A few years back, FanFest weekend was something to look forward to. Giants players and coaches came to town and had Media Day and a town hall event with selected season ticket holders, which was hosted by Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow and streamed live. (They even played a version of Family Feud one year.) Players and the manager and coaches would shoot some commercials for tickets and promos. Most of all, it meant that baseball was right around the corner after the long, cold, sad months without it.
Today, in-person FanFest returns to Oracle Park. The last one was in February 2020, when we were (mostly) still blissfully unaware that all hell was about to break loose and that there would be no baseball that spring. I remember that FanFest clearly, even though I didn’t attend it at the park. It was a nice day, and we drove our then-new convertible to Plymouth, in Amador County an hour or so away from us, to have lunch at a hidden gem called Taste. We listened to FanFest interviews on KNBR both ways, and I distinctly remember listening to Buster Posey’s spot and realizing that the following year, 2021, would be the last of Buster’s guaranteed contract. At that point, it looked more likely that the Giants wouldn’t possibly pick up that pricey 2022 team option. Buster had struggled through a poor 2019 season as he tried to recover from major hip surgery, but it didn’t matter–he was still Buster, and we all still loved him. “One more FanFest with Buster after this one?” I thought. “I’m not ready.” Little did I know the twists and turns of the years to come–Buster opting out of a shortened 2020 season due to the arrival of newborn adopted twins, returning like a hero in 2021 for an epic final season–and then announcing his retirement shortly after the season ended. As it turned out, the Giants would happily have paid for that 2022 option, and then some. But it was not to be.
Well, that was three years ago, though it seems like much longer, doesn’t it? In 2021, with vaccines just rolling out and COVID restrictions still in place, the FanFest was held virtually. And in 2022, there was no FanFest at all, a victim of the lockout that didn’t end until weeks after it would have happened. As far as I know, this week there was no Media Day and no town hall. But at 10 a.m., the gates at Oracle Park will open for the 2023 FanFest. New this year is an “Orange Carpet” ceremony for the players to walk in, starting at 9 a.m. (This is a little ironic, too, given that the Giants are almost entirely without “stars” at the moment. Can you imagine how fans would have gone nuts for Tim Lincecum or Buster or Madison Bumgarner or Hunter Pence on an orange carpet back in the day? Now, it’ll be like, “Who’s that, again?”)
The gates reopen tomorrow for FanFest! 🏟️
🔗 https://t.co/ouL3pqKcDM pic.twitter.com/NpNXtxPiS0
— Oracle Park (@OracleParkSF) February 4, 2023
I mean…how many of these can you name? And no fair saying “Rogers twins”–can you tell which one is which?!
The squad is set for FanFest 🤩
More info: https://t.co/8okf1TvedU pic.twitter.com/4fwlJaFdLg
— SFGiants (@SFGiants) January 26, 2023
Be that as it may, I plan to listen to the coverage on KNBR, as always. In previous years, they also streamed some of the interviews on the Giants website, but as far as I can tell, it’s just on KNBR today. As always, Uncle Marty will kick it off on the radio at 9 a.m. on KNBR.
I’m ready for tomorrow and FanFest the Professor @RWotus joins me among others at 9:00 am to open the 2023 season..I wrap it up 3-5 pm on @KNBR pic.twitter.com/SasYw30RNI
— Marty Lurie (@baseballmarty) February 3, 2023
On the first of two Giants Talk podcasts this week, Alex Pavlovic mused about the Opening Day roster. I was on the elliptical or the bike or something, and maybe my math is off, but this is what he predicted:
C(3): Bart, (someone TBD–either Wynns or Perez), Sabol (as utility guy/third catcher)
INF(6): Wade Jr., Flores, Estrada, Crawford, Davis, Villar
OF(4-5): Conforto, Haniger, Slater, Yastrzemski (Pederson)
This is where my math is giving me problems. Alex was saying that Luis Gonzalez, who has a minor league option, would be the “odd man out” in this scenario. But it looks to me like he has 14 position players even without Gonzo. I’m not sure if he miscounted or if he thinks the Giants may temporarily go with a 12-man pitching staff. He mentioned that they have two off-days in their season-opening road trip, so they won’t need five starters right away, let alone the six they currently have on the books even without counting Jakob Junis. So maybe someone goes on the IL (deSclafani?).
