Editor's note: Giants Insider Alex Pavlovic arrives in Arizona Tuesday and covers the Giants all spring training long, right here on csnbayarea.com
As Angel Pagan slumped through his first spring with the Giants, he shrugged off every question about his low batting average, saying his only concern was being ready for Opening Day. Pagan was right. His slow start wasn’t actually much of a big deal, and he went on to hit .288 in 2012.
Not all spring concerns can be brushed off, though. Freddy Sanchez was wrapped in ice during that same 2012 camp and Brian Wilson kept throwing on hidden minor league fields, not in Cactus League games. Sanchez never ended up seeing the field during the regular season and Wilson pitched just twice before his elbow gave in. Marco Scutaro had a similar experience last spring, getting more injections than at-bats during the first six weeks of what was ultimately a lost season.
Then there are the goofy stories that lighten the mood on slow days (of which there are many in February and March). Like, Andres Torres racing to the parking lot in full uniform to save his Lamborghini from a rare hail storm in Scottsdale two years ago, or 6-foot-8 Kameron Loe and 5-foot-11 Tim Lincecum swapping pants one morning last spring.
You can’t predict those types of stories, but we can try and figure out what we’ll be talking about most often this spring. Here are five storylines to watch as pitchers and catchers report …
1) Groeschner’s Guys: Some big names were in the trainer’s office last season, and the Giants need the likes of Matt Cain and Pagan to be healthy if they are to return to the postseason. Cain says he feels great after having bone chips removed from his elbow and ankle, but he’ll likely be a few days behind the other starters as camp starts. Pagan was a no-show at FanFest, but said in October that he would be a full go in spring training following rehab for back surgery. Tim Hudson (ankle surgery) is at least a couple of weeks behind his normal pace, but he believes he has enough time to prepare for Opening Day.
Some young players are on the comeback trail, too. Hector Sanchez has been cleared to catch after concussions ended his 2014 season and opened the door for Andrew Susac to grab the spot behind Buster Posey. High-upside prospects Mac Williamson (power outfielder) and Derek Law (power right-hander) are recovering from Tommy John surgery.
2) Madison’s Mileage: The game’s best big-game pitcher says his arm feels like an arm, and the Giants insist they’re not worried. Still, Bumgarner threw 292 2/3 innings last season from the start of camp to the final pitch of the World Series, and he’ll be watched closely.
3) Sophomore Slump or Sophomore Surge? Second baseman Joe Panik is as locked into a starting spot as any player with 287 plate appearances can be, so he’ll have an opportunity to relax a bit and work on the finer points of his game. The Giants believe there’s more pop in Panik’s bat, and the thin air in Arizona might help the 24-year-old find it. Susac has the inside track on the backup catcher spot, but Sanchez is said to be in good shape and has won spring competitions before. Matt Duffy is another second-year player coming off a long year, and he’s put on muscle in a bid to impress in his first big league camp. The most intriguing sophomore may be Hunter Strickland. If he has moved past his rough October — and all indications are that he has — Strickland could win a job this spring with his stuff and tenacity. Remember, a year ago he was still recovering from Tommy John surgery.
4) The Next Generation: Hudson is likely to retire after this season and Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum will be free agents. The Giants likely will be looking for at least two starters, and as we learned again this offseason, pitching is expensive. The Giants will pay about $70 million for this season’s staff, but there’s a way to balance that budget: Find a young starter or two. Lefty Ty Blach (24) and right-handers Clayton Blackburn (22) and Kyle Crick (22) pitched at Double-A Richmond a year ago and will be in camp as non-roster invitees for the second straight spring. Crick has the highest ceiling but Blach and Blackburn are viewed as closer to big-league ready, and it’s possible one of them could be needed at some point this summer. They’ll all have an opportunity to make some noise this spring.
5) Lincecum or Vogelsong? When Vogelsong returned to the Giants last month, general manager Brian Sabean said, “We’re going to put the best people out there.” So, who becomes the best choice for the fifth spot in the rotation? Vogelsong signed knowing that he could be headed for the bullpen, but management has left the door open for the right-hander to win a rotation spot. If the others are healthy, he’ll be competing with Lincecum, who has trouble keeping the ball down in the desert and never puts up good numbers in the Cactus League. Either way, a well-known right-hander is headed for the bullpen, so expect this one to come down to the wire.
Catch Giants Insider Alex Pavlovic tonight on Raising Arizona at 6:30 and 10 p.m on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area