Let the games begin! Baseball season has finally arrived with clubs from both the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues kicking off the 2016 baseball calendar with their first Spring Training games.
While these games do not mean much in terms of record, they mean the world to many players who are fighting for a job or hoping to crack the 25 man roster. Last year, not many predicted Matt Duffy would make the Giants 25-man roster as the Giants were set with their everyday infield in addition to backup support with Joaquin Arias and Ehire Adrianza. Both Arias and Adrianza had the inside track as they were under contract or out of options. But, Duffy’s strong spring was enough to convince Giants management to risk Adrianza to waivers and allow for Duffy to open the day as a utility player. As they say, the rest is history.
Similarly, the Giants did the same with Brandon Belt in 2011. Considered one of their top prospects prior to the season, Belt had a tremendous Spring Training, enough for the Giants to move Aubrey Huff to the outfield and allow Belt to start the season the Giants opening day first baseman. 2011 was an up and down year for Belt, but these are just two recent examples of players who were awarded after outperforming their competitors.
So, who will be this year’s Matt Duffy and Brandon Belt? There are a few options to keep a close eye on.
1.) Kelby Tomlinson: The 25 year old received plenty of playing time at second base in 2015 due to Joe Panik’s nagging back injury. And the glasses-wearing infielder lived up to expectations by producing a .303 batting average in 178 plate appearances.
But, Tomlinson is not favored to win a backup role. Similar to Duffy last spring, Tomlinson will need to prove to Giants management that he is capable of playing multiple positions, so if Tomlinson can thrive during the spring at shortstop, third base and potentially the outfield, then the Giants may consider the speedster who already has a better offensive track record than Adrianza.
2.) Jarret Parker: Parker busted on the scene last year, namely remembered for his three home run game against the Oakland Athletics in late September last year. Parker also delivered two pinch hit home runs, and pinch hitting was definitely a lack of depth for the Giants last year. I mean, Madison Bumgarner was frequently summoned to pinch hit, which was great for fans to see, but put things into perspective.
Parker is able to handle all three outfield positions adequately, but he’ll need to cut down on his strikeouts this spring. The Giants have a fairly fragile outfield, so if Parker is able to make the team, he should expect to see plenty of playing time if he produces this spring.
3.) Kyle Blanks: Blanks was a former top prospect with the San Diego Padres, but he hasn’t had a productive season since his rookie year in 2009, when he knocked out 10 home runs in just 172 plate appearances. Injuries and inconsistency has plagued Blanks, who will fight for a role as a backup first baseman, left fielder, and pinch hitter.
Blanks has more experience than Parker, and serves as a power threat from the right side of the plate. If he has a good showing this spring, he’ll likely have an edge over Parker when it comes down to decision making.
4.) Conor Gillaspie: The Giants former supplementary pick is back with the organization that traded him to the Chicago White Sox. It seems every offseason the Giants bring back one of their former farmhands, and this year, it’s Gillespie.
Gillaspie had high expectations after being drafted in 2008, the same draft that produced Buster Posey.
He didn’t quite fit in with the clubhouse nor did he perform, causing the Giants to give up on him. Gillespie fully plans on making the most of this opportunity. Primarily a third baseman, he can also play an adequate second base and has a decent track record from the left side of the plate.
He also homered in the Giants first spring training game of the year, so he’s off to a good start.
5.) Mac Williamson: Williamson is considered one of the Giants top prospects, and has plenty of power. Just 25 years old, the Giants may not want to take at-bats away from him by having him sit on the bench at the major league level.
However, noting the injury prone outfield, Williamson will likely see himself at AT&T fairly frequently. He already impressed the Giants in his brief stint with the club last year, but a strong spring training showing can only help his cause when they decide to summon another outfielder during the dog days of Summer baseball.
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