Pitchers, catchers, beat writers, and Marty Lurie have reported to Scottsdale for spring training, and even though position players don’t have to report for another day or two, they’re mostly all there, anyway. It’s happening! And one week from today, there will be a real baseball game with the dulcet tones of Jon Miller and Duane Kuiper (more about him below) on our radios.
There is not much intrigue with this year’s camp. Of course we’re all curious about seeing Michael Conforto hit and especially throw (because we do not want, shudder, Joc Pederson playing the outfield this year unless a sniper shot someone), but really the most interesting storylines are about the Giants’ homegrown prospects, including ones on the 40-man roster (who this year include Marco Luciano and Luis Matos, along with returnees Joey Bart and David Villar) and top prospects who are non-roster invitees (most notably Kyle Harrison and Casey Schmitt). So let’s run down what we’re watching for and what seems most likely over the next six weeks or so.
Kyle & Casey
Kyle Harrison is the highest-ranked prospect the Giants have had since…well, since Luciano was higher than him last year, but before that, since Brandon Belt after the 2010 season (and Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner going into 2010). There was a nice story about the bond he’s built with Logan Webb, and it’s fun thinking about two homegrown aces, both from Northern California, atop the rotation, maybe before this season is over. He seems like a well grounded young man.
Kyle Harrison talks after threw live BP today very solid ….clearly the most interesting prospect the Giants have pic.twitter.com/vxMWijyFlz
— Marty Lurie (@baseballmarty) February 17, 2023
The Giants on paper have a lot of depth in their rotation–they are seven deep at the major league level if you count Jakob Junis in the bullpen, plus 40-man guys likely to be in AAA such as Sam Long, Tristan Beck, and Sean Hjelle. Unless a lot of arms start falling off, this allows the Giants the luxury of starting Harrison in AAA and bringing him up when his performance, not an emergency, dictates that it’s time. Since the Sacramento River Cats are right in my backyard, I’m looking forward to keeping a close eye on Harrison’s progress.
The other top prospect to watch is third baseman Casey Schmitt, who finished last season with a few games in Sacramento and is slated to start there again. Schmitt is a right-handed corner infielder, and you might have noticed that the Giants already have several of those. His glove is already considered major league ready, so it remains to be seen if/when his bat allows him to crack the majors and stay there. Schmitt played some shortstop for Eugene last year when Luciano was injured and reportedly did quite well there. So while the Giants may not need him at 3B anytime soon, they have very little depth at shortstop behind 36-year-old Brandon Crawford. It would not be surprising if Schmitt’s quickest path to the majors in 2023 is at shortstop. We’ll see.
Harrison and Schmitt were both 2020 draftees (third round and second round, respectively), and it would be a boost to the Zaidi regime’s reputation for drafting and developing players if one or both of them arrive in the big leagues this season–especially Harrison, a high school draftee who is still only 21 years old.
No Marco, No Cole
It was troubling to hear that top position player prospect Luciano is still recovering from a stress fracture in his lower back sustained in winter ball. Luciano missed several months last season with back troubles and was supposed to make up for lost time in winter ball…but then that didn’t happen, either. He was added to the 40-man roster in November, and this will be his first big league camp, but it sounds like he’ll be rehabbing and not playing any games. They don’t think his injury is a long-term thing, and they hope he’ll be ready for the minor league season (it’s assumed he’d start at AA, which is where he finished the year), but it’s disappointing.
Also disappointing is that reliever Cole Waites, who briefly appeared for the Giants late last season, is dealing with a lat strain. There is one bullpen spot likely for the taking, and Waites had a good chance of competing for that spot, but maybe not anymore. That is more of a concern for him than for the Giants at the moment, as they have a lot of depth on the 40-man roster when it comes to major league and AAA-level relief pitching. (My pick to get that spot at the moment is lefty Thomas Szapucki, who came over from the Mets in the blockbuster Darin Ruf trade, looked good in a small sample with the Giants, and is out of options.)
What about Joey? And David?
