Spring Training Update: March 18th

Let's face it, the biggest news for the Giants this week didn't even occur in Arizona. With Bonds having surgery and unlikely to be ready for the start of the season, all the positional decisions are thrown into question. What's new? Who's stepping up, and who's stepping back? All that, and a trade rumor?

Game Results:

Tuesday, March 15th: San Francisco 3, Milwaukee (ss) 2 (8 innings)
Wednesday, March 16th: Seattle 4, San Francisco 1
Thursday, March 17th: San Francisco 7, Texas 5

The Big News

Barry Bonds had another operation on his knee. It appears to be another relatively minor operation, which means one should expect a 4 to 6 week rehab. Of course, things change, but the bottom line is: Barry almost certainly won’t be around for Opening Day, nor some portion of April at least.

That brings up a load of questions with regards to position battles. At first glance, the obvious guess is that in place of Bonds, the Giants will try to carry another outfielder, possibly opening up 2 outfield reserve spots to start the season.

Or will it?

The guy who was in left field on Thursday, the first action after Bonds’ surgery? Pedro Feliz. And talk from the Giants seem to indicate that Peter Happy will start quite a few games in left field in Bonds’ absence. But, of course, Feliz spent essentially all of last season backing up the infield. Will Feliz still be the first option to replace Snow when facing lefthanders? What about when Alfonzo needs a break? And what about the assumed 4th outfielder, Michael Tucker?

The questions, of course, cannot be answered today. The decisions won’t be made for a while. There will be hints along the way (Anyone notice that Snow’s two games started this week were both against left handed pitching?), and plenty of guessing. But the bottom line is that there is suddenly more room and more options for all position players on the roster, and the door is wide open for a top performer. Which brings us to:

Top Performer: Jason Ellison
Since Monday: 4 for 8, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 Runs Scored
For the Spring: 8 for 25, 1 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 6 Runs Scored

Since Monday, Ellison doubled his hit total and raised his average from .235 to .320. A big part of that was Thursday’s performance post-Bonds’ surgery, which was a 3 for 4 day with a double, RBI and 2 runs. While this shows how one big day can have a huge effect on overall numbers when you only have a couple of weeks of playing time, Ellison is getting hot right when the Giants are looking at the outfield and saying ‘What Now?’ Timing isn’t everything, but it doesn’t hurt. Ellison has also drawn 5 walks in spring training, giving him an impressive .433 OBP, and one of his hits Thursday was a beautiful bunt for a hit that hugged the first base line, but never ever touched it, much less be in danger of going foul. Ellison obviously can’t replace Bonds’ presence on any level, but he’s got the tools of a great defensive outfielder and, ideally, a top of the order hitter. He obviously has a long way to go before batting that high in the order, but it’s Ellison’s time to emerge as whatever player he’ll become.

Michael Tucker Available For Trade?

The St. Petersburg Times recently wrote an article about Devil Rays Manager Lou Pinella being worried about the team’s lack of offense, and one of the options that they mentioned is trading for a left handed hitter. One of the mentioned options was Tucker.

The likelihood of the Giants trading an outfielder with Bonds’ surgery may seem slight at best, but it’s no impossibility. Tucker’s also recovering from injury, back problems that have kept Tucker’s production down all spring. The Giants don’t need another ailing outfielder when missing their best, and Tucker does make a lot more than the rookies that would replace him.

If Tucker were to leave, it’s not impossible that the Giants would use Ellison as the top backup outfielder, while using Torcato as the team’s top left handed bat off the bench. These players may not be able to match Tucker’s offensive production, but Ellison’s defensive benefits may make up for it, and limited at bats would help keep Torcato’s weaknesses hidden. This remains speculation, but it’s another of millions of possible scenarios.

Position Battles:
Position Players (Stats to date):
Jason Ellison: 8 for 25 (.320), 1 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 6 RS
Todd Linden: 6 for 32 (.188), 1 2B, 7 RBI, 2 RS
Tony Torcato: 7 for 18 (.389), 2 2B, 3 RBI, 4 RS
Adam Shabala: 4 for 16 (.250), 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 RS
Lance Niekro: 9 for 23 (.391), 2 2B, 4 RBI, 2 RS
Brian Dallimore: 13 for 18 (464), 3 2B, 7 RBI, 4 RS

The possibilities seem endless for this group in the aftermath of Bonds’ surgery. Will one or more of the outfielders get their shots? The most likely scenario is Ellison and Torcato making the roster, and getting to battle it out for who doesn’t get sent down when Bonds returns for another few weeks in the majors. This scenario is very intriguing if the Giants make Feliz’s top priority backing up the infield, leaving open outfield spots against left handed hitters (Advantage: the right handed Ellison) and when Alfonzo needs a break.

Another scenario that got mentioned by Alou is having Niekro play first when facing left handed pitching, allowing Feliz to start in the outfield. Niekro, a first and third baseman, has always been blocked by Feliz. If Feliz begins playing a lot in the outfield, there’s no more block.

And if someone’s going to discuss having another backup infielder, it’s hard to ignore Brian Dallimore. No one has performed as consistently the entire spring offensively, and he’s shined at times with the glove, though Thursday at third, he had two misplays (one official error). Dallimore also is more versatile than Niekro, being able to play any infield position (he played shortstop several times in Fresno last season).

Adam Shabala and Todd Linden’s chances of making the team are getting slimmer, though. Shabala’s playing time has been spotty at best. Linden, meanwhile, has gotten cold lately, and lost a pop fly in the sun on Wednesday. With Ellison and Torcato streaking, it’ll take a lot for Linden and Shabala to overcome them.

And, as always, the fact that Torcato is out of options and would have to clear waivers to return to Fresno remains a wild card in this decision.

Bullpen (Stats to date):
Jesse Foppert: 3 G, 3.86 ERA, 7.0 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 SO, 1 HBP
Al Levine: 5 G, 0.00 ERA, 5.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 4 SO
Wayne Franklin: 5 G, 1.93 ERA, 4.2 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 5 SO
Jeff Fassero: 4 G, 2.25 ERA, 4.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 SO, 1 HBP
Kevin Correia: 5 G, 1.80 ERA, 5.0 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 7 SO
Tyler Walker: 5 G, 1.80 ERA, 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 SO
Jeremy Fikac: 5 G, 6.43 ERA, 4.2 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 6 SO

As much talk as has been given to Foppert in previous updates, the current reality is simple: If the Giants want Foppert starting, he’ll be at Fresno. If they want him to pitch in the big leagues, he’ll be in the bullpen. It’s that simple: a bullpen spot is his if the Giants want him here.

The rest of the candidates remain a confusing bunch. Levine has allowed the least runs, but he hasn’t been what one would call overpowering. Correia leads the potential candidates in strikeouts, and just gave up his first run with a booming home run on Thursday, but he has some control issues that more time in the minors might help. Wayne Franklin has been effective and has major league experience without being near 40, plus he’s a left hander. And then, Tyler Walker is out of options, giving him the same wild card that Torcato has amongst the position players.

Not mentioned above is David Aardsma, who’s quietly recovering from shoulder tendonitis. Without much playing time, he’s likely to be back in Fresno to at least start the year.

Only In Spring Training

Dallimore’s been having a hot spring, but it’s never been more apt to say that his performance is lights out.

Dallimore was in the middle of a 2 for 3 night on Tuesday when he came up to bat to lead off the bottom of the 8th inning. The Giants were up 3 to 2 against the Brewers, and Dallimore was looking to add some insurance when the lights across Scottsdale went out. A cheer went up from the crowd, and camera flashes gave the field an unusual strobe effect. Lights through Scottsdale and in the stadium came back on seconds later, but the main stadium lights did not. The PA Announcer informed the crowd that it would take 5 to 10 minutes until they could reset, but it took less than a minute for the teams to simply call the game.

There is no confirmation to the rumor that a Giant player, noting that the team’s unusual night start preceded an unusual early 12:00 start, decided to pull the plug to try and get some sleep.

Either way, fans left the park laughing and joking, having seen something few current professional baseball fans have seen in person: A game called due to darkness.

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