Projecting Giants' Opening Day roster: Johnson, Sabol make team


SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- At the end of his first spring in charge of the Giants, Farhan Zaidi made a roster move involving a catcher on three consecutive days. He scooped up Connor Joe and Michael Reed from other camps and threw them right into the lineup. He made a seemingly minor trade for Mike Yastrzemski and pored over the waiver wire, looking for upside but also depth. 

On Friday, Zaidi smiled and talked about how all is quiet in the front office's war room. The Giants are still diligently monitoring the other 29 rosters, of course, but Zaidi doesn't expect to make many, if any, moves as players opt out or get cut elsewhere. He'll have three 40-man roster spots to play with, but one will go to a catcher already in camp and another to young homegrown outfielder Bryce Johnson. Times have changed.

"I think some of the challenges for us have been when the fill-ins have been a little bit of a revolving door," Zaidi admitted. "We're claiming guys off waivers and trying to fill gaps and I think what every organization wants is a group of five, 10, 15 guys who are the next line of defense. When you have an injury, you never feel good about it, but you at least (then will) feel like somebody could come up and you could be as good of a team with somebody filling in."

The best development of the spring was the Giants starting to see that wall get taller. Blake Sabol and Johnson played so well that they'll make the team to fill in for injured veterans. Casey Schmitt looks like he's just about ready. Kyle Harrison isn't far behind.

It was a pretty positive spring for an organization that needed one, and although there were injuries, they won't lead to long-term absences. The Giants won't break camp with the 26-man roster they projected six weeks ago, but they're not far away.

Here's a look at how it might look on Thursday at Yankee Stadium:

Starting Pitchers

Six -- Logan Webb, Alex Cobb, Ross Stripling, Alex Wood, Anthony DeSclafani, Sean Manaea

What was the best news of the spring? For manager Gabe Kapler, that's an easy one. 

"Probably the most encouraging thing in all of camp is we're seemingly headed into the last couple of days of camp with a pretty healthy pitching staff," Kapler said earlier this week. "We always talk about we have some injuries, other teams have some injuries, but I don't think there are many teams that can say that they have the pitching depth that we have."

The Giants arrived in Scottsdale with six healthy starters and left intact, while also seeing some depth pieces take notable steps forward. There are only two questions at this point. 

The first is with Cobb, who took a liner off his knee two weeks ago and is still dealing with some swelling. Cobb threw a bullpen session Saturday and will stay in Arizona to face hitters on Monday. He expects to start the second game of the season, although he won't be sure until he's through that simulated game. 

The other question: What, exactly, will the rotation look like?

Kapler has been coy, only giving away that he expects to be heavily right-handed early because of the lineups he'll prepare for in New York and Chicago. Stripling is lined up for the third game of the Yankees series, but after that there's some mystery, and also two early off days. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Giants go with a four-man rotation on the first trip and use a couple of their starters to piggyback other ones. 


Seven -- Camilo Doval, Tyler Rogers, Taylor Rogers, John Brebbia, Scott Alexander, Jakob Junis, Sean Hjelle

There was one spot open at the start of camp because Luke Jackson is headed for the 60-day Injured List, and Hjelle appears to have won it. He bulked up in the offseason, has been better at maintaining his velocity, and posted a 1.80 ERA with 18 strikeouts to two walks. 

Hjelle is really the only player the Giants have to decide on at this point. If they go with 14 position players at the start of the season, it would be Brett Wisely in that final spot. If it's the more traditional 13 pitchers and 13 hitters, Hjelle will make the team. 

The 107-win 2021 Giants led the league in bullpen ERA and could do it again. Doval hit 102 mph in the WBC and looks poised for a monster season. Taylor Rogers will pair with him in the late innings after striking out 13 of the 28 batters he faced in his first spring alongside his twin. 

In Hjelle, Tristan Beck, Cole Waites and others, the Giants have much more depth than they did a year ago at this time.


Three -- Joey Bart, Robert Perez, Blake Sabol

At the start of camp, Zaidi and Kapler challenged Bart to go out and win his job back and also said it didn't look at the time like they would carry three catchers. Bart has done his part, having a solid spring overall and showing that he is easily the best thrower of the group that was in camp, something that will be even more important given the new disengagement rules. 

Two things changed the math when it came to Sabol. First, he simply won a job. Sabol was the hottest hitter in camp early on and finished with a 1.125 OPS. He kept himself in the catching mix, and when Mitch Haniger and Austin Slater went down, Sabol shifted back to left field and kept playing well. There's a very strong chance he's in the outfield next Thursday at Yankee Stadium. 

Perez came in headed for the backup job and won it, Kapler said Saturday. That's in large part because pitchers love throwing to him. Cobb called him "a magician" behind the plate and joked that Perez does such a good job of framing that he might get his pitchers in trouble for arguing calls with umpires. 

The main question with Perez, 34, is health, but he checked that box late in camp. 

"He showed us he's ready to play on a regular basis," Kapler said. 


Six -- Brandon Crawford, Wilmer Flores, Thairo Estrada, J.D. Davis, LaMonte Wade Jr., David Villar

It was circuitous at times, but the Giants ended up right where they started. Crawford and Villar both missed time with injuries but both are healthy and will be ready for the opener. 

The biggest story on the infield was the emergence of Schmitt, who was named the best newcomer in camp and will travel with the Giants to the Bay Bridge Series after hitting .381 in 13 spring appearances with six extra-base hits. Schmitt also showed he can play shortstop, and he might be the next man up if Crawford misses time during the season. 

For as good as Schmitt was this spring, he struck out 11 times to one walk and the Giants want him to go to Triple-A and work on a few adjustments. He has just 135 at-bats above the High-A level, but there's little doubt that he'll be in the big leagues this season, and possibly pretty early. 


Four -- Michael Conforto, Mike Yastrzemski, Joc Pederson, Bryce Johnson

The biggest change since early February is in the outfield, where Haniger (oblique) and Slater (hamstring) will both start the year on the IL. Haniger could be ready by the time the Giants return home on April 7 but Slater will need a couple of weeks. 

Pederson had an interesting spring, doing most of his work in Scottsdale at first base, playing center field for Team Israel in the WBC, and then finishing up on the sidelines because of lower body tightness. He's expected to be fine for the opener, though, and he will serve as the primary designated hitter against right-handed pitchers. 

Sabol is listed as a catcher on the roster but will mostly play left field at the start of the year as he looks to prove that he should be kept around after others get healthy. 

Johnson, who got a cameo last year, nearly lapped the field on the bases. He was 12-for-12 on stolen base attempts; no other player in MLB reached double-digits this spring.

RELATED: Johnson continues to cause havoc on bases

It'll be important for Sabol and Johnson to get off to quick starts. Haniger could be ready as soon as the sixth game of the season and Slater will be back at some point in April.

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