SAN FRANCISCO — With fewer than two weeks until the Giants travel to Los Angeles for Opening Day at Dodger Stadium, the team has transitioned from holding live batting practice sessions to intrasquad scrimmages at Oracle Park.
The Giants are planning on playing a pair of exhibition games against the Oakland A’s (July 20, 21) but the coronavirus pandemic will force clubs across baseball to prepare for a season in an unusual manner.
In lieu of spending five weeks playing against opposing clubs in spring training, teams are left to hold intrasquad games and hope players are ready to jump headfirst into a condensed 60-game season.
If you’re wondering what’s happening out at Oracle Park, here’s a look at how the Giants are readying themselves for the regular season.
Johnny Cueto pitched in a live batting practice Friday and was initially scheduled to throw two innings and face eight or nine hitters.
The right-hander and likely Opening Day starter was so efficient the Giants scrambled to send extra hitters to the plate each “inning” because Cueto recorded several one and two-pitch outs. Cueto allowed two hits including a hard-hit double down the right field line to Joey Bart, but also recorded eight groundball including an easy 6-4-3 double play after giving up a single to Donovan Solano.
The Giants don’t have the radar gun turned on in the ballpark, but Cueto’s velocity appeared normal and he’s not the type of pitcher who’s ever too concerned about how hard he’s throwing.
Longoria, Crawford, Solano ahead of the rest
Through the first week of workouts, no Giants player is hitting the ball harder than third baseman Evan Longoria, who launched a two-run home run off left-hander Conner Menez in a live batting practice session Friday.
Longoria is driving the ball all over the field and has drawn consistent praise from manager Gabe Kapler for continuing to find the barrel.
Shortstop Brandon Crawford isn’t far behind and has shown off impressive plate discipline so far. The Giants aren’t keeping stats right now, but it’s unlikely any player has worked deeper counts or drawn more walks than Crawford, who is attempting to rebound from a disappointing 2019 season in which he hit .228.
A third infielder has been among the Giants top hitters this week and that’s utility man Donovan Solano, who could wind up starting at second base on Opening Day if the Giants send a right-handed heavy lineup out to face Clayton Kershaw.
When asked about Solano’s play thus far, Kapler joked about his nickname “Donnie Barrels” and noted the Giants believe he can build off an impressive 2019 season because he has some of the best hand-eye coordination of any player on the Giants. Solano’s bat-to-ball skills are reminiscent of Joe Panik during the best years of his career and make him a difficult player to strike out.
Relievers to watch
Outside of left-hander Tony Watson and righties Trevor Gott and Tyler Rogers, it seems as if no pitchers have locked up Opening Day roster spots as members of the Giants’ bullpen.
So much uncertainty isn’t necessarily a bad thing because the Giants like the group of pitchers they have in camp and believe the competition for jobs will heighten the intensity of intrasquad scrimmages.
A handful of right-handers looked impressive in Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage as Sam Coonrod, Andrew Triggs and Rico Garcia all made compelling cases they should be traveling with the team to Dodger Stadium to open the season.
Coonrod is attempting to establish his slider more and needs to throw more strikes, but he has one of the best fastballs of any reliever vying for a bullpen spot and his four-seamer had plenty of life Saturday.
Triggs is a former Oakland A’s starter who can go multiple innings at a time and appears to be particularly tough on right-handed hitters. The 31-year-old has a crossfire delivery and deceives hitters with his motion in a way that Kapler said is similar to longtime Cincinnati Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo.
It’s hard to know right now if Triggs can be as effective against lefties (he gave up a two-run home run to Pablo Sandoval Saturday), so expect the Giants to test him against more left-handed hitters in intrasquad games this week.
Garcia’s name was in the news this week for tough reason as he was the pitcher who allowed a home run to 18-year-old prospect Marco Luciano, but he was also the only pitcher who had a 1-2-3 inning in Saturday’s 6.5-inning intrasquad game. A former minor league starter in the Rockies organization, Garcia is consistently in the mid-90s with his fastball and ran his four-seamer up to 97 miles per hour in spring training.
The kids draw rave reviews
In a Zoom call with reporters Sunday, Mauricio Dubón spent time praising the group of young international prospects in camp including Luciano, Luis Toribio and Alexander Canario.
He called Luciano’s home run off Garcia the “Loudest sound of the bat I’ve heard so far,” which is quite a compliment considering outfielder Hunter Pence hit a booming home run in Saturday’s intrasquad game.
The group of prospects the Giants have in camp has drawn rave reviews from Kapler and veteran players and it’s easy to see why members of the organization are so excited about the team’s future. Luciano clearly has star potential, Toribio has a swing that’s reminiscent of Pablo Sandoval’s and Canario arrived in camp having put on some good muscle after showcasing impressive power with short-season Salem-Keizer last year.
Plenty of other top Giants prospects including Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos are making the most of opportunities to work with big league coaches and it’s increasingly clear how much of a competitive advantage the prospects who are in camp will have compared to the minor leaguers forced to work out on their own this summer.
A possible starting 10
Kapler has given every indication the Giants plan to vary their lineups regularly and have platoons at most positions, so expect a lineup that features at least six or seven righties on Opening Day when the club faces Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.
A way-too-early prediction based on what we’ve seen in camp and what we know about the Giants’ preferences:
- Mauricio Dubón, CF
- Mike Yastrzemski, RF
- Wilmer Flores, 1B
- Evan Longoria, 3B
- Hunter Pence, LF
- Darin Ruf, DH
- Donovan Solano, 2B
- Brandon Crawford, SS
- Tyler Heineman, C
Pitcher: Johnny Cueto