2011 pre-season preview: NL West – San Francisco Giants
2010 NL Rookie of the Year, Buster Posey
San Francisco Giants (2010 record: 92-70)
Notable additions: SS Miguel Tejada
Catcher: Buster Posey
This is not a lineup that is going to score an over-abundance of runs. The good thing for the Giants and their fans is that it won’t have to, thanks to a pitching staff that posted the best ERA in the NL last year (3.36) and is likely to compete for the designation as the league’s top staff again this season. That said, it is an offense that should be similar to, or slightly better than, the 2010 edition – which was 9th in the league in runs scored with 697 (just under the league average of 701 runs scored).
The organization signed Miguel Tejada to play shortstop this season in place of the now-departed Juan Uribe. The team will come up a little short on that exchange as Uribe hit 24 HR and drove in 85 runs whereas Tejada hit 15 HR and had 71 ribbies. But the loss will be more than offset by having catcher Buster Posey for a full season (the reigning NL Rookie of the Year hit .305, with 18 HR and 67 RBI in just 406 at-bats last year).
The team appears set to overhaul its outfield. According to reports, it will turn to LF Mark DeRosa (.194/1/10 in an injury-shortened season), CF Andres Torres (.268/16/63) and RF Cody Ross (.269/14/65) to take over for last year’s triad of Pat Burrell (.266/18/51), Aaron Rowand (.230/11/34) and Nate Shierholtz (.242/3/17). The net impact of these changes will be beneficial, especially if DeRosa can stay healthy.
1B Aubrey Huff (.290/26/86) returns to anchor the Giants offense. Aside from a full season from Posey, he would be most helped by a return to form by 3B Pablo Sandoval, who hit just .268, with 13 HR and 63 RBI in 2010.
The pitching staff:
Closer: Brian Wilson
Pitching and defense win championships, and the Giants seem to have the pitching portion of the equation covered. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are as good as any 1-2 punch in the game of baseball, so the key to the upcoming season will be whether Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner prove to be consistent performers in the rotation. If they struggle, or take a small step backward, they could be in a catfight for the division.
Sanchez has taken a huge step forward in the last two years, finally living up to the potential most scouts assigned to him several years ago. Of particular concern is Bumgarner, who saw his workload increase by 73 IP last season – the kind of increase from year-to-year (for any pitcher under 25 years of age) is problematic and can be a harbinger of exhaustion or injury in the following season.
Of the pitchers in the bullpen listed herein, only Affeldt had what could be considered a sub-par year in 2010. While some of these guys are unlikely to repeat their success of last year, they should be good enough to keep the Giants in position to claim their 2nd consecutive division title.
Prediction for 2011: 1st place (92-70)
The Giants won’t be picked to repeat by many pundits in the aftermath of the Phillies’ signing of Cliff Lee, but they appear likely to repeat as division champs and make it to the NLCS to face Philadelphia. Once there anything can happen, thanks to the quality of the Giants starting rotation. I look for Posey to build on what he accomplished last year, and for the Panda Bear (Sandoval) to have a bounce-back season… so the club’s fate will depend on health and the performance of Bumgarner and Sanchez.
Top Five Prospects
Brandon Belt was twice selected in the First-Year Player Draft but turned down offers in order to pursue his college education (Red Sox in 2006, Braves in 2007). After a stop at San Jacinto Junior College, he ended up at the University of Texas and was ultimately taken by San Francisco in the 5th round of the 2009 Draft.
In the Instructional League that year, the Giants altered his mechanics and approach at the plate. He immediately began hitting the ball with much greater authority and has shot through the San Francisco farm system. Last year, he played at three different levels, hitting .352, with 23 HR and 112 RBI. In the process, he turned himself into one of the top prospects in all of baseball (he was #23 on the most recent Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list).
The scouts say he has exceptional plate discipline. He uses the who field, regularly going up the middle and to left field. He sees the ball well and makes consistent contact. he is projected to be a 20-25 HR hitter in The Show.
On defense, he has “plus” range and hands and is considered capable of contending for a Gold Glove Award.
Belt is expected to start the 2011 season in Triple-A. It is likely he will be in San Francisco at mid-season.