Giants Spring Training Preview: 5 Things To Watch For

The San Francisco Giants’ spring training won’t be very exciting. I’ll tell you that now. Their starting lineup is pretty much set, as is their rotation and bullpen.

However, there are always things to watch for. And as pitchers and catchers, and eventually everyone else, stroll into camp over these next few days, here are a few things to watch for:

Pablo Sandoval’s Weight

Yes, Giants fans have heard this before, but it’s a reoccurring problem that Pablo Sandoval can’t solve.

Oct 25, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval (48) blows a bubble gum bubble during the eighth inning of game two of the 2012 World Series against the Detroit Tigers at AT

In a video that had Sandoval hitting a booming home run for his Venezuela team, he didn’t look very thin. In fact—with all do respect–he looked a bit chubby. Still, give him credit. He won the World Series MVP a few months ago, and he’s tearing the ball up with Venezuela.

However, those areas of success were based on small periods of time where Sandoval didn’t have to necessarily be in top-notch shape to be effective. During a 162-game marathon, though, he will have to be in some form of shape to last, and produce consistently. Isn’t that the ultimate goal?

Manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged that Sandoval has some work to do conditioning-wise.

“We do have some work to do to get him ready for the sea on,” Bochy said. “He needs to shed a few pounds. He did well down there (in Venezuela). He’ll be at the WBC. At the same time, he’ll do some work on the conditioning side.”

A combination of weight issues and injuries have kept Sandoval from being a consistent figure in the Giants’ lineup over the past couple years. Though if the “Panda” can avoid lengthy trips to the disabled list, then the Giants’ offense won’t be one that pitchers want to face.

Battle for the Final Bullpen Spot

The battle for the sixth and final bullpen spot could be develop into an interesting story as spring training progresses. Before the Giants signed Ramon Ramirez to a minor league deal last week, Chad Gaudin was the front-runner to break camp with that final spot. Now, he has some competition.

The Giants are familiar with Ramirez’s abilities, as they acquired him from the Red Sox in 2010. He posted a 0.67 ERA in 25 games, and followed this up by totaling a 2.62 ERA in 66 games the next year.

Gaudin, meanwhile, has a career 4.63 ERA over a 10-year span. The 29-year-old has simply struggled to find a home, which could be a reason for his shortcomings. The most time he’s been with a team is four years, but otherwise, he’s survived on one and two-year contracts.

So, clearly, Ramirez has the better track record, and in turn, seems to be the new favorite to win the final spot. Of course, both him and Gaudin are on even playing fields. Ramirez was all but good with the Mets last year, and there’s some question regarding his command after walking nearly five patters per nine innings last season.

The Giants won’t have many battles, but this one between Ramirez and Gaudin will probably be one of the few.

Brandon Belt’s Spring Training Dominance

There’s something about the vibe of spring training that Brandon Belt enjoys. In three spring trainings, he’s hit .336 with a slugging percentage of .608. It should be noted that those numbers are heavily influenced by the smaller sample sizes, but you get the point—he dominates.

Oct 28, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt hits a RBI triple against the Detroit Tigers in the second inning during game four of the 2012 World Series at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: H. Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, Belt hit three home runs in 74 at-bats, drove in nine, struck out 15 times and walked six times. This production is great, until you realize that it took him until June of the regular season to match his spring home run output.

It’s no secret that spring training pitching is inferior to regular season pitching, but success in Scottsdale is more of a confidence booster, unless we’re talking about a prospect trying to prove himself.

However, 2013 is much, much different from Belt’s perspective. Not only is the starting first base job his to lose, but the 24-year-old doesn’t have many other viable competitors. In other words, it’d take an extremely weak showing to make Bruce Bochy think twice about using him as his everyday first baseman.

If Belt continues his spring training success, well, what’s new? Let’s see what he can do when it counts.

Tim Lincecum

The talk in Scottsdale will mainly focus on Tim Lincecum. Take note of the below questions, because in a few weeks, they will have been beaten to death.

October 31, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum (55) rides in a car during the World Series victory parade at Market Street. The Giants defeated the Detroit Tigers in a four-game sweep to win the 2012 World Series. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Will he rebound from a brutal 2012? What’s wrong with his fastball? Is this his last go around with the the Giants? What does his new haircut compare to?

Does anyone have the answers to those questions? No. Come opening day, there might be some clarity, but Lincecum generally doesn’t pitch well in spring training, which would make all early predictions vulnerable to inaccuracy.

With the majority of the spotlight on Lincecum, his failures will be amplified to extreme measures, and his successes will be downplayed. I’d call that attention.

Sergio Romo’s Durability

Last week, the Giants announced that Sergio Romo will serve as their full-time closer in 2013. Perhaps this announcement served as a confirmation for some, as his impressive postseason numbers dictate that he’s more than worthy of being San Francisco’s primary closer.

However, Romo isn’t suited to last very long in that role. His slider puts a lot of pressure on his fragile right arm, and his knees aren’t in great shape either. Worse, if the Giants are in close games—they often are— Romo’s questionable injuries will be stretched to the limits, as he would be closing games on back to back nights, much like he did in the World Series.

Oct 28, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Sergio Romo celebrates after game four of the 2012 World Series against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. The Giants won 4-3 to sweep the series. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

That’s the problem, though. The World Series lasted four games. The regular season lasts 162 games. Now, this isn’t saying that Romo will pitch in all 162 games, but his workload will increase substantially from what he’s been used to in the past.

Perhaps he has come up with a counter…

Romo has been working with a sinker recently, which could decrease the chances of him completely collapsing. According to Fan Graphs, he used his slider more than 61 percent of the time in 2012, but add a less-pressuring pitch (sinker) into his arsenal, and his arm stands a better chance of surviving.

Romo has the talent to close games, but can he put that talent to use as the Giants’ closer? Time will only tell.

Topics: Brandon Belt, Chad Gaudin, Pablo Sandoval, Ramon Ramirez, San Francisco Giants, Sergio Romo, Tim Lincecum

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