After a disappointing 2013 season, in which they followed a World Series championship with a third-place finish in the NL West, the San Francisco Giants are entering 2014 with high hopes. And for every baseball team, it all begins with spring training. Veterans enter spring training in an effort to get into game shape again. Pitchers are fine-tuning their mechanics. For most fans, spring training is slow, boring and fairly uneventful.
But with every spring training, there emerges a few surprises. Whether it’s a non-roster invitee, an established vet, or a top prospect turning heads, a few players always catch our eyes.
The story of Mark Minicozzi is one of the most inspiring ones in all of baseball. After being a prospect in the Giants’ Advanced-A affiliate in San Jose, he was hit by the injury bug and was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery in 2008. In 2010, he had sciatica running down his left leg and had to undergo emergency back surgery in 2011. After fully recovering from his various injuries, Minicozzi continued his baseball career,traveling around the globe and competing in various independent leagues in Central America and Canada to get more at-bats.
The Giants saw something in Minicozzi’s perseverance and sent him a non-roster invite to their spring training camp. Since he has arrived, he has done nothing but impressed. In 15 at-bats, he has had six hits, three walks, and two home runs. Primarily a first baseman, Minicozzi’s play has not gone unnoticed. While he likely will not make the big-league club out of spring training, he has been a pleasant surprise and is a name to keep an eye on in case injury hits the first base position.
Ehire Adrianza is another name that most casual Giants fans don’t know. A home-grown prospect, Adrianza has risen steadily inside the Giants’ farm system. A defensive wizard in the mold of current starting shortstop Brandon Crawford, the biggest knock on Adrianza has always been his lack of hitting. His range and arm for the shortstop position are major league ready; the question is — is his hit tool ready for big league pitching?
Joaquin Arias is locked in as the top backup for third base, shortstop and second base. But with Marco Scutaro ailing, the need for a second backup infielder becomes even more crucial. The battle is between the youngster Adrianza and the incumbent veteran Tony Abreu. While the safe bet would be to go with the established veteran in Abreu, the Giants could take a chance on Adrianza. In addition to his usual great defense, he has been solid with his batting during Spring Training, hitting .286 with three extra base hits. This is probably the most competitive battle in the Giants’ camp, and even if Abreu wins it, expect to see Adrianza later in the season
Giants’ starting pitching
Excluding Ryan Vogelsong‘s implosion against the Mariners on Saturday afternoon, the Giants’ starting pitchers — Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum, and Vogelsong — have been tremendous thus far in spring training. While spring training numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, the fact that the five of them had only given up one run in 23 total innings has to be encouraging for Giants fans. With the struggles of Cain, Lincecum, and Vogelsong last season, they needed strong showings early to convince fans that they’ve got it back.
At this point, the rotation seems to be set. With MadBum, Cain, Hudson, Timmy, and Vogey, a good year seems to be on the horizon for the starting staff.
Coming into a contract year, there were no more excuses for Pablo Sandoval. We all know what the Panda is capable of when he is lean and healthy. After an underwhelming season last year, Sandoval, with some noted encouragement from his teammates, took it upon himself to devote his offseason to getting in shape. And the results have been evident.
Sandoval has visibly lost approximately 32 pounds and has looked fluid out on the field. Batting-wise, he has batted .333 with one home run. Nothing to get too excited about; the thing Giants fans should be excited about is that the Panda is finally in shape. When he is in shape, not only is he capable of putting up a .300/30/100 season, he is also a plus defender at third base. With the contract year giving him some extra motivation, expect Sandoval to finally break into the upper-echelon of major league third basemen.