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The Battle For Roster Spots Is ON

Posted By Joseph Davis On Feb 27 2011 @ 11:50 am In San Francisco Giants | No Comments

Most of the names responsible for securing the 2010 Giants championship are stitched on the back of Giants uniforms this spring. That’s good. But as hard as it may be to grasp, a couple of those names could well be removed come late March.

You see, Brandon Belt is on the horizon. He’s a 2009 5th-round pick, and he skyrocketed through all 3 levels of the minors in 2010—an impressive feat for a position player in his first pro season. Most recently, he had his way with opposing pitchers in the Arizona Fall League, and plenty of those pitchers are major leaguers, not dudes stuck in their 4th year of A ball. Bruce Bochy himself is very high on the 22-year-old, and everyone who’s been a witness and testified says his glove is ready—the only question is his bat. Comparisons to Buster Posey run rampant.

My impression of him? He’s very humble and grounded, in the Travis Ishikawa mold. That’s high praise, as Ishi ranks among my most respected and liked Giants.

Or soon-to-be-ex-Giants, as the case may be…

Although Brian Sabean remains closer to skeptical than not, Belt has a decent enough shot at making the team. If he does, it won’t be to sit—he’ll be given a shot at the full-time first base role. Which means Aubrey Huff will have to play a corner outfield spot, preferably left given the snarls of AT&T Park. Cody Ross will have to play right. Pat Burrell and Mark DeRosa will be reserves, along with Aaron Rowand if Sabean can’t pull another Alfonzo/Finley out of his hat.

That potentially leaves Nate Schierholtz out of a job.

Ishikawa, of course, was the late inning defensive replacement for Huff at 1st and occasional lefty bat off the bench. If Belt, a lefty hitter with an excellent glove of his own, is the starter—there is no need for Ishikawa, period. It would be like “upgrading” to Libya from Egypt.

Ishikawa and Schierholtz are out of options. They don’t make the team, they won’t be AAA insurance (no pun intended). They’ll be elsewhere, but they’ll never be forgotten.

Q: Why would the Giants even dream of letting go of the players who got them their trophy?

A: Ideally, they wouldn’t. Why would you mess with a proven recipe for success? Only because

  • Other teams are gunning for them now. Remain stagnant and get stampeded. We might love Nate and Travis, but if there is a better player available, as Belt allegedly is, and he won’t cost anything—that better player needs to be playing. If there were some way to start Belt, and keep the rest of the roster intact and happy, they’d do it. Maybe they can petition for 10 defensive positions rather than 9, or 30-man rosters like in the early part of 1995.
  • You can’t hold down a major-league ready prospect. Just not right. What if the team refused to move Bengie Molina last season so that Buster Posey could play?

Personally, I hope Belt doesn’t make the team—yet. He has one year of pro ball under his…yeah. Time is on his side. He’s not even on the 40-man roster! Let’s allow Ishikawa and Schierholtz the chance to claim their rings while wearing Orange and Black; it’ll be the highlight of their careers. Then, when June comes around, if Ishikawa is still whiffing 60% of the time as he has this spring, and Belt is tearing it up at AAA, by all means make the switch.

THE PITCHING STAFF

Obviously, the rotation is set (with Jon Sanchez the #2 starter and Barry Zito #4, at least to open 2011) Bochy, and Brian Sabean, have said that Madison Bumgarner’s spot will not be skipped on off-days, as many #5 spots are throughout baseball. The bullpen is more or less set; it’s just a matter of how many arms Bochy wants in it. Brian Wilson, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez (who is a GREAT interview; he’s a guy who just GETS it), Ramon Ramirez (whose arm has looked quite live thus far) and Jeremy Affeldt have security, and Santiago Casilla probably has a job to lose—leaving one potential spot for Dan Runzler and a host of non-roster invitees which includes the returning Guillermo Mota. (I’ll detail the new Giants in my next column.)

It’s going to be an interesting Spring Training; I’ll be monitoring it closely for you. JD

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