Five key questions for Giants to answer during spring training

Five key questions for Giants to answer during spring training originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- As Giants players, coaches and staff members arrived in Arizona in recent days, there was no avoiding the continued buzz for the team they're trying to chase. You only have to spend a few seconds looking through baseball accounts on social media to see Shohei Ohtani taking batting practice or Yoshinobu Yamamoto throwing a bullpen session as a collection of MLB All-Stars looks on.

The Los Angeles Dodgers won the offseason, but internally, the Giants feel they've done pretty well, all things considered. They landed their top target after Ohtani and Yamamoto, added two pitchers they hope can bolster the rotation for multiple seasons, and filled some roster holes, adding power to the DH spot and a solid backup catcher. They also managed to clear out a few veterans on big contracts who no longer were in the plans, although that's just a reminder of how poorly last offseason went.

This offseason featured a search for more stability, and the Giants believe they've found it. In addition to the free agents who signed for three-plus seasons, their camp at Scottsdale Stadium will feature dozens of young players -- mostly homegrown -- who are looking to become core pieces of the next winner in San Francisco.

Longtime team employees can't remember having a younger or more inexperienced group at Scottsdale Stadium, which should make for an interesting spring. As they get their prospects up to speed and introduce the newcomers, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, manager Bob Melvin and the rest will try to answer some key questions about the roster and future of the organization. Here are five that stand out on Day 1:

Have The Young Pitchers Arrived?

With Alex Cobb and Robbie Ray both headed for midseason debuts, there are a lot of innings to be soaked up in April and May. The Giants intend to let young pitchers get the first crack.

Kyle Harrison, Keaton Winn, Tristan Beck and Ryan Walker showed what they can do last year, and the Giants are hopeful that's the start of a wave that will lead the franchise into a brighter future. The non-roster invitee list includes 11 young pitchers without a day of big league service time. The 40-man roster has four more. From that group of 15, the Giants expect to find solutions until Ray and Cobb are ready.

The group is highlighted by Carson Whisenhunt, a lefty with one of the minor league's best changeups who was pushing for a late-season promotion in 2023 before his elbow flared up. The front office is high on right-hander Mason Black, who reached Triple-A late last season, and Kai-Wei Teng is now on the 40-man, which could get him an early look. Reggie Crawford will be in camp for the first time, and the Giants are hopeful the 2022 first-rounder can move quickly.

The price still could drop on a Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery, but if this is it, the Giants are going to need their youth to step up early in the year. This is what they envisioned when they took pitchers with their first nine draft picks in 2021 and their first six in 2022, and they feel the group is finally ready.

Is The New Guy Ready?

The Giants were disappointed to lose out on Ohtani for a second time, but only mildly, because they knew all along he was almost a lock to end up at Dodger Stadium. They were crushed when Yamamoto chose the same path, as he was a strong 1A to Ohtani on their offseason wish list and they thought that was a very realistic pursuit when the offseason began.

They did end up with the third player atop their board, though, and Jung Hoo Lee should immediately settle in as the starting center fielder and leadoff hitter. The question for the Giants: How long will it truly take him to get comfortable?

The front office was confident in giving Lee such a big deal in part because his friend Ha-Seong Kim has turned into one of the game's better infielders, but Kim hit just .202 as a rookie and had a wRC+ that put him about 30 points below league-average.

The adjustment to big league velocity is a huge one, but there's also a learning curve when it comes to facing the best breaking balls in the world. Scouts who watch the KBO believe the Giants will need to practice patience with their new center fielder.

They hired the right manager to help with the transition, as Bob Melvin helped Kim become an everyday star in San Diego. But they're hopeful the transition is a bit easier this time around.

A New No. 2?

Much of the offseason discussion centered around the need to add a co-ace for Logan Webb. The Giants pushed hard for Yamamoto and ultimately ended up trading for Ray, a former Cy Young Award winner who should be back from Tommy John surgery in the second half.

Zaidi described the left-handed Ray as a perfect complement to Webb, but the Giants are hopeful there's another player ready to fill that role first. It perhaps hasn't gotten enough attention, but they're ready to turn a full-time rotation spot over to the best left-handed pitching prospect in the game, a 22-year-old who is their best prospect in a decade.

Kyle Harrison's rookie season had ups and downs, and the Giants certainly didn't do him any favors by keeping him on a pitch count all summer and then letting him throw 90-plus pitches in three consecutive big league starts. Harrison bounced back to throw five no-hit innings against the Dodgers in his final appearance, and that game -- plus an 11-strikeout home debut -- provided a glimpse of his ceiling.

It might be too early for anyone to expect Harrison to reach it, but he spent the winter working out with Webb in Arizona and the early word is that his January bullpens were electric. The Giants have long expected Harrison to give them a co-ace through the rest of the decade. He'll come to camp locked into the rotation, and if he's ready to keep pace with Webb, the trip back to contending will be a lot shorter.

On The Move?

The biggest surprise of the offseason might be the fact that Joey Bart is set to walk back into Scottsdale Stadium on Wednesday after the Giants signed Tom Murphy to back up Patrick Bailey and pushed Blake Sabol down the depth chart.

Sabol has options remaining and is no longer under Rule 5 Draft restrictions that will keep him on the big league roster, but Bart is out of options and seemingly fully blocked in his bid to make the Opening Day roster.

There are rules that all teams live by, though, and one of them is that you can never have too much catching. The Giants weren't going to just give the former No. 2 overall pick away, and they know one of their top two could go down in the spring. Bart serves as depth for now, although it's likely the Giants will have to send him elsewhere by the end of March.

The 40-man includes plenty of others who are trying to work their way back into the mix after a season in which the Giants introduced a dozen rookies. Heliot Ramos would bring more of the power that the outfield still lacks and Zaidi talked him up in the offseason, but he very clearly was not in the mix last year, even when the season fell apart.

David Villar was handed the third base job at this time a year ago but now is stuck behind J.D. Davis, Casey Schmitt, Tyler Fitzgerald and others. Sean Hjelle will look to hold off the talented group of young pitchers as the staff fills out the rotation and bullpen.

The Giants will look to get Marco Luciano, Luis Matos, Fitzgerald and others into meaty roles this spring, but there's a group of slightly older prospects who may have just one more camp to make noise with this organization.

What's Different?

Gabe Kapler isn't the only key figure who is elsewhere this spring. Kai Correa meticulously planned every spring workout the last four seasons, but he's now in Cleveland. So is Craig Albernaz, who helped Patrick Bailey become a Gold Glove candidate as a rookie. Andrew Bailey and Brian Bannister helped make the Giants a destination for pitchers looking for a bounce-back, but they're with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox, respectively.

Melvin's staff is decidedly more old-school, and we're about to get our first look at what that means for the roster. The young pitching staff is still certainly built in a way that openers and bullpen games could be helpful, but the Giants have promised to move away from those methods a bit. Melvin is expected to have more everyday players, but the roster is still dotted with hitters who probably should have platoon partners.

The real answers will come during the season, especially when the Giants start dealing with injuries. But on Wednesday, when they hold their first workout, Melvin will have a chance to begin to lay out his vision.

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