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With focus on youth, Kapler takes Giants' reins

New skipper hopes veterans show improvement during 2020
@mi_guardado
March 10, 2020

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- A new era is underway for the Giants, who experienced a significant change in leadership this offseason with the retirement of Bruce Bochy and the arrival of new manager Gabe Kapler. Links to the club’s recent championship past are still present on the roster in veterans Buster

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- A new era is underway for the Giants, who experienced a significant change in leadership this offseason with the retirement of Bruce Bochy and the arrival of new manager Gabe Kapler.

Links to the club’s recent championship past are still present on the roster in veterans Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence, but it’s clear the Giants are setting their sights on the future and building the core of their next competitive teams.

Player development will be a major focus for the Giants under Kapler, who served as the Dodgers’ farm director before his two seasons managing the Phillies. The Giants spent modestly this offseason -- pitcher Kevin Gausman’s one-year, $9 million deal represented the largest guarantee given to a free agent by president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi -- so they will need most of their growth to come from within if they are to improve on their 77-85 finish in 2019.

“You'll hear me talk about the development of some of our younger players, but you guys are also going to hear me talk about the development of our veteran players,” Kapler said in February. “If we can get a small uptick from our veteran players, one of the better years they've had in the last couple years, and we get some really consistent development from our young players, the result will be positive. I think we can get excited about those things."

What’s the goal?

The Giants churned through a franchise-record 64 players in 2019, a figure that reflected Zaidi’s relentless search for incremental upgrades on the waiver wire and trade market. No move is too small for Zaidi, whose constant roster tinkering helped unearth such contributors asMike Yastrzemski, Alex Dickerson and Donovan Solano last season. The Giants are expected to once again audition a slew of players in '20 in hopes of identifying more pieces who can help steer the team back into contention in the coming years.

The Giants’ farm system enjoyed tremendous gains across the board last year, and the first wave of promising prospects could begin to break into the Majors in 2020. If the Giants struggle to compete in the first half as expected, they could also seek out another infusion of youth by dealing some of their veterans at the July 31 Trade Deadline.

How do they get there?

Many fans are already looking forward to the arrival of Joey Bart, the Giants’ No. 1 prospect and heir apparent to Posey behind the plate at Oracle Park. Bart, 23, endured a couple of setbacks in 2019 after suffering two separate hand fractures, but he slashed .438/.526/.875 in nine Cactus League games before he was reassigned to Minor League camp. Bart likely will open the season at Triple-A Sacramento. Outfielder Heliot Ramos (No. 3 prospect) and right-hander Sean Hjelle (No. 9) shouldn’t be too far behind and could potentially debut in San Francisco this year, as well.

The Giants haven’t been afraid to aggressively promote their top prospects as warranted, and their overhauled 13-person coaching staff features plenty of instructors with player development backgrounds who should help youngsters and veterans alike continue to make strides at the Major League level this year.

What could go wrong?

The Giants were already dealt a blow last week when starting pitcher Tyler Beede went down with an ulnar collateral ligament sprain and flexor strain in his right elbow. The club will wait to hear a second opinion from Dr. Neal ElAttrache before determining a course of treatment, but Beede is expected to miss significant time. It’s brutal news for Beede, a 2014 first-round Draft pick who appeared poised to establish himself as a regular in the rotation following his breakthrough season last year. The Giants are hoping to gain clarity on their future by getting extended looks at young players like Beede this year, but injuries or other setbacks could seriously cloud that outlook.

There will also be plenty of questions about the offense, which ranked 28th in the Majors with a .694 OPS in 2019. Outside of perhaps infielder Wilmer Flores, the Giants didn’t add any marquee bats this offseason, so they will need the likes of Posey, Belt and Crawford to rebound and help anchor the lineup in 2020.

Who might surprise?

Mauricio Dubón has the potential to be one of the most dynamic players on the Giants this season. Acquired from the Brewers in exchange for Drew Pomeranz and Ray Black at last year’s Trade Deadline, the 25-year-old infielder has been taking reps in center field to prepare for a possible super-utility role with the club this year. Dubón has embraced the challenge and is already showing that his athleticism and instincts profile well all over the diamond. His unique path to the Majors from Honduras and zeal for the game should quickly make him a fan favorite in the Bay Area.

Maria Guardado covers the Giants for MLB.com. She previously covered the Angels from 2017-18. Follow her on Twitter.