SAN FRANCISCO — Before taking questions from the media on Friday, Giants manager Bruce Bochy spent a few minutes chatting with Hensley Meulens, the hitting coach who will help Bochy piece together what should be a loaded lineup. The two are sure to have the same conversation often during spring training, but as Bochy enters his 10th spring with the Giants, many of his discussions with the staff will be shorter than in the past.
For a team looking for a fourth even-year title, there’s just not a lot of drama right now as pitchers and catchers get set to report to Scottsdale Stadium.
“Going into this camp, it’s probably the most set I’ve ever been as far as the team and pitching staff,” Bochy said. “But you want to keep it competitive.”
Bochy will have to get creative in that regard. A first glance at the roster put together by the front office shows a team that kicks off camp with at least 20 roster spots locked up. You can make the argument, too, that 23 roster spots are just about spoken for at the moment.
All five starters are guaranteed spots, and if Chris Heston becomes the long reliever, a seven-man bullpen looks set, with Josh Osich set to replace Jeremy Affeldt. Late-season revelation Kelby Tomlinson and Ehire Adrianza — who is out of options and added 14 pounds of muscle in a bid to try and improve at the plate — are favorites to win the backup infield spots. Throw in the four starting infielders, the three starting oufielders, Gregor Blanco, and that Buster Posey guy, and you’re at 23.
Some of this will change, of course. The Giants are open to competition, and Heston and the backup infielders will be pushed. At the moment, though, it looks like there are really just two significant battles.
Posey’s longtime April backup, Hector Sanchez, is now with the White Sox, leaving young catchers Andrew Susac and Trevor Brown fighting for an Opening Day gig. Susac had wrist surgery in September, underwent a full offseason, and made changes to the leg kick in his swing in order to simplify things. Getting rid of a moving part should make him a more consistent pinch-hit option, and Susac is eager to regain the form that not long ago had some wondering if he might eventually help Posey move to first full-time.
Susac hit .273 with a .466 slugging percentage as a rookie but those numbers dropped to .218 and .368 last year. From the wrist injury to a thumb sprain to a root canal, Susac had a nightmare season in 2015. But he’s still just 25, and he’s taking a positive approach to this spring.
“It can't go much worse than (last year),” he said, smiling.
Susac will be challenged by Brown, the 24-year-old who impressed last September with his approach and ability to handle a veteran staff. Brown has played infield in the past, too, and spring training might be a good time to see if he still has that versatility.
A couple of other 2015 call-ups highlight a list of players trying to win an outfield spot behind Hunter Pence, Denard Span, Angel Pagan and Blanco. Jarrett Parker hit .347 with six homers in 49 at-bats last season and showed the kind of power that’s rare for a bench bat. Mac Williamson didn’t hit much in a September cameo, but he had a .801 OPS in the minors and remains one of the top outfield prospects in the organization. Williamson was still recovering from Tommy John surgery last spring and he’s fired up for his first real crack at a roster spot. He knows better than most that the Giants are open to giving a spot to a young player who had a big camp; Williamson will drive to Arizona with friend Matt Duffy, last year’s surprise.
Among the non-roster invitees, Kyle Blanks looks like the best bet to play the part of Justin Maxwell or Brandon Hicks. Bochy likes power on the bench, and Blanks, a big leaguer with three teams, can provide it.
Guys like Maxwell and Hicks are a reminder that there will be contributors that come out of nowhere. Maybe Clayton Blackburn pushes for Yusmeiro Petit’s old job. Maybe a Grant Green or George Kottaras shoves aside a young position player. A Derek Law (who almost made the team in 2014) or Steven Okert may reemerge to grab a bullpen spot.
The biggest unknown is health, and vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean said Friday that it is always his big concern, something that endlessly sits in his gut. A year ago Heston was ticketed for Triple-A, but injuries to Matt Cain and Jake Peavy made him a household name in San Francisco.
For now, Sabean is satisfied with a balanced and set roster that should benefit greatly from Jeff Samardzija, Johnny Cueto and Denard Span, the three big additions of Bobby Evans’ first winter as general manager.
“We had acute needs,” Sabean said. “To fill those needs is really satisfying.”
The finished product finally starts to come together Wednesday when players report for the first time. The Giants will react to issues as they come, but at the moment, the roster looks like that of a very strong contender. The pressure that was on management in November has shifted. It’s up to the players now.
“We got two of probably the top five free agent pitchers … we got a good free agent outfielder,” shortstop Brandon Crawford said Friday. “We’re excited. We feel good about our team.”