Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Saltzman Says...Questions heading into Spring Training

Now that the best time of year is upon us and Pitchers and Catchers have reported to Scottsdale, here are my two cents on the biggest questions heading into Spring.

1. Will Pablo Sandoval be what he was in 2009?
Short Answer: No
Long Answer: He might never be a .330 hitter with 25 home runs and 90 RBI's.  However, he may very well turn into a .300 hitter who can cut down on his strikeouts and put the ball in play more often.  In 2011, it could lead to Pablo setting a record for double plays since he is still on one of the slowest teams in baseball.  It could also lead to a much higher on base percentage and a consistent place in the lineup for Bruce Bochy.  Bochy talked after the World Series about waking up weeks after Game 5 still thinking about his lineup card.  If Sandoval can put up a reliable line, Sandoval can be penciled in each and every day at third base for the Giants.

2. Will Brandon Belt start on Opening Day?
Short Answer: No
Long Answer: The Giants have a current "Super 2" catcher in Buster Posey, who was brought up three days early in 2010 because the team needed his bat to try and win the Western Division.  The team realized that despite the salaries rising for several players, they could afford to go to arbitration a year early with Posey.  The same happened with Tim Lincecum, who was brought up in May and cost the Giants $23 million over the first two years of his arbitration.  That would have happened anyway, but it wouldn't have started until 2010 for Lincecum had he stayed in Fresno for an extra three weeks.  If Brandon Belt performs how the team expects, it is very possible a May call-up could happen.  When it does happen, Belt will become an everyday starter.  With so many options on the roster to play left field in 2011, it would take a monster spring for the Giants to consider bringing belt up to face the Dodgers on March 31.  Belt and Aubrey Huff will eventually share left field and 1st base in 2011, but it is unlikely to begin in March.

3. Will the Giants starters wear down from the extra month of pitching in October?
Short Answer: No
Long Answer:  Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner did pitch more innings than ever before in their careers.  However, with a reloaded bullpen, the Giants are poised to continue where they left off.  Lincecum and Cain might not go 8 or 9 innings much in the first few months of the season.  Jonathan Sanchez is projected to be the 3rd starter and Madison Bumgarner is projected to be the 4th starter.  However, Barry Zito, who was brought in to be the ace, will more than likely be asked to be a bridge from Lincecum and Cain who have established themselves in the regular season as the two best pitchers on the staff, and Sanchez and Bumgarner, who do not have nearly the same track record.  It would make sense from the developmental stand point of the two younger lefties.  Zito is expected to pitch every 5th day and take the ball for at least 5 innings.  Even though he has become the newest version of Livan Hernandez, Kirk Rueter, Mark Gardner, etc... He does stay healthy and he does pitch very well at times.  Allowing Sanchez and Bumgarner to face opponents 4th and 5th starters respectively should help their overall success.  Jeff Suppan, Brian Lawrence, Guillermo Mota and Dan Runzler are all in Spring Training with the purpose of giving the Giants long relief options as well.

4. Will one player win the everyday job in Left Field?
Short Answer: No
Long Answer:  If Brian Sabean wanted an everyday left fielder this off-season, he would have gone after Carl Crawford harder.  Sabean knows that with the current makeup of his team, he needs to give Bruce Bochy the flexibility to be productive.  Pat Burrell, Mark DeRosa, Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross, Nate Schierholtz and Andres Torres all logged time in 2010 in left field and Aaron Rowand and Brandon Belt could also be in the mix.  Burrell might end up as the team's fourth outfielder and best right handed power bat off the bench.  DeRosa might never again be healthy enough to earn his $6 million a year.  Huff will only win the everyday left field job if Brandon Belt becomes the everyday 1st baseman.  Cody Ross will only play left field in Nate Schierholtz earns a starting job in right.  Ross and Torres will be two of the three starting outfielders barring injury.  Torres would only become our starting left fielder in Aaron Rowand won his center field job back, and even then it would probably be Ross in left and Torres in right. 

5. Will Buster Posey have a sophomore slump like Pablo?
Short Answer: No
Long Answer: Buster Posey, who capped off his rookie season with a championship and a Rookie of the Year trophy, has only greatness ahead of him if he stays at that kind of pace.  Pablo Sandoval burst onto the scene in a very similar way, leading a Bondsless team with his fun loving, power swinging persona.  His .330 average was remarkable and his 25 home runs and 90 RBI's were incredible.  Sandoval's drop off was so significant in 2010, that he barely played in the post-season.  Posey, who never missed a game down the stretch playing the most demanding position, seemed to flourish in the most pressure packed situations.  Posey's sophomore year is not slump proof, but his position has a lot to do with his chance for repeat success.  As the team's starting catcher, Posey will be as important to the team behind the plate as he will be in the middle of the lineup.  If Bengi Molina, Mike Matheny, Benito Santiago and the others before them proved anything, it is that a quality backstop can help the entire ballclub.  Posey's defense will help our biggest strength, the pitching staff, stay on their game, it will allow the other team's running game to be less of a factor, and it will allow any hitting slump Posey has not to be looked at so critically.  Veterans like Huff, Ross, Burrell and Miguel Tejada will help both Posey and Sandoval by being protected in the Giants lineup.

Will there be more magic in 2011?

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