The second in a six-part series that previews the upcoming season for a team we haven’t heard much from in over three months. Here is a look at the catchers. Who are these guys?
Looked at simply, you can break the Giants’ most relevant corner infielders into two categories: the dependable veterans and the awfully intriguing.
In the former category come the guys fans are familiar with. Brandon Belt — as “assassin,” as Gabe Kapler said — is the same stellar defender and advanced hitter who may drive fans crazy but now has the complete backing of a manager and front office that believe in his approach. Belt will walk, will spit on pitches and, the team hopes, will watch more Oracle Park long outs become doubles and home runs after the fences were dragged in.
On the other corner will be Evan Longoria, who spent so much of his offseason (and spring training 1.5, in between 1.0 and 2.0) in Scottsdale working with the new hitting coaches. The 34-year-old is still a solid defender and coming off a rebound season that he did not feel was good enough (.254/.325/.437). Longoria has spurts that show the three-time All-Star is still within him, and he’ll be another project for a franchise that prides itself on development not just with youth, but with veterans, as well.
As the names get less familiar, they also get more intriguing. Among the backup first basemen will be Wilmer Flores, who also plays second and became the first free agent Farhan Zaidi dished out a multi-year deal to with the Giants. The 28-year-old destroys lefty pitching and will get every opportunity to continue that trend. Joey Bart could find his way over to first as the Giants look for another way to get his bat in the lineup.
Darin Ruf, whose glove plays best at first, has become an unlikely headliner, the 33-year-old who spent his past three seasons in South Korea getting hotter than the sun in Scottsdale. He slashed .429/.469/1.000 in 14 Cactus League games, and the minor league signing has entered the Giants’ radar. Zaidi recently listed Ruf first among possible in-house DH options.
The two backup third basemen to watch have both raised expectations since the start of camp 1.0; Pablo Sandoval with health, Zach Green with performance.
Sandoval, the surprise offseason re-signing, looked healthy at the plate in February and March, though he was not yet ready to throw in games after Tommy John surgery ended his 2019. Kapler confirmed that Sandoval will be a full participant in next week’s camp, able to take ground balls and complete throws, putting his switch-hitting bat back in the mix.
Green, who is not on the 40-man roster, is hurt by the fact he’s a righty behind Longoria, which makes him a bit redundant. Yet, the 26-year-old former third-round pick, who is coming off hip surgery, put on a show, slashing .438/.500/1.063 in 11 games, he and Ruf giving a peek at righty power the Giants haven’t enjoyed in years. Sure, it could be a mirage under that Scottsdale sun, but the 26-year-old has more struggled with injury than ineffectiveness as he tried to climb the ranks of the Phillies and then the Giants.
Other names to know:
Donovan Solano: Last year’s darling, the middle infielder is flexible enough to move to third, but he would be more helpful in that spot if he were a lefty hitter.
Austin Slater: Slater plays all over and appeared in 29 big-league games at first the last two years. Yet, Flores’ and Ruf’s bat would be higher in the pecking order.
Mauricio Dubon: Hey, why not? Kapler has mentioned the possibility of the do-everything fielder eventually getting first-base reps, though it’s unlikely in this shortened season.
Luis Toribio: Another for the “why not?” category. The 19-year-old third baseman is the seventh-best prospect in the system, according to MLB Pipeline, regarded as an advanced hitter who already rose to short-season Salem-Keizer last year. He will not see major league time this season, but it’s possible he could be among the prospects to be included in the taxi squad so he doesn’t lose a year of development.
Tomorrow: the middle infielders.