3 questions facing Giants ahead of Opening Day

March 23rd, 2024

This story was excerpted from Maria Guardado’s Giants Beat newsletter, written this week by Melanie Martinez-Lopez. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Opening Day is five days away. Yes, you read that right: The regular season is on the horizon.

A lot went on in Giants camp between February and now, from injuries to additions of some new faces, such as third baseman Matt Chapman and left-hander Blake Snell. As the Giants have begun to shape their identity over Spring Training, here are three things to look out for as the regular season begins.

1. Who will be the Opening Day shortstop?

Marco Luciano seemed to be Brandon Crawford’s successor after being called up to the Majors last year. However, the 22-year-old got off to a slow start during Spring Training after suffering a minor hamstring injury in late February.

Cue Nick Ahmed, a veteran shortstop who was released by the D-backs in September. Ahmed signed with the Giants on Feb. 26, three days after Luciano’s injury. Since his Cactus League debut on March 1, he’s been working to get himself on the radar for the everyday shortstop position.

The competition is still “ongoing” and could come down to the wire, according to Giants manager Bob Melvin.

Ahmed has remained consistent throughout camp, showing his two-time Gold Glove-winning defense. The veteran has also shown what he can do at the plate, slashing .379/.486/.690 with seven RBIs and six runs scored entering Saturday.

Still, Luciano -- the Giants’ No. 2 prospect and the No. 39 overall prospect, according to MLB Pipeline -- is beginning to get over the hump of his early injury. In the past week, Luciano has been showing glimpses of his potential, hitting his first home run in a 7-6 win against Milwaukee on Thursday and getting more quality contact.

“It’s a little harder on [Luciano] because he got off to such a slow start, meaning he wasn’t playing for a while,” Melvin said. “Maybe his at-bats weren’t great to begin, but now they’re much better and he’s playing really solidly in the field, too.”

With one Spring Training game left on Saturday and three exhibition games before opening the season in San Diego, there is still time for both players to make their final cases.

2. Could Slater’s injury open up a spot for Matos?

Austin Slater was projected to be ready for Opening Day after undergoing right elbow surgery on Oct. 11. He made his Cactus League debut on Feb. 24 at designated hitter, but he did not appear in a game again until March 9 after suffering a minor setback with his elbow. Slater’s health came into question again on Friday, when he was scratched from the Giants’ split-squad lineup in Mesa after reporting more soreness in his surgically repaired elbow.

Slater is currently day to day. He pinch-ran in Saturday's loss to the D-backs and finished 0-for-3 at the plate in his first appearance since March 17. Should he have any further setbacks, his injury could open up a path for Luis Matos to break into the outfield mix.

The work Matos put in during the offseason, adding about nine pounds of muscle, and his productivity during the spring have helped to put him in this position.

Entering Saturday, Matos has hit .314/.375/.667 with four home runs, 14 runs scored and 11 RBIs this spring. He also showed his versatility in the outfield, playing all three spots.

“He’s done everything,” Melvin said. “It just depends on the Slater situation.”

3. Who will round out the Giants’ bullpen?

Injuries have also impacted what the Giants’ bullpen will look like to begin the season. Left-hander Ethan Small appeared on track to secure a relief job after being acquired from the Brewers, but he’s expected to open the year on the injured list after suffering a moderate right oblique strain on March 15.

With Amir Garrett’s release on Thursday, Taylor Rogers and Juan Sanchez are the only two healthy left-handed relievers remaining in big league camp. Sanchez, 23, has yet to pitch in the Majors, but he’s making a strong push to join Rogers as the second lefty in the Opening Day bullpen, logging a 1.80 ERA with 13 strikeouts over 10 innings in eight Cactus League appearances.

“He’s done really well,” Melvin said after last week’s 19-11 loss against Cincinnati. “He’s a little plus and minus with his fastball and changeup and breaking ball. So far he’s pitched really well.”

With Sean Hjelle sidelined by a right elbow sprain, the Giants will also have an opening for a long man, so they could turn to No. 8 prospect Mason Black or non-roster invitee Daulton Jefferies to potentially fill that void. Another promising right-hander, Landen Roupp, has also put himself squarely into the bullpen mix after posting a 2.25 ERA with 13 strikeouts over four appearances (one start).