The San Francisco Giants aren’t expected to challenge the Los Angeles Dodgers or San Diego Padres atop the National League West in 2021, but it’s easy to see why president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and manager Gabe Kapler are confident in the team’s chances of improving.
After posting a 29-31 record and missing the postseason by one game in an abbreviated 2020 season, the Giants return the vast majority of their key contributors and will enjoy plenty of continuity around the diamond.
Kapler’s 13-person coaching staff may have been light on major league experience a season ago, but his unconventional hires made immediate contributions as several veterans including Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford played at their highest level in years. With bargain acquisitions such as Mike Yastrzemski, Donovan Solano and Alex Dickerson enjoying their best seasons as a professional, the Giants’ offense was an unlikely force that helped will the team back into contention following an ugly 8-16 start.
There are plenty of questions –particularly on the pitching side– about how the Giants’ roster will hold up over a 162-game schedule, but there’s more reason for optimism around Oracle Park than there’s been at any point since the team’s last playoff appearance.
With pitchers and catchers slated to report to Scottsdale on February 15 and Opening Day scheduled for April 1, here’s our “way too early” prediction for what the Giants’ initial 26-man roster will look like this season.
Catchers (2): Buster Posey, Curt Casali
After debuting last summer, rookies Joey Bart and Chadwick Tromp are back in camp this spring and valuable members of the Giants’ 40-man roster, but neither are expected to begin the season in the majors. With the return of Posey, the Giants’ franchise cornerstone, and the signing of a veteran free agent in Casali, a former Rays and Reds backstop, it’s unlikely either Bart or Tromp will break camp with the club.
The Giants would probably prefer to have a left-handed hitter in the mix to platoon with Posey, but they like Casali’s power, on-base skills and familiarity with a considerable number of pitchers on the staff.
Infielders (6): Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Wilmer Flores, Tommy La Stella, Evan Longoria, Donovan Solano
Despite lacking a true shortstop to back up Crawford, the Giants have more infield depth than they’ve had at any point in the last five years. The group also affords Kapler a lot of flexibility as Flores, La Stella and Solano can play multiple positions, giving the Giants the chance to load up on right-handed bats against left-handed pitchers and lefty bats when they face righties.
It’s difficult to envision any team in the majors boasting as many productive veteran hitters in the infield as the Giants as the players listed above have combined for more than 46 years of major league service time. Four of the six infielders have appeared in All-Star Games and one of the players who hasn’t, Solano, would have had a great chance to secure an All-Star nod last season.
Belt is still recovering from offseason heel surgery and may not be ready for Opening Day, but until we learn more about his status, we’ll leave him in our projection. SAN FRANCISCO, CA – MAY 26: San Francisco Giants’ Brandon Belt (9) throws to first base for an out on a hit by Arizona Diamondbacks’ Carson Kelly (18) in the eighth inning at Oracle Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, May 26, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
Outfielders (5): Alex Dickerson, Mauricio Dubón, Darin Ruf, Austin Slater, Mike Yastrzemski
When the Giants acquired Dubón at the 2019 trade deadline, Zaidi mentioned the front office envisioned the infield prospect eventually playing a super utility role and lining up all over the diamond. Fast forward to spring training 2021 and Dubón may no longer be lauded for his versatility, but that’s through no fault of his own.
Dubón has shown so much progress and potential in center field that he’s now slated to play the position on a near-daily basis in 2021. Those plans could change if the Giants signed a left-handed hitting center fielder, so any acquisition could free up Dubón to help out behind Crawford at shortstop.
The Giants will rely on their other outfielders to provide power in the heart of the order as Yastrzemski, Dickerson and Slater are all dynamic talents in the batter’s box when healthy. If there’s one player on the depth chart without a secure roster spot, it’s probably Ruf, but the Giants love his ability to hit left-handed pitching and think it’s wise to use games against lefties as a way to keep Dickerson off his feet.
Starting pitchers (5): Kevin Gausman, Johnny Cueto, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, Logan Webb
Starting pitching was a clear weakness for the Giants during the 2020 season and while Zaidi and general manager Scott Harris have been active in the market during the offseason, there are no guarantees the 2021 group is demonstrably better than last year’s.
The Giants are once again betting on their ability to help pitchers bounce back and return to form after down seasons as Cueto, DeSclafani and Wood all hit major roadblocks during an abbreviated 60-game schedule. Without significant improvements from each member of the trio, it’s hard to see how the Giants will hang around .500.
The organization would probably prefer for Webb to open the season at Triple-A so he can focus on improving his command, but with Tyler Beede recovering from Tommy John and top pitching prospect Sean Hjelle slated to open the year in the minors, Webb must be treated as the front-runner for the fifth starter job until San Francisco acquires other challengers. SAN FRANCISCO, CA – SEPTEMBER 24: San Francisco Giants pitcher Kevin Gausman (34) delivers a pitch in the first inning of their baseball game against the Colorado Rockies in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)
Relief pitchers (8): Jarlín García, Trevor Gott, Jake McGee Reyes Moronta, Dedniel Núñez, Wandy Peralta, Tyler Rogers, Matt Wisler
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the addition of left-handed reliever Jake McGee, who agreed to terms on a deal with the Giants on Tuesday. To clear space for McGee, reliever Caleb Baragar’s name has been removed from the initial 26-man roster prediction.
If you want to know where my “way too early” roster prediction will be wrong, look no further than the Opening Day bullpen. The Giants have done a fairly impressive job of accumulating quality depth and will have several pitchers signed to minor league deals in big league camp to challenge for jobs, so there’s almost no chance the group above is the exact bullpen you’ll see when the season begins.
It’s possible García, Rogers and Wisler are the only locks for the Giants’ Opening Day bullpen as Gott is out of options, Moronta is returning from injury and Núñez has never pitched above A-ball, but the trio is listed here because they’ll all have an inside track to securing jobs with strong performances in camp.
Peralta has a minor league option available, so fellow lefties Caleb Baragar, Sam Selman or Conner Menez could easily take his spot with a strong spring. Other names to know: future closer candidate Camilo Doval and minor league free agents Silvino Bracho, Jay Jackson and James Sherfy.
Free agent signee John Brebbia will eventually pitch in high-leverage situations, but it’s too soon to expect him to make the Opening Day roster as he continues recovering from a June Tommy John surgery.