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Farhan Zaidi drops hints on Opening Day roster decisions



© Matt Kartozian | 2023 Mar 22

The Giants’ roster is coming into clear view as Opening Day is set to arrive within a week.

Austin Slater and Mitch Haniger are likely starting the season on the injured list, paving the way for two spots. And in a spring without many clear positional battles, the catching room and final bullpen spot may have been the only roles up for grabs in Scottsdale.

Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, joining the NBC Sports Bay Area broadcast Thursday, indicated which ways the Giants are leaning in those areas.

The 6-foot-11 right-handed pitcher Sean Hjelle, for instance, appears to have a stronghold on the final spot in San Francisco’s bullpen.

“He’s had a great camp for us,” Zaidi said. “Sean’s done a great job for us and has a really good chance of breaking camp with us.”

Hjelle has flashed improved velocity in Cactus League play. He’s struck out 18 hitters — tied for most on the team — in 15 innings. He’s only walked two and allowed three earned runs in his five starts, good for a 1.80 ERA.

With Hjelle, and depending on how the Giants configure their roster, the bullpen is heavy on bulk innings options. Late-inning arms include Camilo Doval, Taylor and Tyler Rogers, Scott Alexander and John Brebbia. The rest of the relievers would be made up of pitchers more suited to provide multiple innings (Hjelle, Jakob Junis and whichever of SF’s swing starters comes out of the pen).

Zaidi also pointed to Bryce Johnson, the speedy outfielder who has thrived in Cactus League action, as a likely member of the 26-man roster to start the year.

“He’s shown the dimensions he can bring to this team that frankly the rest of the roster, we just don’t have,” Zaidi said.

Johnson, who debuted in 2022, leads all players in spring training stolen bases. With new rules limiting pickoff throw attempts and enlarged bases, Johnson’s speed can make even more of a difference.

Despite also possessing a strong glove in center field, Johnson will need to hit big-league pitching significantly better to earn real playing time. Last year, he hit .111 as a Giant. He’s up to .381 in the Cactus League.

Without Slater (hamstring) and Haniger (oblique) when camp breaks, Johnson could start on Opening Day in center field and shift Mike Yastrzemski to a corner.

Blake Sabol will likely also become a candidate to start in the outfield in Yankee Stadium. The converted catcher has seen more time in the outfield lately, with Haniger and Slater’s injuries supplying a need for more depth. Since Sabol is a Rule 5 acquisition, the Giants must keep him on the active roster to avoid sending him back to Pittsburgh.

The Giants likely won’t be able to carry Sabol, Joey Bart and another catcher all year. So San Francisco must get Sabol to the point where he’s comfortable and competent enough to catch at a MLB level.

“When Mitch Haniger and Austin Slater get back, Blake’s got to fit more firmly in the catching mix,” Zaidi told reporters Friday, via The San Francisco Chronicle. “For us to get through the full season with Blake on the roster, he’s going to have to be able to prove himself to be a viable major-league catcher, and I think we’ve seen a lot of progress with that.”

Opening Day Roster Projection

Hitters (13)
Joey Bart, Blake Sabol, Roberto Pérez
Brandon Crawford, Thairo Estrada, David Villar, Wilmer Flores, LaMonte Wade Jr.,
J.D. Davis, Joc Pederson
Mike Yastrzemski, Michael Conforto, Bryce Johnson

Pitchers (13)
Logan Webb, Alex Cobb, Alex Wood, Anthony DeSclafani, Sean Manaea, Ross Stripling
Camilo Doval, Taylor Rogers, Tyler Rogers, John Brebbia, Scott Alexander, Jakob Junis, Sean Hjelle