Spring Training Update 3/23

The seemingly big news this past weekend in Spring Training may seem like it was Jason Schmidt's terrible Sunday start, or Bonds' comments to the media, but with the rosters pared down, suddenly the important part of the spring, deciding who makes the team, is coming into much better focus.

Game Results
Friday, March 18th: San Francisco 4, Seattle 3
Saturday, March 19th: San Diego 6, San Francisco 4
Sunday, March 20th: Oakland 17, San Francisco 3
Monday, March 21st: San Francisco 9, Oakland 4

Top Performer– Kirk Rueter
Monday’s Line Score: 5 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 1 BB, 2 SO
For the Spring: 4 G, 14.0 IP, 1.93 ERA, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 2 SO

A day after Jason Schmidt throws one of the worst outings of the spring (see below), good ol’ Woody comes up with the pitching gem of the spring. Allowing only one baserunner over five innings is a great thing for any pitcher, but especially for the type of thing people have come to expect out of Rueter. One of the best parts of this outing might be how it followed the previous days’ results, since winning teams usually find ways to pick themselves up after bad games.

Bottom Performer – Jason Schmidt
Sunday’s Line Score: 3.1 IP, 9 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 2 BB, 3 HR

Not that Schmidt was ever in line to lose his spot as staff ace, but boy, this one just looked bad. Schmidt laughed it off, though. He indicated that he thought he’d been throwing badly all spring with terrible location, and as it got later into the spring, the hitters finally caught up with him. He even said he’s only had ‘half a pitch’ all spring, the fastball on the outside half of the plate. His coaches and teammates disagreed with that sentiment. One thing everyone agrees on, though, is that there’s nothing to be worried about for the regular season.

Positon Battle Update

Bonds’ statements on Tuesday had little real effect on the Giants’ decisions. At this point, the Giants were preparing for Bonds to miss the first part of the season, and that’s the place where the Giants are focusing with their Spring Training Decisions.

To update, the Giants have 21 players, 11 position players (Edgardo Alfonzo, Moises Alou, Deivi Cruz, Ray Durham, Pedro Feliz, Marquis Grissom, Mike Matheny, J.T. Snow, Yorvit Torrealba, Michael Tucker, and Omar Vizquel) and 10 pitchers (Armando Benitez, Jim Brower, Jason Christiansen, Scott Eyre, Matt Herges, Noah Lowry, Rueter, Schmidt, Brett Tomko, Jerome Williams), guaranteed to make the major league squad (assuming Bonds is on the DL to start the season). That leaves 4 spots open on the roster. The Giants haven’t decided whether to carry 11 or 12 pitchers. Felipe Alou prefers carrying more pitchers in favor of a bench player who may not get much playing time, but the bullpen options have not performed as well recently as the position players.

Position Players:
Jason Ellison – 11 for 31 (.355), 2 2B, 1 HR, 6 R, 6 RBI, 1 SB, 2 CS
Tony Torcato – 9 for 23 (.391), 2 2B, 1 3B, 6 R, 2 RBI, 1 SB, 0 CS
Brian Dallimore – 15 for 32 (.469), 4 2B, 4 R, 9 RBI, 0 SB, 2 CS
Lance Niekro – 10 for 33 (.303), 3 2B, 2 R, 4 RBI, 0 SB, 0 CS

With outfielder Todd Linden sent to the minor league camp, the offensive side of the decision making process was made easier. The race is essentially down to two outfielders (Ellison and Torcato) and two infielders (Dallimore and Niekro) for two or three spots. This race remains intriguing, and the one thing that may decide who gets kept has nothing to do with any of the candidates: how often will Feliz play in left, and how often will he play in the infield? Although the Giants only have 3 real outfielders ready for the season (Grissom, Alou and Tucker), the likelihood that Feliz will get the majority of playing time in left field in Bonds’ absence doesn’t mean that the Giants will break camp with 5. Ellison remains the favorite, due to his ability to play center field and his speed, but Torcato is still out of options, and his left handed bat hasn’t exactly been nonproductive this spring.

Meanwhile, if Feliz does spend the majority of his time in the outfield, the Giants may need to rely on others to be the backup infielders. Niekro can play either corner, and seems to be the natural replacement for Feliz as the utility man, and he’s often mentioned as the guy who could hit for Snow against lefties while Feliz plays left field, but he’s played mostly at first this spring which may bring his abilities at 3rd into question. Dallimore, on the other hand, has played plenty of games at third and second, and played first a lot last year. And no one can argue with his production this spring: no one has played in more games, he leads the team in springtime batting average, is a 4/100th close 2nd to Cruz in slugging percentage, and is tied for the team lead in RBI’s.

On top of all of this, close observers may have noticed some interesting options being played out by Alou with his players. Alou played left for the first time in the Spring last week, with Tucker playing right, reducing the importance of Feliz in the outfield, and obviously the potential impacts of Ellison and/or Torcato. Snow has been starting a lot against left handed pitchers (and is hitting .320 in the spring overall), which may mean the Giants don’t plan to platoon him if Feliz is playing elsewhere, reducing the need for a right handed first baseman like Niekro. At this point, it’s impossible to predict. Any combination of 2 or 3 of these players can make the roster right now.

Bullpen Pitchers:
Jesse Foppert: 4 G, 9.0 IP, 6.00 ERA, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 HR, 4 BB, 6 SO, 1 HBP
Wayne Franklin: 7 G, 7.0 IP, 6.43 ERA, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 6 BB, 6 SO
Al Levine: 6 G, 6.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 5 SO
Scott Munter: 5 G, 6.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 3 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 SO, 1 HBP
Tyler Walker: 6 G, 6.0 IP, 9.00 ERA, 8 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 5 SO
Jeff Fassero: 5 G, 5.0 IP, 1.80 ERA, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 SO, 1 HBP

The pitching situation is much less clear, although Monday’s news of Brad Hennessey, Matt Kinney and Jeremy Fikac all being reassigned cleared some things up. However, the Giants are left with 5 pitchers fighting for 1 spot, and the 2nd best pitcher left trying to prove he’s worth sacrificing one of the high performing position players. It’s hard to determine that in small sample sizes, but such is the spring.

Felipe Alou’s prefers having an extra reliever because that last reliever would get a chance to perform more often than if he were a position player. However, the Giants had some issues with Jason Christiansen, who vocally complained about his lack of outings near the end of the last year. With the Giants missing one very big cog, and with several older players needing rest, that desire for an extra reliever may be overruled by having an extra position player.

The leading performers are now unquestionably Levine and Munter, both scoreless in 6 innings pitched. The Giants may be hesitant to bring up the 24 year old Munter just yet, though, having pitched just half a season at AAA. The Giants seem to be leaning more and more towards sending Foppert to Fresno to start the season and work on being a starter, which removes one big obstacle for the others.

Franklin had the biggest setback this past week, giving up four more runs in the 9th inning of a blowout, and not being able to actually finish the inning or the game. His being left handed still is considered valuable, though, and the same is true with Fassero. However, the aging Fassero has been short of dominating despite allowing only one run, and he has a history of clubhouse problems, which may dissuade the Giants from bringing that into their clubhouse. Finally, Tyler Walker’s performance has not been very strong, but the Giants may be hesitant to let him go on waivers, since he’s out of options.

Right now, the most likely bet to make the Giants is Levine, with either Foppert, Walker or Franklin being the possible 2nd reliever (in order of likelihood).

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