MLB team report: Questions surround Giants pitching staff

MLB team report: Questions surround Giants pitching staff

Giants

MLB team report: Questions surround Giants pitching staff

After a major league-worst 30 blown saves plus two more in the playoffs, the San Francisco Giants filled their closer void by signing Mark Melancon to a four-year, $62 million deal. That didn’t leave enough room in the budget to address the rest of the bullpen — which lost veterans Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez — or left field, where untested Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker might compete for playing time. USA TODAY Sports’ Jorge L. Ortiz sizes up the team. (*Denotes prospect)

MLB team report: San Francisco Giants

Catcher

Buster Posey remains the game’s premier catcher, as his defensive skills have caught up to his hitting prowess. But Posey’s offense took a dip last season, possibly as a result of starting a career-high 122 games behind the plate or more likely because of an undisclosed injury. His .288 batting average, 14 homers and .796 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) were his lowest marks in a full season, and he homered only three times during the second half of the season. There’s no reason to believe this is the start of a pattern, but Posey will turn 30 in March and has quite a bit of mileage on his legs. The Giants might look to give backup Trevor Brown a few more starts to keep the four-time All-Star fresh. Depth chart: Posey, Brown, Tim Federowicz, *Aramis Garcia

First base

Giants fans have been waiting years for Brandon Belt to have a breakout season, and, in a sense, he did in 2016, though his numbers weren’t overwhelming. Boosted by 104 walks, Belt set career highs in OPS at .868 — 14th in the league — and RBI (82). His 17 homers are less than ideal for a first baseman, but Belt plays his home games in a park that neutralizes left-handed power. Eleven of those homers came on the road. So Belt might not be the prolific slugger the Giants once envisioned, but he’s a solid contributor at first base. Depth chart: Belt, Posey, Conor Gillaspie, *Chris Shaw

Second base

Joe Panik failed to replicate the .300-plus batting averages of his first two seasons, tumbling to .239 after falling into a protracted slump after his return from a month-long absence caused by a concussion. The lefty-swinging second baseman showed pop with a career-best 10 home runs, but the Giants would just as soon see him return to the line drive-hitting ways that earned him an All-Star nod in 2015. Panik did land his first Gold Glove in 2016. Depth chart: Panik, Ehire Adrianza, Kelby Tomlinson, *Orlando Calixte

Third base

The trade of Matt Duffy at the deadline made veteran infielder Eduardo Nunez, acquired a few days earlier, the full-time third baseman. That’s essentially the plan for this season, though Nunez will have a regular backup in postseason revelation Gillaspie, a left-handed hitter. Nunez, 29, was enjoying the best season of his career with the Minnesota Twins before the trade and tailed off a bit with the Giants, but he proved to be a better defender than advertised and injected a needed dose of speed on the basepaths. Depth chart: Nunez, Gillaspie, Tomlinson, Adrianza, *Christian Arroyo

Shortstop

With a second consecutive Gold Glove stored away, Brandon Crawford is recognized as the league’s top defensive shortstop, and in the conversation — along with Andrelton Simmons and Francisco Lindor — as the best in the majors. Crawford also drove in 84 runs for the second year in a row and set a career high with a .275 batting average while banging out 51 extra-base hits. He has become one of the team’s MVPs. Depth chart: Crawford, Adrianza, Nunez, Tomlinson, *Arroyo

Left field

Angel Pagan’s departure as a free agent, combined with budget restrictions and a desire to get production from their farm system, might pave the way for Williamson and left-handed-hitting Parker to share left field in 2016, at least initially. Both have shown power potential but also a propensity for striking out, and neither has proved he can hit consistently in the majors. The Giants hedged their bets by signing veterans Michael Morse, Justin Ruggiano and Kyle Blanks to minor league contracts. They will get looks in spring training. Depth chart: Williamson, Parker, Ruggiano, Morse, Blanks

