Spot: 5th Starter
This is the most visible and important battle in Spring Training.
Going into the spring, the edge was given to Hennessey, but that edge may have dwindled. Any of these three might take the spot. Hennessey had the job more or less for much of 2005, making 21 starts on the season, and handling himself pretty well. He had a 4.64 ERA on the year, going 5-8. He allowed 3 or less runs in 6 of the team’s last 7 games, and for the most part kept the team in games.
Kevin Correia’s chances took a hit early in Spring Training, when he started having some back pains. While he says it’s gone now, it puts him in a tough position. Correia also spent some time with the Giants in 2005, and had a 4.63 ERA in 11 starts and 16 overall appearances. However, his control has wavered in the most inopportune of times. If he is to win this job, he’ll have to show he can throw strikes and bring his stuff, probably the best of the three, consistently every night.
But it’s Wright who is the wild card in all this. The longtime Rockie signed a minor league deal and is a non-roster invite to Giants camp, but could make an impact. He may not have impressive stats, but he did spend most of his career in Colorado, posting his best numbers in Milwaukee in 2000. His specialty is a sinker, which some have theorized couldn’t break as well in thin air. But Wright’s most interesting connection is with Todd Greene, the former Rockie catcher who is also a non-roster invitee and a favorite in the backup catcher competition. Them having worked together might help put them both over the top.
The Giants won’t be asking much from this role. They don’t need an ace, just someone who will keep them in games. It’s likely that they’ll go with Wright, although Hennessey could do just as good a job. Wright’s got the chance to be better, but if he fails, Hennessey will be waiting in the wings.
SFDugout.com’s bet: Jamey Wright
Spot: Backup Catcher
This is the competition that was the biggest question a couple of weeks ago, but the late addition to the battle might end up with the job.
After the Giants were unable to sign a veteran backup for most of the offseason, the battle seemed to be down to three minor leaguers. Justin Knoedler is considered the best long term talent, but is still raw offensively. Eliezer Alfonzo impressed after big years in both San Jose and Norwich after being signed as a minor league free agent. He’s not the best contact hitter, but he has some serious pop, and that got him a surprise spot on the 40 man roster last fall. Yamid Haad, also a minor league free agent signed before last season, appeared in 17 games for the Giants, but in going 2 for 28 he failed to impress many.
The signing of Todd Greene appears to have thrown a monkey wrench in those plans. Greene, a 10 year vet, came to the Giants under an unusual chain of events involving the Padres signing him, then releasing him after the signing of Mike Piazza. He’s a career .248 hitter, but he’s better known for being a solid guy off the bench and a good defensive backup.
As was already mentioned, Greene’s got a connection with Wright, but that’s not as key to Greene getting the job. He’ll probably get it because of his experience and that the minor leaguers just aren’t quite ready for the bigs just yet.
SFDugout.com’s bet: Todd Greene
Spot: The Bullpen
If the 5th starter job is the most visible, the fight for the bullpen is the most wide open. There’s not even a guarantee as to how many jobs are open.
Right now, there are four spots taken for sure: closer Armando Benitez, set-up men Steve Kline and Tim Worrell, and swingman Jeff Fassero. I wouldn’t even say that Tyler Walker, the fill-in closer from 2005, is entirely secure with the strong group that will be pursuing him. With their depth, the Giants might even consider trading him to a team looking for an experienced closer back-up option, to help free up a precious roster spot if more than one non-roster invitee makes the team. Also, the Giants may carry an extra reliever, bringing the open spots up to 4 from the 3 in a normal bullpen.
The most likely to get a job is Jack Taschner. He dominated AAA in 2005, and had the best ERA in the major league bullpen. Having another lefty to work between Fassero and Kline would be useful. Behind him, Scott Munter was the coaching staff’s favorite youngster, and he could be in line to get more work this year, if healthy. He says he is. The other debut from last year, Jeremy Accardo, is a little less polished than the others, despite having really good stuff. He’s the most vulnerable of the three, and is a good candidate to get sent back to AAA for more seasoning.
Two minor league free agent signings are interesting additions to the mix. Matt Anderson, a former #1 overall pick in 1997, was brought in. The Giants hope that working with Trevor Wilson and Dave Righetti, he can harness his still impressive stuff and make a run, but he’s yet to show consistency either in the majors or minors. Meanwhile, southpaw Michael Tejera has put together several impressive AAA campaigns the last few years, but hasn’t yet found out how to do it in the majors. The Giants are hoping for a Taschner-like revelation from him. Either of these guys could make the team with a big spring, or impress enough to be options later in the season if needed.
And then there’s the other prospects. The two most obvious are Joe Bateman and Brian Wilson. Wilson, who has classic closer stuff and the best velocity of the bullpen candidates, made a quick rise up the system. Despite some struggles in his short time in AAA, he’s got big league stuff and will debut soon, the question is simply when. Joe Bateman closed for the San Jose Giants, but his side-armed delivery is mature and he could be pushed all the way with a really big spring. He projects to be a Scott Linebrink type reliever. Both have one disadvantage, though: they aren’t on the 40 man roster, and them getting jobs would mean even more shuffling.
And to top it all off, there’s the guys who don’t even know they’re in the competition for the bullpen yet. Any of the 5th starter candidates could find their way into the bullpen if they don’t get the rotation spot. While it’s less likely with Hennessey and Correia, Wright may ask to look for a job elsewhere if he’s not kept on the active roster, and the Giants may try to keep him there.
This could really go in any direction, but we expect the Giants to go with what they already know, and not require any more shuffling. Walker will stay in the mix, with Taschner giving the team a third lefty and Munter being Alou’s groundball situational guy.
SFDugout.com bets: Tyler Walker, Jack Taschner, Scott Munter
Spot: 25th Man
The Giants have some interesting flexibility, with Mark Sweeney able to back-up both in the infield and outfield, essentially becoming a 5th outfielder behind Finley. They have one spot left on their roster. It’s unlikely to be a backup catcher, but they could go for another outfielder to backup the aged outfield, or an infielder to provide depth behind Jose Vizcaino. Or, they could go with an extra pitcher, especially considering the depth of the talent there.
In the outfield, it’s Linden and Ellison. Linden had been thought to be out of options, but it has since been revealed that he can spend one more year in the minors. But after a year in which he would’ve been the PCL MVP had he not been promoted in August, he doesn’t want to. He has to cut down on the strikeouts, however, and prove he belongs. Ellison profiles better as a bench player, since he’s a very good defender and a fast runner. Ellison bulked up for this spring, and is hitting the ball even harder, a good thing for him after last year.
Amongst the infielders, Angel Chavez would seem to have a nose up on hot prospect Kevin Frandsen. Chavez got the call to the Giants after Deivi Cruz was traded, and did alright for himself, going 5 for 19 for a .263 average. His versatility and experience might give him an edge, but the team might also feel that Frandsen would be better served starting in the minors and getting experience at third and shortstop. The Giants will consider him to replace either Ray Durham or Pedro Feliz in 2007, but would most likely rather see what he can do starting and not sitting on the bench.
But having an extra pitcher might help the Giants, as there’s still some worries about things like the health of Schmidt, the effectiveness of whomever wins the 5th starter job, and of course, manager Felipe Alou overworking the bullpen again. Any of the bullpen candidates could make it.
This is a tough one, but the Giants will probably go with having another option on the bench. None of their current bench players will be ideal pinch runners, so having Ellison would bring a talent no one else could. And with Bonds playing, a good pinch runner might be used often.
SFDugout.com bet: Jason Ellison
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