The Giants have 20 pitchers on their 40-man roster. They have 19* pitchers as non-roster invites. Are most of these pitchers even going to get a real chance to make the team this spring?
This is one of the biggest quandaries for the many pitchers who the Giants have picked up or signed over the few weeks. While it might be an embarrassment of riches…or maybe of assets…for the team, the players are not going to get a lot of chances to earn their spots. It’s even tougher, because several of the spots in the bullpen are already decided. Oh, and spring training games are now only seven innings.
This means that every single outing is a make-it-or-break-it appearance for every pitcher. With 22% less innings in Spring Training games, and a bigger competition than usual, a lot of pitchers will make less appearances than usual.
The good news for the fringe players is that you likely won’t get the major early March mega-cut that usually happens when minor league camp starts, and the younger prospects and fringier players get sent there. This year, due to Coronavirus concerns, minor league camp won’t start until big league training is done. So the fringe players will be around longer.
That said, it also means innings will go to prospect pitchers who are just getting work in, rather than pushing for spots, so it’s that many more unavailable innings.
So, who are these pitchers the Giants have? Let’s sort them out.
Not every pitcher in camp is really shooting for a big league spot. They’ll still get innings in games, but you won’t be seeing them open the season in San Francisco.
Sure-Thing Minor Leaguers (8): Tristan Beck, Kervin Castro, Camilo Doval, Matt Frisbee, Sean Hjelle, Sam Long, Gregory Santos, Kai-Wei Teng
That takes us to 31 pitchers competing for spots. That’s a higher number than normal, as you might usually see far more minor leaguers in camp taking up a lot of the spots.
But then, you’ve got some sure things in the pitching staff too. I’ll be a bit conservative here, and the order is alphabetical.
Sure Thing Starters (4): Johnny Cueto, Anthony DeSclafani, Kevin Gausman, Aaron Sanchez
Sure Thing Relievers (4): Jake McGee, Reyes Moronta, Wandy Peralta, Matt Wisler
Most of the rotation is likely set to start the season, with your regular 5th starter competition happening. The bullpen I’m being very conservative with. You may think there’s a couple of players I didn’t name who should be there, but if a player has options, well, Zaidi has options.
So that’s 8 players who are sure things. That leaves 4-5 spots open, and 23 pitchers competing for them. Yikes.
And even then, you’ve got some big favorites for a lot of these spots. Let’s start at the 5th starter spot.
5th Starter/Swingman Candidates (5): Scott Kazmir, Conner Menez, Logan Webb, Alex Wood, Shun Yamaguchi
This is an interesting group. If Menez or Webb don’t get the 5th starter spot, I think they’re likely to head to Sacramento. With Wood, if he doesn’t get the 5th starter spot (where he is the favorite), he could stick in the big league bullpen. Scott Kazmir is trying to make his comeback, and would lend experience in the bullpen if he fails to get the starter spot. Yamaguchi is the most interesting one. He was a long-term starter in Japan who relieved in 2020 in Toronto, but the Giants are trying to have him go back to starting. However, he’s gotten a late start joining spring training. He also has an opt out at the end of spring training if he doesn’t make the club.
Bullpen Incumbents/Favorites (4): Caleb Baragar, Jarlin Garcia, Tyler Rogers, Sam Selman
Looking at this group, it would be a surprise to not see most of these guys in the big leagues. Rogers was a regular in 2020 after a good 2019 debut, even if he struggled a little, but he has options left. Sam Selman was also a 2020 regular as a lefty, but still has options left. Baragar made his debut in 2020, and started the offseason likely to return to the bigs. But Baragar has options, and there’s a lot of options to do with him, as a long reliever or work in the minors back towards being a starter. Jarlin Garcia is out of options, and he very was good in limited time in the Giants bullpen in 2020, but I just couldn’t nudge him into the sure thing window.
Rule 5 Draftee (1): Dedniel Núñez
Usually a Rule 5 draftee would be a favorite to make a roster, but this is a packed roster, and Zaidi has a history of being quick to dispose of players the Giants take in the Rule 5 draft. He’s still a step ahead of most, but he needs to impress in spring training to get that chance.
40-man Roster Long Shots (1): Jordan Humphreys
Humphreys was a late re-addition to the Giants roster. He was picked up by the Giants originally from the Mets in the Billy Hamilton trade in 2020, and spent the last part of 2020 in their alternate training site. The Giants waived him in November, and the Indians picked him up, but when the Indians waived him in late February, the Giants picked him up. Humphreys has yet to make the Majors, and he doesn’t have a lot of momentum here.
Homegrown Non-Roster Candidates (2): Tyler Cyr, Sam Wolff
It does say something that the farm system doesn’t have a lot of their own candidates in the non-roster invites that are really competing for a job. Cyr was in Double-A in 2019, but spent 2020 in the alternate training site. Wolff spent most of 2019 in Double-A, but did make Triple-A, and was another alternate site guy. Both these guys have real chances to make debuts in 2021, but they would need an eye-opening spring to do it on Opening Day.
Longtime Major League Vets on Minor Deals (6): Anthony Banda, Silvino Bracha, Dominic Leone, Zack Littell, James Sherfy, Nick Tropeano
This is where the Giants really went wild grabbing pitchers, and there’s some real candidates here to work into those last spots.
Sherfy is one of the favorites, as he had some tough struggles with the Diamondbacks in 2019, his third season, but has a nice slider to get strikeouts with. He didn’t appear in 2020. Tropeano is a former starter who switched to relief and looked good in seven appearances with the Pirates in 2020. Littell has played in parts of three seasons, but had a solid 2019 with Minnesota which the Giants hope he’ll return to, after struggling in only six appearances in 2020.
Bracha has five seasons with the Diamondbacks, though he made just one appearance in 2020, with a career 4.82 ERA. Banda has played in just 18 games over four seasons, mostly with Tampa Bay, with a career 5.96 ERA. Leone has been with five teams over seven seasons, with a career 4.09 ERA.
Cup of Coffee Minor Leaguers (2): Rico Garcia, Jay Jackson,
Rico Garcia was a minor league signee for the Giants in 2020, and was up and down, making 12 appearances with San Francisco in 2020. He became a free agent, but signed a new minor league deal for 2021. Jay Jackson has parts of 2 seasons in the Majors, but also experience in Japan (where he spent 2020). He has strikeout potential which the Giants love. Both these guys would be considered sleepers for different reasons, but have a real chance to make it.
Minor Leaguer Minor League Signing Long Shots (2): Daniel Alvarez, Yunior Marte
The Giants did sign some pitchers who were truly minor leaguers. Alvarez was part of the Yankees, and was very impressive in 2018 and 2019, spending most of 2019 in Double-A. Yunior Marte came from the Royals organization, and had impressive 2019 numbers in Double-A, and less impressive numbers in a half season at Triple-A. Neither of these guys would be favorites to make the bullpen.
There’s a lot of pitchers here. A lot of good pitchers. There are going to be some broken hearts and difficult choices going into the season.
The good news is that most of these guys would head back to Sacramento and be there, waiting for their shot. Some may have opt outs, like Yamaguchi, which makes for tougher decisions. Hopefully, they’ll continue to work in Sacramento and be ready as opportunities arise.
But until then, every turn on the mound is high pressure, for each of these guys.