One Week

Spring Training 2014 has officially begun, as the Arizona Diamondbacks reported yesterday, February 7. We still have to wait six more days for our beloved Giants pitchers and catchers to report, and I am beyond excited. It’s the single greatest Valentines Day present that I could ever ask for. Just a couple quick blurbs before the preseason kicks off.

How many games will Hunter Pence play?

In 2013, Pence played all 162 games in right field, earning him the respect of fans and the Willie Mac Award from his teammates. On the final weekend of the season, he signed a $90 million/5-year contract complete with a no-trade clause, so we’ll be watching his awkward movements in right field for a long time. But will he start every regular season game for the second straight year?

General Manager Brian Sabean isn’t convinced that it’s the best thing for Pence or the team.

“That’s Pence’s mentality, but I don’t know if it’s the smartest thing in the world for any player. Everybody needs a break, and more so because of our travel schedule as a West coast team. We lose a lot of free days…that’s up to [Bochy], but that’d be my opinion.”

It might be up to Bochy, but the Giants manager knows that it won’t be easy convincing Pence to rest. But fatigue didn’t seem to be too much of a factor for the right fielder last season, as he had career-highs in home runs (27) and stolen bases (22) and crushed 99 RBIs.

“I don’t know how much time he’ll get off, if any,” laughed the skipper. “I’m sure that’s gonna be a battle.”

Not surprisingly, Pence’s biggest concern – perhaps only concern – is what’s best for the 2014 Giants as a whole.

“My expectation right now is to go out there and play. Bochy is the manager, and I trust that. Our only goal is to win the World Series, so that’s my only focus. It’s not ‘how many games am I going to play?’ That has nothing to do with the team winning the World Series. It’s what can we do to be the strongest team on a daily basis.”

That guy sure knows how to endear himself to fans and teammates.

The bullpen:

When asked if the bullpen would be the biggest area of competition, Sabean responded:

“Well, I would think so, withstanding health. We expect everybody to be healthy day one to start the season, but we can’t predict that.”

The Giants will take 11-12 men to San Francisco with them to make up the the pitching staff, including starters. Let’s assume everyone is healthy at the end of Spring Training. This is what we can be sure of:

1. Madison Bumgarner
2. Matt Cain
3. Tim Lincecum
4. Tim Hudson
5. Ryan Vogelsong
6. Javier Lopez
7. Jeremy Affeldt
8. Sergio Romo

That leaves 3-4 spots up for grabs coming out of Scottsdale. Right-handers George Kontos and Santiago Casilla, if healthy, are very likely to be on the Opening Day roster. So who are some the guys who could possibly take that final spot (or spots)?

Sabean said that he’s anxious to see what some of these young guys can do.

“A lot of us are interested in seeing what Law is able to do. He was lights-out in the Fall League…Dunning also. Dunning had some experience last year….And Huff was acquired really similar to Petit, as protection as a long reliever. He’s got 54 Major League starts. Granted, he has to make the team. That was the method to the madness -he’s a lefty to Petit’s righty.”

That’s a lot of reliever info going on in that statement, so let’s take a look at these prospects one by one:

Derek Law: The 24-year-old right hander owns a career 2.57 ERA in three minor league seasons. Last year between San Jose, Augusta, and the Arizona Fall League he gave up just two home runs total in 66.1 innings. He struck out 102, walked only 12, and had a WHIP of 0.95. Law is the biggest long-shot to make the Opening Day roster, but if his Spring Training performance matches his 2013 numbers, he could be very valuable on that AT&T mound.

Jake Dunning: The tall and lanky 26-year-old got some big league experience in 2013 going 0-2, although that record is deceiving. Dunning was mostly used in relief during games in which the Giants were already behind, and he posted a 2.84 ERA, allowing 20 hits in 25.1 innings. He did allow 11 walks while striking out 16, which gave him a WHIP of 1.22. It’ll be interesting to see if his time in San Francisco helped him to be ready for 2014.

David Huff: The Giants acquired the 29-year-old lefty from the Yankees for cash considerations at the end of January. He struggled in New York in 2013, posting a 3-1 record but a 5.50 ERA. He gave up 33 hits in 37.2 innings, including seven home runs. He did have 31 Ks over that span, though. He also struggled during his time in AAA last season, although it was an improvement. He went 4-7 with a 3.90 ERA and gave up eight home runs in 22 games. Huff also allowed 97 hits in 92.1 minor-league innings. But, like Sabean said, he can handle a role in long relief, and a left-handed long reliever could be a valuable asset to the team.

Yusmeiro Petit: Petit gave us an amazing story last season when he came one pitch away from throwing a perfect game. The 29-year-old started seven games for San Francisco in 2013 and was impressive, going 4-1 with a 3.56 ERA. In 48 innings, he allowed four home runs and 11 walks and struck out 47. Opponents hit .251 off of him, and his WHIP of 1.19 was seventh-best on the team.

A guy not mentioned by Sabean but who I’m very excited to see in Spring Training is Heath Hembree. The 25-year-old closer was impressive in his 7.2 innings with San Francisco last year, posting a 0.00 ERA and a 0.78 WHIP. He allowed just four hits and two walks while striking out 12 during that span. In his minor league career, Hembree owns a 3.15 ERA over four seasons. He’s 87-for-97 on save opportunities and has given up just 11 home runs. Hembree was ranked the Giants #6 prospect at the end of last season, and if any injury befalls Romo or the back end of the bullpen, Hembree could be the closer of the future.

All in all, I am beyond excited to keep a close eye on the bullpen competition (among others) when I head to Spring Training in a month. Thank goodness baseball season is right around the corner!