SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — What do the Giants think of Steven Okert? Well, consider this: There are 40 players left in camp as Opening Day approaches, but just one — Okert — without major league experience.
The hard-throwing 23-year-old left-hander is getting a long look, and he has impressed. Okert has allowed two runs and struck out six in seven Cactus League appearances, but it was during live BP sessions that he really started to open eyes.
Okert brings his left arm far behind his back when coming to the plate, then whips it back toward the plate, hiding the ball from left-handed hitters until the very last second. After facing Okert during a live BP session, Gregor Blanco dropped a hell of a comp on the kid who has a 2.45 ERA in three minor league seasons.
“The deception is like Bumgarner’s,” Blanco said. “It’s kind of similar. I’ve seen Bumgarner left-on-left and Okert kind of has the same angle.”
Told that he had been compared in some form to the reigning World Series MVP, Okert smiled.
“I’ll take that,” he said. “I’ll take that any day.”
He then pointed out that while the two are similar in many mechanical ways, Bumgarner turns his body more. Okert’s deception is about the way he wraps his arm and the fact that he stands as far toward the first-base side of the rubber as he can.
“It’s a weird angle for lefties,” he said.
Lefties hit just .164 off Okert at Class-A San Jose last season, and Double-A hitters didn’t fare much better, batting just .167. Okert isn’t a one-trick pony, though; with a fastball that gets into the upper 90s, he can neutralize right-handed hitters, too. He is primary a fastball-slider pitcher to lefties but mixes in a changeup against righties.
Add it up and you’ve got a prospect who posted a 2.11 ERA across two levels last season and struck out 92 in 68 1/3 innings. Opposing hitters batted just .225 against Okert in 2014.
During that same live BP session, right-handed slugger Justin Maxwell noticed that while the deception didn’t bother him on the other side of the plate, the natural sink and late life on Okert’s fastball did.
“Every pitch comes from the same arm slot, too,” Maxwell said.
Okert used to come over the top until a college coach lowered his arm angle.
“It’s difficult to pick up and it’s a difficult angle to hit the ball off of,” Blanco said. “And he’s aggressive with the way he comes after you.”
Okert has put himself in a position to get a call-up this season if the Giants need relief help, and long-term he could be a replacement for either Jeremy Affeldt (a free agent after this season) or Javier Lopez (a free agent after next season). For now, Okert is just enjoying his month of facing big leaguers.
“Sometimes it’s difficult facing guys in High-A or Double-A because there are a lot of free swings,” he said. “It’s a good feeling getting guys out at this level.”
POSITION BATTLE: It’s worth noting that Hector Sanchez is getting a second straight start with Tim Lincecum. Sanchez and Lincecum have always had a great rapport, and that’ll likely be a factor as the Giants choose between Sanchez and Andrew Susac. Buster Posey is playing first base a day after he came out of a game with some scapula discomfort.
HEALTH WATCH: Derek Law said “everything is going great” in the rehab process. He’ll throw six more fastball/changeup bullpen sessions and then six where he throws all of his pitches. Law is currently about nine or 10 weeks away from facing hitters during live BP session, which puts him right on schedule. “I can’t wait,” he said. “I need hitters in that box.”
Erik Cordier said all feels fine after he tested his arm by throwing off flat ground earlier in the week. Cordier has been shut down by a forearm cramp, but he’s working on building his arm strength back up right now. He’ll certainly start the season on the DL.
WHAT’S AHEAD: Nothing, for this guy. I’m off to a thing at a place with some people for the rest of the weekend. Back cranking stories out on Monday. Enjoy the weekend, everyone.