Projecting Giants’ Opening Day Roster: Johnson, Sabol Make Team originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – At the end of his first spring in charge of the Giants, Farhan Zaidi made a squad move involving a catcher for three consecutive days. He brought in Connor Joe and Michael Reed from other camps and threw them straight into the lineup. He made a seemingly insignificant trade for Mike Yastrzemski and pored over the waiver wire, looking for upside but also depth.
On Friday, Zaidi smiled and talked about all being quiet in the front office war room. The Giants are still diligently monitoring the other 29 rosters, of course, but Zaidi doesn’t expect he’ll make many, if any, moves if players sign off or are cut elsewhere. He will have three 40-man roster spots to play with, but one goes to a catcher already at camp and another to young homegrown outfielder Bryce Johnson. The times have changed.
“I think some of the challenges for us were when the fill-ins were a bit of a revolving door,” admitted Zaidi. “We’re asking people off waivers and trying to fill in gaps and I think what every organization wants is a group of five, 10, 15 people that’s the next line of defense. When you have an injury you never feel good about it, but at least (then) you feel like someone could show up and you could be a good team as well if someone steps in.
The best development of spring was that the giants began to see the wall getting taller. Blake Sabol and Johnson played so well they will push the team to replace injured veterans. Casey Schmitt looks like he’s almost done. Kyle Harrison is not far behind.
It’s been a pretty positive spring for an organization in need and while there have been injuries they won’t result in long-term absentees. The Giants won’t be breaking camp with the 26-man roster they projected six weeks ago, but they’re not far off.
Here’s a look at what it might look like at Yankee Stadium on Thursday:
Six – Logan Webb, Alex Cobb, Ross Stripling, Alex Wood, Anthony DeSclafani, Sean Manaea
What was the best news of spring? For manager Gabe Kapler, that’s child’s play.
“Probably the most encouraging thing about the entire camp is that we seem to be going into the last few days of camp with a pretty healthy pitching team,” Kapler said earlier this week. “We always talk about us having some injuries, other teams having some injuries, but I don’t think there are many teams that can say they have the pitching depth that we have.”
The Giants arrived in Scottsdale with six healthy starters and stayed intact while also seeing some depth plays make notable strides forward. There are only two questions at this point.
The first is with Cobb, who took a liner off his knee two weeks ago and is still dealing with swelling. Cobb hosted a bullpen session Saturday and will remain in Arizona to face the thugs on Monday. He’s expecting to start the second game of the season, although he won’t be sure until he’s past that simulated game.
The other question: what exactly will the rotation look like?
Kapler was shy, only revealing that he expects to be strong right-handed early on based on the lineups he will be preparing for in New York and Chicago. Stripling is coming up for the third game in the Yankees series, but after that there’s some mystery and also two early days off. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Giants ran a four-man rotation on the first trip, using a few of their starters to piggyback others.
Seven – Camilo Doval, Tyler Rogers, Taylor Rogers, John Brebbia, Scott Alexander, Jakob Junis, Sean Hjelle
There was a vacancy at the start of camp with Luke Jackson heading towards the 60-day injured list and Hjelle appears to have won it. He built up in the offseason, was better at maintaining his pace, and posted a 1.80 ERA with 18 strikeouts on two walks.
Hjelle is really the only player the Giants have to choose at this point. If they start the season with 14 position players, it would be Brett Wisely in that last spot. If it’s the more traditional 13 pitchers and 13 hitters, Hjelle will make the team.
The Giants of 2021 with 107 wins led the league in Bullpen ERA and could do it again. Doval hit 102 mph in the WBC and looks set for a monster season. Taylor Rogers will pair with him in the late innings after hitting 13 of the 28 batters he faced in his first spring alongside his twin.
With Hjelle, Tristan Beck, Cole Waites and others, the Giants have a lot more depth at this point than they did a year ago.
Three – Joey Bart, Robert Perez, Blake Sabol
At the start of the camp, Zaidi and Kapler challenged Bart to go out and win his job back, also saying that it didn’t look like they were carrying three catchers at the time. Bart has played his part, putting in a solid spring overall and showing he’s easily the best pitcher in the group that was at camp, something that will be even more important given the new exit rules.
Two things changed the math when it came to Sabol. At first he just won a job. Sabol was the hottest hitter in camp early on, finishing with 1,125 OPS. He stayed in the catch mix, and when Mitch Haniger and Austin Slater went down, Sabol switched back to left field and continued to play well. There’s a very good chance he’ll play outfield at Yankee Stadium next Thursday.
Perez came his way to the backup job and won it, Kapler said Saturday. That’s in large part because pitchers love to throw at him. Cobb called him “a magician” behind the plate and joked that Perez does such a good job at framing that he could get his pitchers in trouble for arguing with umpires.
The main issue with Perez, 34, is health, but he ticked that box late in camp.
“He showed us that he is ready to play regularly,” said Kapler.
Six – Brandon Crawford, Wilmer Flores, Thairo Estrada, JD Davis, LaMonte Wade Jr., David Villar
It was awkward at times, but the Giants ended up right where they started. Crawford and Villar both missed time through injury but both are healthy and will be ready for the opener.
The biggest story on the infield was the emergence of Schmitt, who was named the top newcomer at camp and will travel to the Bay Bridge Series with the Giants after hitting .381 in 13 spring appearances with six extra-base hits. Schmitt also showed he can play shortstop and he could be next man if Crawford misses time during the season.
Because as good as Schmitt was this spring, he hit 11 times on a walk and the Giants want him to go to Triple-A and work on some adjustments. He only has 135 at-bats above high-A level, but there’s little doubt he’ll be in the big leagues this season, and possibly quite early.
Four – Michael Conforto, Mike Yastrzemski, Joc Pederson, Bryce Johnson
The biggest change since early February is in outfield, where Haniger (oblique) and Slater (hamstring) will both start the year at IL. Haniger could be ready when the Giants return home on April 7, but it will take Slater a couple of weeks.
Pederson had an interesting spring, doing most of his work at Scottsdale at first base, playing midfield for Team Israel in the WBC and then ending on the touchline due to lower body tightness. However, he is expected to be okay for the opener and will serve as the primary designated hitter against right-handed pitchers.
Sabol is listed as a catcher but will mainly play left field at the start of the year as he looks to prove he should stay around now that others have recovered.
Johnson, who made a cameo last year, almost lapped the field on the bases. He was 12-to-12 on stolen base tries; No other player in MLB hit double digits this spring.
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Getting off to a flying start will be important for both Sabol and Johnson. Haniger could be ready as early as game six of the season and Slater will be back sometime in April.
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