The slogan at the top of this post is from 1986, and it was coined in anticipation of the debuts of #2 draft pick Will Clark, along with earlier first-rounder Robby Thompson, and trade acquisition Jose Uribe. It turned out to be fairly prophetic: The 1986 Giants were surprisingly fun and competitive. Mike Krukow, then the ace of the staff, won his 20th game on the last day of the season at Dodger Stadium. And that year marked a turning of the corner–the Giants won the NL West in 1987 and the NL pennant in 1989.
We old-timers have very fond memories of the 1986 season, and not just because of “the kids” themselves or even the successful years that followed. No, we appreciate 1986 because of 1985, when the Giants, coming off a 96-loss season in 1984 (leading to the drafting of Will Clark!), were predicted to be so bad that the best their marketing department could come up with for a slogan was “Come on Giants! Hang in there!” Reader, they did not “hang in there.” They lost 100 games for the first and only time in franchise history, manager Frank Robinson (seen in this commercial with a very young Duane Kuiper) was fired before the season was over, and the year ended with new manager Roger Craig and new general manager Al Rosen in place. That regime change, buried late in a dismal season (which, by the way, led to the drafting of Matt Williams!), turned out to quietly be the key to some of the most fun and satisfying years in this Giants fan’s memory…until, of course, 2010-2014.
The Giants’ recent history hasn’t been quite as dismal as the first half of the 1980s was, though it kind of felt that way this offseason, as the Giants were spurned and played for fools by Aaron Judge and then on the wrong end of the worst pre-contract-signing physical ever, causing them to lose the chance to sign Carlos Correa. That, along with a disappointing crash to earth in 2022 after a franchise-record 107 wins in 2021, has led to the mood being kind of dark for awhile and to some tough questions: Do the Giants have any hope of competing in the NL West with the stacked Padres and Dodgers above them and the young, hungry Arizona Diamondbacks below them? When is their farm system going to produce some actual everyday players, let alone stars? Is President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi, reportedly in the last year of his contract, on the hot seat?
The Giants play one more game at Scottsdale Stadium today before flying back to the Bay Area for exhibition games in Oakland and San Francisco on Sunday and Monday. Overall, it’s been a good camp for them. Their record is 12-14-1, but (a) nobody cares much about Cactus League W-L records and (b) they played much better in the second half of the spring schedule. Though they’ve had some disappointing injury setbacks–most notably to new free agent acquisition Mitch Haniger–they haven’t sustained anything as devastating as the Dodgers losing Gavin Lux, the Mets losing Edwin Diaz, or the Phillies losing Rhys Hoskins, all for the season. Even Haniger is expected to be back within the first week or so of play.
Beyond a decent showing on the field and avoiding serious injuries (knock wood–they’re still in Arizona, Logan Webb is starting today, and we all remember…oh, I’m not even gonna stay it)–the Giants have had a series of nice surprises, particularly from their “kids.” During the Thursday night game televised back to the Bay Area, Zaidi was in the broadcast booth with Dave Flemming and Shawn Estes for awhile, and he was burbling with enthusiasm about Casey Schmitt, Bryce Johnson, Blake Sabol, and Sean Hjelle. For those of you keeping score because of your My26ManGuy™ ballot, Zaidi pretty much telegraphed that Sabol, Johnson, and Hjelle are going to make the Opening Day roster and that they’re seriously watching Schmitt’s progress as a shortstop. Together with 3B David Villar, Opening Day starter Webb, closer Camilo Doval, and set-up man Tyler Rogers, that’s an encouraging list of homegrown players who will be part of the 2023 Giants. And that doesn’t even take into account that 2019 draftee Cole Waites is expected to contribute this year and that top prospects Schmitt and lefty starter Kyle Harrison are widely expected to make their major league debuts.
- Sabol, who came into camp with a lot to prove and met the challenge admirably. He’s made such a good impression that the Giants are already figuring out how to keep him on the roster after Haniger and Austin Slater are healthy again.
- Johnson, maybe the biggest surprise story of this camp. He had a half cup of coffee with the Giants but then was taken off the 40-man roster when they needed space. No one took him in the Rule 5 Draft. He probably will not supplant Mike Yastrzemski as the Opening Day starter in CF–but the fact that there’s an argument to be made that he could have is remarkable given the back story.
- Schmitt, who won the Barney Nugent Award–edging out Sabol–for the best camp by a first-timer. He’ll start in AAA this year, dividing his time between 3B and SS. If he keeps hitting, it’s not hard to imagine a pre-June debut for Schmitt, especially when you consider that their primary SS is 36 with chronic knee problems and coming off a terrible year.
- Hjelle, who added 15 pounds of muscle and about 4-5 miles to his fastball in the offseason. He’s gone from “nice-to-have AAA depth” to “hey, maybe they should trade Jakob Junis because Hjelle’s better.”