Obviously the two points of contention would be his predictions that Sabol makes the roster as a third catcher and that David Villar will be the Opening Day 3B. Everything else seems pretty set, barring a trade or injury. Alex says that the Giants for several years have been talking about having someone on the roster who can catch in a pinch, play other positions, and hit left-handed. Sabol checks those boxes. The big “but,” of course, is that he’s a Rule 5 player who has to either stay on the big league roster the whole year or be returned to his original team (the Pirates, in case you lost track). It’s also possible that the Giants could swing an actual trade with the Pirates whereby they keep Sabol regardless. They’ve done that in the past, most recently with Venezuelan pitcher Edwin Escobar, who was later traded to the Red Sox for Jake Peavy.
As for Villar, they featured him in the most recent episode of Giants Talk in an interview with Alex. He seems like a very personable young man, and it is apparent that the Giants are promoting him–homegrown slugger that the fans can get behind.
David Villar explains to @PavlovicNBCS why he is excited about the series of moves the Giants have made this offseason
Latest Giants Talk: https://t.co/BhqcQMJlWC pic.twitter.com/ILEsAHqzTh
— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) February 2, 2023
So I’m not sure where that leaves us, roster-wise. If the Giants do want to keep Sabol on the roster and don’t want to send Villar to AAA, then…? OK, back to 12 pitchers:
Starters: Webb, Cobb, Stripling, Manaea, Wood (deSclafani on IL?)
Relievers: Doval, Rogers x 2, Brebbia, Alexander, Junis and…? (Waites, Szapucki, Long, or…?)
I’m belaboring this because there’s not much other intrigue to watch for in camp. It doesn’t even appear to be a done deal that two-time Gold Glover Roberto Perez, and not Austin Wynns, will be the backup catcher. (Bear in mind that Perez is 34 and didn’t play much in 2021 or 2022 due to injuries. His Gold Glove seasons were 2019 and 2020, and he hit 24 homers in 2019.)
The other things to watch in spring training will be top prospects such as Marco Luciano and Luis Matos, both of whom were added to the 40-man roster so will be in big league camp. Somewhat surprisingly, the Giants haven’t announced their non-roster invitees to spring training, but you would guess that both Kyle Harrison and Casey Schmitt will be there. What about guys like Vaun Brown, Grant McCray, or Mason Black? What about first-rounders like Hunter Bishop, Patrick Bailey, or Will Bednar? (I’m guessing Bailey gets an invite if for no other reason than that they need catchers in camp. But he also had a decent overall 2022 season, especially if you include his Gold Glove and his splits hitting from the left side only. Bailey had an OPS of .851 hitting left-handed but only .460 hitting right-handed. It could be argued that if he gave up switch-hitting, he could be on a fast track to the majors, especially given his strong defense.)
Farm System Rankings
Both Keith Law (the Athletic) and Kiley McDaniel (ESPN+) published their farm system rankings this week. Law had the Giants’ system at 18th, and McDaniel had them at 20th. This is definitely a step back from the top-10 rankings they were getting after the 2021 season, but it’s still better than the bottom-five rankings they had after the 2018 season, when the new regime came in. Both evaluators dinged the Giants for their growing list of first-round busts, which of course goes back as far as Gary Brown (2010) and Chris Stratton (2012), but in the Zaidi era, it’s Bishop (who wasn’t even protected from the Rule 5 draft this year), Bailey, and Bednar (too soon to call Reggie Crawford a “bust”).
Way more important than anything that happens in this “tread water and try not to drown” 2023 season for the major league team is how the farm system comes along. It will be interesting to see what, if any, changes come about with the addition of a player development expert, Pete Putila, in the role of GM this year.
OK, I’m going to sign off and listen to FanFest coverage. Enjoy, Giants fans! Lefty out.