Young arms under spotlight as Cactus League action begins

February 24th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Maria Guardado’s Giants Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It’s officially game time for the Giants.

After a week-plus of pitchers’ fielding practice, fundamentals and live batting practice, the Giants will get their first taste of Cactus League competition on Saturday, when they open their spring schedule against the Cubs at Scottsdale Stadium.

Here are three things to watch as action gets underway in the desert:

1. Young arms galore
The Giants’ plethora of pitching prospects have been the talk of camp this spring, with left-hander Carson Whisenhunt (the club's No. 3 prospect) and right-handers Mason Black (No. 9), Hayden Birdsong (No. 10), Landen Roupp (No. 15), Trevor McDonald (No. 22) and Carson Seymour (No. 23) generating plenty of excitement throughout the organization.

General manager Pete Putila, who oversaw player development with the Astros before joining the Giants in October 2022, said the group reminded him of the wave of young arms that came up through Houston’s system in 2019 and coalesced into a talented homegrown rotation led by Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Luis García and José Urquidy.

“I’ve actually drawn a lot of comparisons to the arms we had in Houston around 2019 or so,” Putila said. “Internally we felt confident about the arms we had. Externally -- prospect rankings, farm rankings and whatnot -- maybe it wasn’t as high. But we had that confidence. I think it’s an even deeper group here.

“We’re firing on all cylinders pitching development-wise.”

With Alex Cobb (left hip surgery) and Robbie Ray (Tommy John surgery) expected to open the season on the injured list and projected No. 4 starter Keaton Winn dealing with some mild elbow soreness, the Giants should have a chance to see how their up-and-coming arms fare against big league competition and get a better sense of who might be close to developing into rotation options this year.

2. Roster battles
A few spots on the 26-man roster will be up for grabs this spring, with the most intriguing competitions likely centering on the battles for the final bench roles. The Giants’ outfield appears mostly set, with Jung Hoo Lee in center field, Michael Conforto in left and a Mike Yastrzemski/Austin Slater platoon in right, so the final opening there could come down to Luis Matos or Heliot Ramos, both of whom have been impressing early in camp.

San Francisco will also have several candidates vying for a backup infield role, including Casey Schmitt, Tyler Fitzgerald, Otto Lopez and Brett Wisely. There will be competition in the bullpen as well, with Erik Miller, Ethan Small and non-roster invitee Amir Garrett jockeying to join Taylor Rogers as left-handed relief options for the Giants.

3. The return of the Panda
Panda hats could be back in vogue now that Pablo Sandoval has reunited with the Giants on a Minor League deal. Sandoval, 37, hasn’t played in the Majors since 2021, but he reported to Scottsdale Stadium looking noticeably trimmer and is determined to show that he still has something left in the tank this spring.

The three-time World Series champion and two-time All-Star will face long odds to crack the Opening Day roster, but he remains beloved by Giants fans, who gave him a nice ovation when he took the field for live batting practice earlier this week. Sandoval’s teammates -- many of whom grew up watching him play -- are happy to have him around as well.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity to have him here,” shortstop Marco Luciano said in Spanish. “He’s a player who has a lot of experience and has gone through everything we’ve gone through. I think he’s going to be a good guide for the young players and help us a lot.”