The Giants took the field Sunday afternoon for infield drills, and for a second all looked normal. Well, kind of.
Evan Longoria was at third base, Brandon Crawford was at short, Donovan Solano was at second -- and Gabe Kapler was scooping balls at first base. It was an interesting sight, but Kapler was just helping out as Brandon Belt stood about 15 yards away working on gloving balls hit between first and second.
Move Belt over a few feet and you have the potential starting infield. The Giants are more set here than anywhere else, but they still will have plenty of variations when it comes to their infield. Belt could cede time to right-handed hitters. Solano will be joined at second by Mauricio Dubon, Yolmer Sanchez and Wilmer Flores. Crawford could find himself splitting time with a right-handed hitter, and Longoria could give plenty of starts up to left-handed bats.
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The Giants have a lot of options. They also have a lot of infielders who seem locked onto the roster. Here's a rundown:
The Ones You Know
Belt is looking at his 10th consecutive Opening Day in the Giants lineup and Crawford his ninth. This is their first year under Kapler, though, and that could mean a key change. With a new regime fully in place, the Giants are going all-in on platoons. Both Brandons have had years when they've handled lefties well, but last year Belt had a .664 OPS against them and Crawford was at .598. That won't fly under Farhan Zaidi, Scott Harris and Kapler. Belt could lose starts to Wilmer Flores and Darin Ruf, and Crawford has Mauricio Dubon looming. It's a division with a lot of lefty starters, so it'll be interesting to see just how far the Giants go with splitting time.
Longoria could be in the same situation. He hit 14 homers against righties last year but had just a .303 OBP and .419 slugging percentage. Pablo Sandoval is fully healed from Tommy John surgery and could soak up some of those at-bats. Over the weekend, Sandoval became the most talked-about player in camp. He appears to have put on weight since the spring, but Kapler downplayed any concern Sunday.
San Francisco Giants
"In this particular case, what we've all noticed about Pablo is that the ball is jumping off his bat, that his throws have nice carry," Kapler said. "He's demonstrated that he's healthy. That's the most important thing. Look, he's not going to bat leadoff for us (but) the expectation with Pablo Sandoval is he slugs, he drives the baseball, he's a good DH candidate for us, he's got nice soft hands. All of those things are present in camp and those are the things we're going to be focusing on."
Solano hit a very under-the-radar .330 last year and seems headed for more starts at second base, where Dubon ended last year as the potential long-term starter. Now, the Giants want to use Dubon all over the field. He's the best shortstop of the right-handed-hitting second basemen, so he could play a lot there against lefties. Dubon also looks like a good bet to get plenty of starts in center field.
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In early March, it looked like Sanchez vs. Solano could be a tough roster decision, but the Giants now can carry both, with the Gold Glove-winning Sanchez a nice piece on a roster that values versatility. He switch-hits and has a lot of big league experience at third base, with the ability to play short, too. Sanchez was just 3-for-26 this spring, but the Giants restructured his deal last weekend to keep him on the roster, and all indications are that he'll be at Dodger Stadium on Opening Day.
Flores became the first player to sign a multi-year deal with the Giants under Zaidi after posting a .317/.361/.487 slash line with the Arizona Diamondbacks last year. He's not a good defender, but he can play second and first, and he looms as a potential platoon partner with Belt. Flores' experience should also make him a nice pinch-hit option for Kapler late in games.
Look, we've all seen older hitters come into Giants camp and have a huge spring, only to bust once the season started. Remember Chris Marrero?
Ruf was 12-for-28 in the Cactus League with three homers, five doubles and a triple, and he ironically has been helped by the long layoff. While the non-roster invitee waited for this all to get sorted out, MLB added a DH and four more roster spots, making Ruf a near-lock for the opener because of a very specific skill. The 33-year-old has a .921 career OPS against lefties (for comparison's sake, Pete Alonso was at .941 in his magical rookie year) and Zaidi and Kapler have talked him up as a DH option.
Kapler brought up Ruf on Sunday when talking about the day's standouts, saying he had nice at-bats against lefty Andrew Suarez. He later said he wants Ruf to get comfortable at first base and in the outfield. If he hits lefties as he did in Philadelphia for so many years, Ruf could get a lot of at-bats.
Abiatal Avelino and Zach Green would have started this season with Triple-A Sacramento and now likely will spend their summer up there as injury replacements. Both have big league experience, but they're still younger than you'd think; Green is 26 and Avelino is 25. There's time for each to still carve out a big league role at some point.
Green is particularly intriguing. He hit 25 homers in 252 at-bats in Triple-A last year and only an injury kept him from seeing time in the big leagues down the stretch. He was right there with Ruf this spring, going 7-for-16 with three homers.
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Over the holiday weekend, the Giants added Luis Toribio and Will Wilson to their player pool. Toribio is a sweet-swinging lefty who plays third base and posted a .433 OBP in his first full minor league season. The Giants chose Hunter Bishop over Wilson last year in the first round, then scooped up the latter in December by taking on the Zack Cozart contract from the Los Angeles Angels. Maybe they would have felt differently had they known Cozart's salary would be so out of whack this year, but they're still thrilled to have Wilson, who is in camp with college teammate Patrick Bailey.
The final infielder in camp might be the most exciting player in the whole organization. Marco Luciano is just 18, but after posting a .302/.417/.564 slash line in rookie ball he stands as a top 20 prospect in all of baseball. You'll find evaluators who think Luciano will be a top-five prospect next spring.
Luciano will spend his season working on his game in Sacramento, but he's apparently making the most of a couple of weeks at Oracle Park. Someone who was at the early workout (media wasn't allowed) Sunday told me Luciano put on a show in BP, prompting a couple of older players to ask who the guy in the batter's box was. Bench coach Kai Correa confirmed that the display was electric: