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Giants' opening roster features speed, defense

Blanco, Hernandez earn backup OF jobs; young relievers join bullpen
MLB.com @sfgiantsbeat

SAN FRANCISCO -- What kind of team are these Giants who open the season Thursday at Dodger Stadium?

They're definitely a veteran team, dominated by position players in their early 30s such as Evan Longoria, Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey, Andrew McCutchen, Hunter Pence and Austin Jackson.

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SAN FRANCISCO -- What kind of team are these Giants who open the season Thursday at Dodger Stadium?

They're definitely a veteran team, dominated by position players in their early 30s such as Evan Longoria, Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey, Andrew McCutchen, Hunter Pence and Austin Jackson.

View Full Game Coverage

It's a team with a youthful component, too. Pitchers Ty Blach, Chris Stratton, Pierce Johnson and Roberto Gomez, second baseman Joe Panik and utility man Kelby Tomlinson are 28 or younger.

The Giants could be a slugging team, at least occasionally. Their Cactus League log included victories of 14-0 and 13-0 -- against National League West foes Arizona and Colorado, no less.

They might try to be a running team -- not necessarily with basestealing, but with opportunistic baserunning.

"I think it's going to be huge for us," reserve outfielder Gregor Blanco said. "Seeing McCutchen, Jackson, Gorkys [Hernandez]. ... We're all excited to work together and develop our speed."

To bolster a starting rotation lacking the injured Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija, the Giants almost certainly will have to be a defensive team, one that makes run-saving plays to keep games close.

"I think that's going to be a big part of our team this year," Stratton said.

Here's a capsule look at the 2018 San Francisco Giants, who finalized their season-opening roster after Tuesday's 3-0 exhibition victory over Oakland:

Catcher (2) -- Buster Posey, Nick Hundley. This was one of the Giants' strongest positions last season and should be again. Posey looks poised for a big year. Hundley ranks among the best backups in baseball.

First base (1) -- Brandon Belt. Typically a strong Spring Training performer, he hit .356 in 20 exhibition games. These were meaningful games for Belt, who proved that he has overcome the concussion that sidelined him for last season's final 51 games.

Video: SEA@SF: Belt gets Giants on board with two-run jack

Second base (1) -- Joe Panik. He's talented enough to match teammate Crawford, who excelled so much in 2015 that he won both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards.

Third base (1) -- Evan Longoria. Having reached age 32 while playing at least 156 games in each of the last five seasons, Longoria batted .317 and looked spry defensively in 15 exhibition games.

Shortstop (1) -- Brandon Crawford. See above in Panik's entry. Crawford remains one of the league's most multifaceted shortstops. He has won three consecutive Gold Glove Awards and retains genuine offensive potential.

Video: OAK@SF: Crawford jumps to rob Maxwell of a hit

Utility (4) -- Gregor Blanco, Gorkys Hernandez, Kelby Tomlinson, Pablo Sandoval. Blanco and Hernandez helped their cause by hitting .303 and .292, respectively. Tomlinson (.255) didn't hit much but looked competent at every position he played. Sandoval is a new man: slightly trimmer and considerably more mature. With a team-high 17 RBIs this spring, the Kung Fu Panda also proved he can still swing a bat.

Outfield (3) -- Hunter Pence, Austin Jackson, Andrew McCutchen. This group is decidedly older but still effective. Pence occasionally looked awkward in left field, his new position, but was competent enough to survive. Jackson will be counted on to provide an assertive presence at the top of the order. The Giants would be thrilled if McCutchen could come close to duplicating his 2013 Most Valuable Player level.

Video: OAK@SF: Jackson plates two with a single to right

Starting pitchers (4) -- Ty Blach, Johnny Cueto, Chris Stratton, Derek Holland. The Giants hope to keep their record close to .500 while they await the return of Bumgarner (broken left hand) and Samardzija (strained right pectoral). None of these pitchers is overpowering. They'll have to compensate with savvy and precision.

Relievers (8) -- Pierce Johnson, Roberto Gomez, Sam Dyson, Cory Gearrin, Josh Osich, Hunter Strickland, Tony Watson, Reyes Moronta. Mark Melancon, striving to overcome forearm surgery, begins the season on the 10-day disabled list, putting Strickland in the closer's role. The Giants need consistency, so this could be an ever-changing group until they harness that quality.

Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast.

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