SAN FRANCISCO -- On Friday, the Giants will reconvene at Oracle Park and resume training for the 2020 season for the first time in three months. Their return to the field will resurface several storylines that were put on hold when baseball operations ground to a halt in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
With only three weeks until Opening Day, the Giants will use training camp to evaluate their talent pool and make tough decisions regarding their roster construction for the 60-game regular season. Fifty-one players were included in the club’s initial player pool, but that number will have to be trimmed to 30 before July 23-24.
Here are four looming questions for the Giants ahead of the 2020 campaign:
Are the Giants contenders now?
2020 was viewed as another transitional year for the Giants, who are coming off three consecutive losing seasons and are now entering a new era under first-year manager Gabe Kapler. But the calculus has changed a bit with the onset of the 60-game regular season, which could give the club a better chance to surprise this year.
“We're sort of 100 games deep, so every team is starting off from a point of contention, just by virtue of the schedule and the length of the season,” president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said Monday. “I think there's going to be a lot of intensity in those early games. I think the sort of gravity of every win and loss is really going to be felt, and I think that's a source of excitement.”
The Giants’ desire to make a playoff push is reflected in the composition of their player pool, which features several veterans on one-year deals like Kevin Gausman, Drew Smyly, Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval, Billy Hamilton, Trevor Cahill, Yolmer Sánchez and Darin Ruf. Only three prospects were included in the player pool, signaling that the Giants, at least initially, will prefer to lean on more experienced players rather than prematurely rush their youngsters to the Majors.
“Our involvement of veteran players in that situation, I think, shows that we have a desire to be competitive this year,” Zaidi said. “It's not just about 2021 and beyond.”
What will Gabe Kapler’s managerial debut look like?
The Giants underwent a significant leadership change this offseason, with Kapler emerging as Zaidi’s choice to replace Bruce Bochy, who stepped down at the end of the 2019 season. Kapler, who posted a 161-163 mark over his two seasons managing the Phillies, followed by assembling a young, unconventional 13-member coaching staff that included only one holdover in third-base coach Ron Wotus.
Despite the turnover, Giants players showed a willingness to buy into Kapler and his coaches’ new approach during Spring Training. But the stakes will be higher during the regular season, especially with the rule changes that will give Kapler more latitude to experiment with new pitching strategies and mix-and-match lineups. Kapler has said that he used “MLB The Show” to simulate games and practice his decision-making during the shutdown, so it will be interesting to see how his skills as a strategist will play out when it counts this year.
Can the club’s core veterans turn back the clock?
The arrival of the universal designated hitter could help the Giants generate more offense this year, but they’ll still be counting on veterans like Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford to rebound and help anchor the lineup in 2020. All three are coming off down years, a major reason why the Giants ranked 28th in the Majors with a .694 OPS in 2019.
Still, improved health, a truncated season and a trio of new hitting coaches are all factors that could help revitalize the Giants’ legacy players and help them produce at the levels they did earlier in their careers. Posey, in particular, appeared poised to bounce back this spring after distancing himself even farther from the major hip surgery that caused him to miss the final month of the 2018 season.
When will Joey Bart arrive?
While the pandemic-shortened season could make contention a bit more viable this year, the Giants’ success should still be judged by whatever gains they’re able to achieve in player development, particularly among top prospects like Bart. Considered the heir apparent to Posey, Bart was added to the Giants’ player pool on Monday, though he’s unlikely to crack the club’s 30-man Opening Day roster. Still, there’s a decent chance that the 23-year-old catcher will debut in San Francisco at some point this year, especially if the Giants can ease him into the Majors by giving him at-bats at designated hitter.