a save and took the loss. In Friday’s day game, he tried to do it again, but this time he hung on and converted the save opportunity (it was the Royals, after all). Other relievers who have gotten pounded include Nick Vincent, Melvin Adon, Shaun Anderson, Jerry Blevins, Jandel Gustave, and Sam Coonrod. You might recognize this list as the guys most likely to stick on the roster if you’d plotted it out before camp began. Oh, and while we’re putting out an APB for Hunter Pence, where’s Tony Watson? 

Early prediction: look for Suarez and/or D-Rod to make the team as relievers.

 

Sleepers

Here are some fun guys to keep an eye on over the next few weeks. No top prospects here (they wouldn’t be “sleepers,” after all).

Jaylin Davis: Kapler keeps talking him up, and the Giants would really, really like to see him stick in the outfield. Hit some homers, Jaylin.

Jamie Westbrook: So who is this guy? Well, he’s still just 24 years old and is a speedy outfielder with some pop (76 minor league homers). He was drafted in 2013 by the Diamondbacks out of high school and has been in their system until now, playing a bit in AAA in 2018 and 2019. The Giants picked him up as a minor league free agent in January.

Carlos Navas: Reliever whom the Giants signed before 2019, pitched for Richmond and Sacramento last year. He’s 28, originally from Venezuela, and spent time in the A’s organization. He has now appeared in four games, struck out five in four innings, and given up 0 runs on two hits.

Rodolfo Martinez: Got some attention with his triple-digit fastball on Thursday and held a one-run lead to get the save. Martinez has been around awhile (since 2014) but is still just 25. He pretty much stalled out at AA after looking great in San Jose. It would be a fun story if he could step into the spot vacated this year by former Little Giants teammate Reyes Moronta.

Jarlin Garcia: Known as “Jarlin the Marlin” in his previous stop, he’s looked good in his two outings, including one last night (when a lot of the bullpen was imploding), for which he picked up the win. Garcia, who just turned 27, is a lefty (remember they need those), on the 40-man roster (inventory!), and had a nice year for the Marlins in 2019 (50.2 IP, 3.02 ERA, 1.11 WHIP). In two innings thus far in the Cactus League, he’s given up no hits or walks and has struck out three. Oh, and I believe he’s also out of minor league options, so keep that in mind.

 

Today’s Game

Angels at Giants, 12:05 p.m. PST at Scottsdale Stadium (radio: KNBR; TV: Angels–you can watch if you have MLB.TV)
Dylan Bundy vs. Drew Smyly

 

I’m only gonna say this once every four years, but Happy Leap Day!  Lefty out.