One of the biggest changes in Giants camp this spring was that Gabe Kapler made no secret of the fact he wanted every day viewed as a competition. The intensity in drills was ramped up, and even veterans who had been around for a decade talked of fighting for at-bats. That’ll be one of many themes you won’t see as much of if the Giants return to “spring training” next month.
If Major League Baseball figures out a way to return in July, it will do so with expanded rosters. The current thought is that teams could have about 30 active players with as many as 20 waiting on a taxi squad to account for pitchers who aren’t fully built up, an increase in doubleheaders, and the possibility that players have to be quarantined at times. In theory, that could answer a lot of those March questions.
Billy Hamilton vs. Steven Duggar, or Jaylin Davis vs. Darin Ruf? You could carry all with a 50-man roster.
Yolmer Sanchez vs. Donovan Solano? Take ’em both, along with a healthy Pablo Sandoval.
That wide-open bullpen competition? Bring them all to San Francisco.
Some difficult decisions should become easier, but at the same time, the Giants will be faced with another set of interesting choices. It seems unlikely that there will be a minor league season, and that means Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris will have to figure out how to balance development against their big league needs.
Before all of this, Joey Bart seemed a good bet to debut this summer, or at the very least in September. Sean Hjelle was on that fast track, too, and Heliot Ramos loomed as a potential September call-up. The other top prospects in a rapidly improving farm system are at the lower levels, but with Bart and Hjelle in particular, the Giants could develop a whole new playbook.
Bart’s bat looked ready for the big leagues this spring, but the Giants wanted him catching every day in Triple-A. He was never part of the backup catcher competition and was sent down shortly before COVID-19 ended the spring. With that minor league opportunity taken away, his best way to develop in 2020 might be to spend the summer in San Francisco, watching Buster Posey and working with the big league staff. And with a shortened season and expanded playoff pool, there’s little doubt that Bart’s power is a nice fit for a team that would have a much better chance than expected at being competitive. You would want three catchers with a more hectic schedule and the universal DH could open up at-bats.
A Bart promotion seems like a no-brainer, frankly. Ramos may have been too far away when camp broke to consider a similar move, but Hjelle would be in a fascinating position. He was supposed to start every five days in Double-A, but he also showed in Scottsdale that he’s not bothered by the bullpen. Hjelle pitched the ninth in his first spring appearance and sat at 95 mph in a smooth inning.
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If the Giants know Hjlelle won’t be able to pitch in the minors this year, could they treat him like a Rule 5 pick, putting him on the roster and giving him mop-up innings at first so he continues to develop? Given Hjelle’s deception, there’s a chance he could pretty quickly prove to be a nice bullpen weapon for Kapler this season, and you could slide him right back into a minor league rotation whenever minor league ball resumes.
These are the questions Giants officials are asking themselves. There are ways to continue working with their top prospects even without a minor league season, and given the talent level of the big league roster, some of those players might be able to provide an unexpected 2020 boost.
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During his weekly KNBR appearance, Kapler said he has told players to be ready for an early-June return to camp so they’re not caught off guard. He’ll leave the specifics about what his 30-man roster or taxi squad might look like to Zaidi and Harris.
“Any time you’re thinking about roster size, any time you’re thinking about how to cover for when pitchers aren’t necessarily built up the same way they would be in a regular spring training, you talk about who might be best to provide that depth,” Kapler said. “I think those are the discussions that are taking place right now. One of the things I am most confident in is Farhan and Scott’s ability to build a roster that accounts for all of those things.”