Center field

The Giants are hoping for more from Denard Span after his mildly disappointing first season in San Francisco. Signed to a three-year, $31 million deal, Span batted .266 with a .331 on-base percentage — both figures nearly 20 points below his career norms — and did not evoke any Willie Mays comparisons in center field, where his weak arm was a liability. Sure-handed Gorkys Hernandez made an impression late last season and could get some time in center, with Span moving to left. Depth chart: Span, Hernandez, Parker, *Steven Duggar

Right field

Oftentimes, the Giants offense goes as Hunter Pence goes. The three-time All-Star has been a force through his five seasons by the Bay and put up an OPS above .800 in each of the last two years, but he played in fewer than half of the games in that span because of injuries, after not missing a single game in 2013 or 2014. Pence, who turns 34 in April, remains a high-energy contributor but needs to stay healthy. The Giants don’t have a viable replacement for him. Depth chart: Pence, Williamson, Parker, Hernandez, Blanks

Starting pitchers

With Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto performing as co-aces, San Francisco’s rotation registered the fourth-best ERA in the NL last season (3.71) and would have done better with improved production from its back end. That remains the biggest question mark this season, but the concern is limited to the final spot. Matt Cain, looking for his old form after four wayward seasons, will get first crack at that job, if for no other reason than he’s due to make $21 million in the final season of his contract. Rookie lefty Ty Blach might get a shot as well, and Albert Suarez will be around as a spot starter or long reliever. The deadline trade for lefty Matt Moore last Aug. 1 added depth and balance to the starting group, with Jeff Samardzija (200-plus innings, 3.81 ERA) moving down to the fourth spot. Depth chart: Bumgarner, Cueto, Moore, Samardzija, Cain, *Blach, Suarez, *Tyler Beede, *Chris Stratton

Bullpen

Plugging Melancon into the closer’s role should relieve what proved to be the Giants’ biggest headache in 2016, when they lost an unfathomable nine games when leading going into the ninth inning. Not only did Melancon average 44 saves with a 1.93 ERA over the last three years, but his groundball-inducing cutter also should fit in perfectly with the club’s superb infield defense. The rest of the bullpen looks like less of a sure thing, with a number of young pitchers — among them Derek Law and left-handers Josh Osich and Steven Okert — competing for the setup roles with the likes of Will Smith, Hunter Strickland, Cory Gearrin and George Kontos. Much still needs to be sorted out. Depth chart: Melancon, Law, Strickland, Smith, Kontos, Gearrin, Osich, Okert, Suarez, *Blach, *Stratton

Offseason outlook

Mark Melancon was the only major addition, as the Giants will rely on a sturdy rotation and veteran everyday lineup in their bid to end the Los Angeles Dodgers’ four-year reign as NL West champions.

Top five prospects

Excerpted from BaseballHQ.com’s 2017 Minor League Baseball Analyst. To order: Baseballhq.com/mlba2017:

1. Chris Shaw, 1B: Shaw, 23, is a hulking slugger with 30-plus home run potential. He has a very fluid left-handed swing but is susceptible to strikeouts. Shaw needs to get better against left-handed pitching. An improving defender, he is close to the majors and will start at Class AAA in 2017.

2. Tyler Beede, RHP: The tall 23-year-old led the Class AA Eastern League with a 2.81 ERA in 2016. He attacks hitters with a splendid trio of pitches: a fastball that cuts and sinks, a top-notch curveball and a changeup that has a heavy sink. His strikeouts have increased as he has learned to sequence his pitches, though he could improve his control. He will move to Class AAA and could be in San Francisco this season.

3. Christian Arroyo, 2B-SS: Arroyo, 21, has the opportunity to hit for a good batting average with moderate power. He will hit loads of doubles, though he won’t steal many bases. He will report to Class AAA.

4. Sam Coonrod, RHP: The under-the-radar prospect might not post high strikeout totals but toys with hitters with advanced sequencing. Coonrod, 24, is tough to hit when he’s on. He might return to Class AA.

5. Bryan Reynolds, OF: He hits to all fields and batted .313 in his first year of pro ball. The switch-hitter has decent power from both sides and can the drive ball to gaps. He doesn’t have great speed but is a good runner and sound defender. Reynolds, 21, will report to full-season Class A.

Jeremy Deloney 

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