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Giants’ 2018 Spring Training preview: What’s at stake for these non-roster invitees


You don’t need to be a frequent spectator at Raley Field, home of the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate Sacramento River Cats, to recognize the names of Steven Duggar, Chris Shaw, and Andrew Suarez, all of whom received non-roster invites to this year’s Spring Training. It’s almost certain that these three prospects will make their major league debuts sometime in 2018, but they aren’t the only non-roster invitees looking for jobs with the Giants next season.

Without the same potential or level of past success as the Giants’ top name prospects, this Spring Training could be make-or-break for non-roster invitees Gregor Blanco, Andres Blanco, Hector Sanchez, Chase d’Arnaud, and Orlando Calixte.

They’ll not only be faced with competition from Duggar, Shaw, and Suarez, but also from Josh Rutledge and Justin O’Conner, both of whom are under-the-radar names with a strong cases to make the Giants roster next season. Let’s break down what’s at stake for the handful of players hoping to make the big league roster in 2018.

BEST BETS

Steve Duggar

In the three years since being selected in the sixth round of the 2015 MLB Draft, Steve Duggar, 24, shot through the minor leagues and, according to the Giants’ brass, is suddenly in line to take over as the Giants’ starting centerfielder with an impressive showing in the spring. Although he lacks power with only 10 home runs last season, Duggar batted .262 and is believed to be strong enough defensively to be trusted in the treacherous AT&T Park centerfield.

Duggar is probably the only player on this competing for an everyday spot on the Giants’ roster, and a strong showing in Arizona could see him in the lineup in Los Angeles on opening day.

Chris Shaw

When the Giants traded Christian Arroyo to the Tampa Bay Rays as a part of the package for Evan Longoria, Chris Shaw assumed the title of the organization’s top prospect. When the Giants selected him in the first round in 2015, Shaw was considered one of the elite collegiate power-hitters, and maintained that reputation with 21 home runs in 2016 and 24 last season.

Although he started out as a first baseman, Shaw spent most of last season in the outfield and batted .292 between Double-A Richmond and Triple-A Sacramento.

Should Brandon Belt be bit by the injury bug again next season or the Giants need an extra glove in the outfield, Shaw is equipped to take on either role and is expected to be called up at some point next season. The only question is Shaw’s defense, which many believe may good enough to be an everyday player at the Major League level.

Andrew Suarez

In order for Andrew Suarez to see the big leagues in 2018, he’ll need to beat out Ty Blach, Chris Stratton, and Tyler Beede for either the fourth or fifth spot in next year’s rotation.

Suarez was drafted after Shaw in the second round of 2015 MLB Draft. After posting a 1.60 ERA in his first year minor leagues, Suarez’s numbers began to swell. When he was promoted to Double-A in 2016, Suarez finished with a 3.95  ERA.

The following year, Suarez redeemed himself with a 2.96 ERA at Double-A and was bumped up to Triple-A, where he found a 3.55 ERA in 13 starts.

It’s not impossible and he’s knocking on the door to be called up, but Suarez will need to leave little to no doubt that he’s ready for the major leagues this Spring Training.

SOMETHING TO PROVE

Gregor Blanco

Six years ago, Gregor Blanco was 28-years-old non-roster invitee and won a roster spot on the Giants with a phenomenal Spring Training that led to a five-year stint in San Francisco, where he played over 200 games in centerfield.

Now, the 34-year-old outfielder once again finds himself on the job hunt with the Giants after a solo season with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2017. Although Blanco batted only .246 with three home runs in 90 games last season with the Diamondbacks, those offensive numbers were improvements after batting .224 with only one home run during his final season with the Giants in 2016. He also played each outfield position last year; making 44 appearances in left field, 35 in center, and six in right.

Blanco’s continued versatility and his experience at AT&T Park’s outfield gives him a slight edge to win a spot in the Giants’ centerfield platoon. Should Blanco put on a strong showing during Spring Training, he could once again win himself an outfield job with the Giants, but if he’s unsuccessful, his age and quiet offensive numbers last season could limit his outside options.

Andres Blanco

The Giants invited another “Blanco” to this year’s Spring Training on Tuesday afternoon, but this one is named Andres and he is an infielder, who spent the last three years with the Philadelphia Phillies. From 2004-2011, Blanco bounced in and out of the major leagues with five different teams, including the Washington Nationals, Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs, and Kansas City Royals.