Maybe the most startling development of the week was the announcement by Farhan Zaidi and Gabe Kapler that the two catching jobs on the roster are an open competition, with Joey Bart, Austin Wynns, newcomer Roberto Perez, and Rule 5 Guy Blake Sabol in the mix. It’s not “Joey and whoever wins the backup job.” The possibility exists that Bart could actually fail to win a roster spot, let alone be presumed to be the #1 catcher. It’s worth remembering, though, that Wynns and Perez are non-roster invitees. Only Bart and Sabol are currently on the 40-man roster. It seems unlikely that they’d add both Perez and Wynns to the 40 or that Sabol would beat out Bart as a catcher for the Opening Day roster spot. Kapler was pretty brutally honest about the ups and downs of Bart’s rookie season.
In his bid to be the San Francisco Giants' regular catcher in 2023, Joey Bart is putting last year's bumpy campaign behind him as he tries to fend off multiple challengers. https://t.co/89lKzwXl5e
— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) February 18, 2023
In contrast, infielder David Villar seems to have been anointed the Giants’ everyday third baseman, the replacement for Evan Longoria. This time last year, Bart was the clear #1 catcher, the heir to newly retired Buster Posey. But then 2022 happened, and now, here we are. Villar right now seems to be where Bart was a year ago–kind of. The important difference between Villar and Bart, at this stage of their careers, is that Villar’s had to earn his way up the ladder. They were both from the same 2018 draft class–the last of the Sabean/Evans era–but Bart was the #2 pick in the draft and Villar was an unheralded 11th rounder. Even after hitting 20 homers in the tough Eastern League in 2021, Villar was left unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft…which fortunately for the Giants, never happened due to the 2021-22 lockout. Villar spent most of 2022 in AAA, where he hit 27 homers and earned PCL Player of the Year honors–and also hit eight homers in September/October for the Giants (nine total in MLB for the season). Now, despite the presence on the roster of veterans Wilmer Flores and J.D. Davis, the third base job is considered Villar’s to lose. That is quite a turnaround in a year.
— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) February 16, 2023
Bart, on the other hand, was basically handed the starting catcher job after Posey retired, ready or not. It turned out mostly “not.” I still think Bart will be the Opening Day catcher with most likely Perez as his backup. But it could very well be that in 2-3 years, the Giants’ catchers will be 2020 first-rounder Patrick Bailey (a switch-hitter who is much better from the left side) and Bart as his backup. Or maybe Bart and Luciano are going to be packaged in a trade with the Brewers for Corbin Burnes. A girl can dream.
The Chronicle’s Bruce Jenkins shared that Kuiper will actually do some limited traveling this year (22 road games) with Mike Krukow back in the studio in San Francisco serving as his remote analyst partner. This is good news considering what a rough go Kuiper has had the last couple of years. When Kuiper is not on the road, Dave Flemming will be the lead TV announcer with Shawn Estes, Javier Lopez, and occasionally Hunter Pence as analysts.
In wonderful news for fans so concerned about his 2022 year of torment, Duane Kuiper will work more Giants road games while retaining his partnership with Mike Krukow, who will play the analyst’s role from a studio in S.F., @Bruce_Jenkins1 writes. https://t.co/sIwevuyiwp
— Sporting Green (@SportingGreenSF) February 18, 2023
Also, if you’re an MLB.TV subscriber, they’ve announced some really good changes/upgrades for this season. For example, some local pregame/postgame shows will be available, which could be good news for those of you living out of the area. They are also adding the MiLB.TV content that we used to have to subscribe separately for. Anyway, all the details are here in this article.
I am so excited to actually be reading new Giants content after the strange offseason. I can’t wait until there are actual baseball games. I told MrLefty the other day that I can’t think of a reason to be mad at the Giants. They tried to land a big fish. They did spend money to improve the team. Whether or not I believe Zaidi is actually good at his job, the Giants have, for the most part, kept the faith with their fans. So even though I’m obviously disappointed about various decisions they’ve made, I’ll still put my energy into supporting this year’s team, or, as Webb said the other day, “Good vibes only.” Lefty out.