Sure, he's the odd man out in what people think is a three person race in right field, and Brian Sabean has all but announced that Linden will be spending time in the minors. Still, Linden is coming off his second straight hot stint in the Arizona Fall League, and after a slow start in '03 in Fresno, he posted a solid year in AAA. If he is able to have a hot spring, and continue it with a hot start in Fresno, he will not be able to be ignored as an option in right field in the majors.
#9 – Pedro Feliz
Feliz is ever the enigma to the Giants and their fans. On one hand he has shown a prodigious amount of power in limited at bats. On the other, he's shown a prodigious lack of plate discipline, having a batting average and on base percentage lower than Neifi Perez. However, that's not the reason to watch him. Alou has announced that Pedro will be given a tryout at shortstop. Pedro has not been a defensive problem, and might be able to handle himself at short. He could be an interesting alternative to Perez, offensively, if he makes it.
#8 – Jason Dallimore
Sure, he's a 30 year old who has not yet played a day in the majors. That doesn't mean he can't have an impact on the team, particularly if Pedro succeeds in his audition at shortstop. If Pedro becomes an option at shortstop, the Giants will need another option backing up the rest of the infield, particularly platooning with Snow. Although some of the conventional wisdom might suggest Tony Torcato, a converted 3B, or Lance Niekro, an unnatural fit as another left hander, Dallimore may emerge as the best option. He's the most versatile, playing 1B, 2B, 3B and the OF, and was by far the best hitter. In fact, he was the top hitter in the Pacific Coast League, batting .354 with a .427 OBP. You don't lead any league, major or minor, on a fluke. His plate discipline should translate fairly well to the majors, and provide a good contrast to a bench focused more on power and gap hitting.
#7 – Michael Tucker
The Three-Headed outfield monster known as Jeffrey Tuckermohr may deserve watching in it's entirety, but Tucker is the most important of the three. As the left handed man in an outfield with many platoon possibilities, the success of the outfield will hinge on his ability to split the duties with either Hammonds or Grissom, both of whom have great splits vs. left handed pitching, but not against righties. Tucker's ability to spell at least one of them regularly will be make everyone more effective. Also, being the primary left handed bat off the bench only increases his role on the team. His key is to not chase high fastballs, and hit line drives rather than aiming for the fences. If he does that, he'll be in good shape for the year.
#6 – Brett Tomko
Tomko is going to be an easy player to like. That won't be a problem. The question will be how he'll fare next year. He developed a cutter in the 2nd half of the season, and blew the competition away. It absolutely has to be a part of his repertoire this season. Not only does it give him yet another pitch to mix up, it cuts down on his fly balls, which of course is the cause of his biggest problem: home runs. If that cut fastball is here, effective, and something he can throw for strikes, Tomko will not only be a solid part of the back of the rotation, he could become the surprise starter of the year in the National League.
#5 – Jason Schmidt
Last year, he was called the best pitcher in the National League by some, and yet he spent the last two months of the season throwing pretty much only a fastball and a change up due to his injured arm. This year he could be even better, if that's possible. But he has to be healthy. He's got a much better prognosis than the other pitcher coming off surgery. That said, he still has some hurdles to overcome. His health will be a key issue in spring training. If he's ready to go by the start of the season, our rotation will be in good shape.
#4 – Edgardo Alfonzo
Alfonzo was potentially the most important free agent of last year, and the bottom line of the matter is that Alfonzo flat out did not perform the first half of last season. No one, and I mean no one, can ‘protect' Bonds and stop the walks from coming. But Alfonzo is important, because he's a potential .300 hitter that can take advantage of Bonds being on base all the time, and the other hitters ahead of him like Durham and whomever hits second. Last year, Alfonzo's slow start was tempered by blistering starts by Grissom and Cruz, and then gutsy pitching in May. That can't be counted on again. Alfonzo doesn't need to be white hot early, but he needs to be awake and alive this spring for the Giants to compete. He's the run producer.
#3 – Rob Nen
The other pitcher coming off of surgery, and the more questionable one. Nen is most of the way back from surgery, and is throwing off of a mound already, but he needs to complete more steps, including throwing at full velocity and throwing competitively. He may start spring training throwing in the minor league camp, but wherever he is, he bears watching. With him, the Giants bullpen is one of the tops in the majors. Without him, the second highest paid player on the team, the Giants have a lot of questions to answer.
#2 – A.J. Pierzynski
A.J. is this year's Alfonzo, almost moreso. A.J. will protect Alfonzo, and help him get more pitches to hit. A.J. will be the guy to hit Bonds and others in if Alfonzo fails. And most importantly, A.J. will provide something that was missing from the team last year: a consistent presence against right handed pitching. The Giants were ranked 21st in that category in the majors last year, with the top two producers against right handed pitching being Bonds and then Snow in a limited role. Considering right handed pitching makes up as much as 75% of the league's pitching, having a more consistent threat against it, particularly in the middle of the order, is very important. Like Alfonzo, A.J. needs to show up early and often for the Giants.
#1 – Barry Bonds
Okay, so I said this list was about players not named Barry, and even then, it should be obvious. Bonds is still the most important player on the Giants, and every offseason brings questions concerning his age and preparedness. This year is even more important, as Bonds has had to deal with a lot this past offseason, between not having his father, whom he has often called his best coach, and dealing with the distraction caused by his personal trainer's indiscretions concerning steroids. Barry has always had a great support team, but it always comes back to his commitment to the game, which seems stronger than ever. I don't foresee any problems, but still, if you're going to watch anyone this spring, you should probably keep an eye on the greatest hitter of all time.
Enjoy the spring. 2004 will be a very interesting year.
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