The starting rotation, Cordier, De Paula, Law, and Adrianza shine early for Giants
Spring training stats don’t count and spring training results don’t matter, but you’d still obviously prefer your team to play well rather than poorly. For the San Francisco Giants this spring, most things are going their way thus far.
Coming off an 86-loss season, it could be argued that the Giants need to perform well this spring to boost their confidence for when the games actually count. The main culprit during the Giants fall from grace last year was the downfall of the starting rotation, which finished with the National League’s third-worst ERA after finishing fifth in 2012, second in 2011 and 2010, and third in 2009. On the back of the strong rotation work, the Giants put together four straight winning seasons from 2009-2012 with World Series titles to show for their efforts in 2010 and 2012.
If the Giants are going to get back to the postseason dance, they’ll need the rotation to move towards the top of the league in ERA once more. If the Giants want to play with the big boys in the National League, they’ve got to pitch, and so far so good on that front this spring.
After Tim Lincecum threw three shutout innings on Friday, Giants starters—Lincecum, Opening Day hurler Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, free-agent acquisition Tim Hudson, Ryan Vogelsong, and top prospect Edwin Escobar—had combined to allow just one earned run 23 innings of work. Again, those numbers don’t count and the starters are only going through the lineup—often lineups in name only at that—once right now, but it sure beats getting pounded all spring after last year’s debacle.
Escobar is one of a handful of players to focus on this spring. The 21-year-old lefty ranks as Baseball America’s 56th best prospect heading into 2014 after posting a 2.80 ERA with 146 strikeouts over 128.2 innings of work between High-A San Jose and Double-A Richmond. He doesn’t have the same ace potential as top prospect Kyle Crick, but he has better control at this point and is closer to big-league ready. If one of the starting five were to go down, he’d likely get the call.
Another top prospect who could actually break with the club is reliever Derek Law. The 23-year-old righty struck out 102 hitters against only nine unintentional walks over 66.1 innings between Rookie ball and Single-A last year before dominating in the more advanced Arizona Fall League. His fastball sits in the low 90s and touches 94, and as this video demonstrates, he’s got a plus-plus bender and some funk to his delivery.
Two other names to keep an eye on in the race for the final bullpen jobs are waiver claim Jose De Paula and free-agent pickup Erik Cordier. De Paula, a 26-year-old lefty claimed off waivers from the Padres, has been the talk of camp. He’s been clocked in the 92-93 mph range while striking out three over three shutout innings thus far. De Paula posted a 3.86 ERA over 14 starts at Double-A last season.
Cordier would bring some much-needed heat to a bullpen that lacks flamethrowers. He consistently sits in the upper 90s, touching 100 mph on the gun. Cordier’s problem has been getting that heat over the plate, as the 28-year-old righty walked 28 in just 53 innings last season at Triple-A.
Yusmeiro Petit, prospect Heath Hembree, George Kontos, Jean Machi, Kameron Loe, and Dan Runzler are also in competition for bullpen jobs this spring. Petit appeared assured of a job after he pitched well and nearly tossed a perfect game late last year for the Giants, but he’s been blasted for 11 hits and eight runs in just 2.1 innings this spring, putting his spot in jeopardy right off the bat.
Ehire Adrianza is someone to watch among the position players. He’s always been known as a slick fielder, but last year he started to finally show some promise with the stick by slashing .310/.409/.441 at Triple-A Fresno. He’s out of options, so he’ll have to beat out either Joaquin Arias or Tony Abreu for a spot on the bench as a reserve infielder, unless Marco Scutaro has to open the season on the disabled list. Adrianza is a better defender than Arias or Abreu, particularly at shortstop. Arias is better suited to third or second given his lack of arm strength from a serious shoulder injury suffered earlier in his career. The switch-hitting Adrianza would be a good platoon partner for Brandon Crawford, who struggles to hit left-handed pitching.
Scutaro’s ongoing health issues have been the one downside in camp thus far. The diminutive 38-year-old second baseman hasn’t played in a game yet this spring as he continues to progress from lingering back and hip issues that limited him to 127 games last year. The Giants would be ecstatic to get that much run from Scutaro in 2014.
The bullpen battles and the fight for the final bench spots are worth paying close attention to during the rest of the spring. Will Adrianza beat out Abreu or Arias for a job? Will Law break camp with the big club? Will Cordier harness his stuff and give the Giants a much-needed power arm in the pen?
The veterans with track records don’t need to perform well in spring training to earn their keep. However, for guys like Adrianza, this is a chance to finally break through. That’s really what spring training is about.