- Newcomer Sean Manaea, who’s also turned himself into a power pitcher after a productive winter at Driveline Baseball.
- J.D. Davis, the guy no one seems to talk about much. He’s had a fine spring and has looked very good at 3B in particular.
- Thairo Estrada, the primary 2B and current backup SS, who’s hitting .324 with a 1.008 OPS. One of Alex Pavlovic’s “bold predictions” for the 2023 season was a 20-20 season for Thairo.
- Will Wilson, who put himself back on the map this spring. The Giants didn’t protect him from the Rule 5 Draft this winter, but nobody took him. He’s hit .321 with a 1.064 OPS and two homers in the Cactus League and has stayed in camp with the Giants long after another middle infielder, Isan Diaz, was demoted. Clearly the Giants like what they’re seeing from Wilson and want to see more.
- The starting rotation as a group. I watched the White Sox broadcast of the Thursday afternoon game, and they were gushing about the Giants’ great depth. They have six healthy starters, Junis and Hjelle in the bullpen, top prospect Harrison waiting in the wings, and another good camp story, Tristan Beck, also in AAA. Now, “depth” isn’t all that compelling unless the starters are actually good, but right now, it looks like they very well could be. We know about Webb. Alex Cobb and Ross Stripling are both coming off strong seasons. Manaea, as mentioned, has reinvented himself. Alex Wood and Anthony DeSclafani have so far looked more like their 2021 selves than their 2022 ones.
There are several incumbents who probably shouldn’t get too comfortable because see above:
- Yastrzemski: We love Yaz, and he’s making real money this year, so they’re not just going to dump him if he gets off to a rough start. But he hasn’t hit for average since the 2020 season, his 2022 season (.697 OPS) was a step backwards, and he’s had a pretty awful Cactus League (two hits and a .083 batting average). He remained valuable because he’s got pop (25 homers in 2021 and 17 in 2022) and plays the outfield capably in CF and at a plus level in RF. They won’t give up on him quickly, but they have Michael Conforto (and Joc Pederson) for left-handed power and Bryce Johnson for excellent CF defense.
- Joey Bart: Bart had a very uneven rookie season, but it was still startling when it was announced publicly at the beginning of camp that not only was Bart’s status as the #1 catcher not assured, but neither was his major league roster spot. Bart appears to have responded well and has had a good camp, especially defensively. But with the Giants’ obvious interest in Sabol, if Bart gets off to a slow start, it’s not inconceivable that he could get demoted to AAA again while some combination of Austin Wynns, Roberto Perez, and Sabol hold down the catching spot. A couple of beat writers (Alex Pavlovic on Giants Talk and Andrew Baggarly in The Athletic) both also said not to sleep on Patrick Bailey, the 2020 first-round pick who won the minor league Gold Glove at catcher last year. Bailey will likely open the year in AA, and from there–well, you never know.
- LaMonte Wade Jr.: The Giants have staked a lot on their belief that Wade can stay healthy and productive and be an effective heavy side of a first base platoon. Wade has been OK in camp (.235) but hasn’t set the world on fire. The Giants don’t have an obvious replacement from the left side if Wade isn’t cutting it, but it could be tempting to roll with Davis or Wilmer Flores, neither of whom has dramatic platoon splits.
- Villar will be the Opening Day 3B. The Giants feel that he’s earned a chance with his strong 2022. His poor showing in camp won’t change that. But if he continues to falter and Schmitt is raking in AAA, or Davis needs more playing time…well, things could change.
- Brandon Crawford: Yes, Crawford will start at SS for the 12th consecutive Opening Day, and that’s to be commended. I can’t imagine them ever DFA’ing him before his contract ends. But he could be relegated to part-time defensive replacement if he has another year like 2022 and if Estrada and/or Schmitt appear to be a day-in/day-out choice.
- The free agent acquisitions: Conforto, Haniger, Pederson
- The whole starting rotation
- The whole bullpen
It appears that the Opening Day bullpen will include the following: Doval, Taylor Rogers, John Brebbia, Tyler Rogers, Scott Alexander, Junis, and Hjelle. With the exception of Hjelle, all of those guys are veterans (yes, I’ll even give Doval that designation). Hjelle has options, and if they feel they’d like to see Waites or Melvin Adon or Kade McClure, that’s how they’ll play it. But there shouldn’t be much volatility within that group.
Mariners at Giants, 1:05 p.m. at Scottsdale Stadium
TBD vs. Logan Webb
TV: NBC Sports app (MLB.TV if you have it); Radio: KNBR
Last game from the desert. Don’t. Get. Hurt.
“You Gotta Like These Kids” was a great slogan. Not until 2010 (“There’s Magic Inside”) was there a slogan that fit what happened so well. The 2023 slogan is “Nothing Like It,” and–well, that could cut both ways, couldn’t it? Can’t wait for Opening Day. Lefty out.