Since he batted .292 with seven home runs in 106 games in 2015, Blanco’s numbers have gradually declined. He’s coming off the lowest batting average of his career (.192) and hit only three home runs in 80 games for Philadelphia. What Blanco does boast is unique versatility in the infield; having played each position last season, including a one-out pitching appearance.

Yet, it will take a strong showing, both offensively and defensively, for Blanco to earn a utility position with the Giants next season. The Giants are set with Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik, Brandon Belt, and now Evan Longoria starting in the infield, but down the stretch the team could use Blanco’s ability to fit into any of those positions to give their core a breather.

Hector Sanchez

Hector Sanchez is one of several former players the Giants reunited with this offseason, including Chris Heston and Gregor Blanco. After signing as an amateur free agent with the Giants in 2006, Sanchez went on to debut and spend five years with San Francisco before hitting free agency.

Last year he feasted off the Giants, batting .333 with four home runs in 15 games, but Sanchez stumbled along to a .219/.245/.423 slash line as a member of the San Diego Padres.

During his time in San Francisco, Sanchez served as the backup catcher to Buster Posey, and looks to reclaim his former role in 2018. Yet, he’ll face fierce competition with Nick Hundley, who batted .244 with nine home runs and showed incredible leadership in the clubhouse as the Giants’ backup catcher last season.

Even age isn’t on Sanchez’s side. Although he’s only 28-years-old, the 26-year-old Trevor Bown is also invited to Spring Training and after getting a taste of the big leagues in 2015-2016, he’s presented with an opportunity to regain a roster spot with the Giants.

Chase d’Arnaud

Chase d’Arnaud, not to be mistaken for his brother Travis d’Arnaud with the New York Mets, is coming off his sixth year in the major leagues, where he jumped between the Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, and San Diego Padres. d’Arnaud played for the Braves in 2016 before being selected off waivers by the Red Sox last April.

He then went on to single in his only plate appearance for the Red Sox before being selected of waivers by the Padres, where he finished the year batting .143 with one home run in 22 games.

Even with six major league years under his belt, d’Arnaud has yet to have a breakout season. All told, d’Arnaud owns a humble .223 career batting average and has never played more than 84 games in a single season.

Although he batted .375 in 11 games with the Braves at the start of 2017, d’Arnaud’s best came in 2016, when he played 84 games and batted .245.

Now 31-years-old and vying for a backup infielder role, d’Arnaud has very little to bring to the table.

Orlando Calixte

Orlando Calixte is the youngest of these five non-roster invitees at 25-years-old, but he might have the most to prove this Spring Training with the least amount of success in the major leagues.

Calixte debuted with the Royals in 2015, where he only received three at bats and had to wait until last season to get his first major league hit. Calixte signed with the Royals from the Dominican Republic in 2010, and remained in the organization until he was granted free agency in 2016. It wasn’t long before he signed with the Giants and finished the year in the big leagues after being called up in late May.

In the opportunity he was given by the Giants last season, Calixte was one of several call ups, including Christian Arroyo and Ryder Jones, to struggle at the major league level. In 29 games, he put up a miserable .143/.185/.163 slash line with 16 strikeouts.

Yet, the Giants have yet to identify who their starting centerfielder will be in 2018 and will potentially use a platoon of outfielders to man that position. If that is still the case come Spring Training, that opens a window for Calixte to slide into that platoon with a productive spring and gain some traction in the major leagues.

LONGSHOTS

Josh Rutledge

Last December, the Giants snatched Josh Rutledge out of free agency after three years with the Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies. Although he’s only appeared in 100-plus games in a single season once, Rutledge served his teams well as a reliable utility infielder.

After playing in 105 games in 2014 with the Rockies, Rutledge put up a .284/.333/.338 slash line in his first year with the Red Sox. His batting average gradually dropped from .265 in 2016 to .224 last season and his swing lacks power, but Rutledge has the resume that gives him a shot at making the Giants roster next season with a productive Spring Training.

Justin O’Conner

Formerly a first round selection by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010, Justin O’Conner inked a minor-league deal with the Giants on January 25 and will have the opportunity to compete along with Nick Hundley, Trevor Brown, and Hector Sanchez for the role of backup catcher.

However, after nine years in the minor leagues, O’Conner has yet to see any action in the major leagues and last season he batted .227 with eight home runs between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham.

More than likely, O’Conner will find himself back in the minor leagues for the ninth straight year, with Hundley resuming his role from last season.