Giants spring training preview: Sneaky-effective bullpen gets overhaul

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Alex Pavlovic
·7 min read
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Giants have plenty of new faces in mix for bullpen spots originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

You probably don't remember the 2020 Giants bullpen fondly. You probably don't remember it as a strength. In which case, you probably didn't know that the group had the fifth-lowest ERA in the National League, and from August 19 on, the Giants had the best bullpen ERA in the Majors. 

That second stat is one of the wilder ones from Gabe Kapler's first year, and a reminder that the good work you do with your bullpen can be overshadowed by a few blown saves. In 2020, all of those scoreless outings by unheralded relievers were, for most Giants fans, wiped away by a four-day sequence by Trevor Gott and Sam Coonrod's blown save in game No. 58. Those ones really stung. 

"The way our local media responds to some of those moves is exactly how I personally respond to them," Kapler said last month. "You kind of go back and you think about them and you wonder what could have happened if you did it just a little bit different. I mean, I could point to seven or eight decisions in the last week that fell into that category. I could go back to some times in Philadelphia that I think about all the time.

"I'm constantly evaluating if we could have just tweaked it just a little bit what the different outcomes would have been."

The Giants have made little tweaks this offseason, adding a lot of new faces in a bid to keep that second-half momentum going. As they head to camp, this is a deep group of relievers, one that doesn't have a ton of late-game experience but still has plenty of talent and could be molded into a strength.

Here's a preview of what's to come this spring in the bullpen:

On the 40-man roster

Caleb Baragar, John Brebbia, Kervin Castro, Camilo Doval, Jarlin Garcia, Trevor Gott, Reyes Moronta, Dedniel Nuñez, Wandy Peralta, Tyler Rogers, Gregory Santos, Sam Selman, Matt Wisler

That's 13 guys, and doesn't even include Jake McGee, who has not officially been announced as a Giant yet but might be this bullpen's closer. 

The Giants should have an eight-man bullpen (although early off days could stretch it to nine for 10 games or so) and have plenty of ways they can go. Some of these guys are prospects who had to be added to the 40-man before the Rule 5 Draft, and Brebbia will soon hit the 60-day IL as he recovers from Tommy John surgery that'll keep him out at the start of the year. 

With McGee, the Giants will have five left-handed relief options, which is excessive, even in this division. McGee and Jarlin Garcia are probably locks and team officials have spoken highly of Baragar, who seems to have an inside track. 

From the right side, Wisler and Rogers should be locks. Wisler is coming off a good year with the Minnesota Twins, and while Rogers' overall numbers were hurt by a couple of rough outings in July, over his final 24 appearances he had a 1.88 ERA and 25 strikeouts to four walks. 

That doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room, particularly if the Giants take a more extended look at Nuñez, their Rule 5 pick

Non-roster invitees

The initial list of 11 non-roster invitees was filled with relievers -- including Silvino Bracho and Dominic Leone, who have a lot of big-league experience. The Giants have since added right-handers Jay Jackson, James Sherfy and Zack Littell to the group. Sherfy was an Arizona Diamondback and Littell comes from the Twins, and both have had some recent success in the big leagues. Jackson spent last season in Japan. 

The Giants will add more to this non-roster group, and given how much experience there is, it wouldn't be a surprise to see one of the right-handers have a good camp and make the opening day roster. 

Player to watch this spring: Reyes Moronta

Moronta had shoulder surgery late in the 2019 season and the delay in 2020 seemed to be something that would help him, but he got to the alternate site and was never called up, even though the Giants really, really needed another right-handed arm. Moronta was said to have good velo in late September, but the Giants didn't feel he was ready, and Kapler has seemed to indicate conditioning was an issue. A couple of months ago, Kapler and pitching coach Andrew Bailey called Moronta for what the manager deemed "a really important heart-to-heart."

"We challenged him to come to camp in his peak physical condition, we challenged him to come to camp dedicating himself to potentially being an important late-inning, high-leverage reliever for us," Kapler said. "He's going to have opportunities to take control of a role like that. We'll see what he looks like in spring training, and if he steps up to the plate and emerges as that guy we're going to be really excited about it."

Moronta just turned 28, ranks in the 97th percentile in fastball velocity, has a 2.66 ERA as a big leaguer and has always had a high strikeout rate. Yes, he can be a little wild, but everything else is there for the Giants to have a cost-controlled closer on their hands. Will it ultimately happen? We'll see. That's why he's the player to watch over the next six weeks. 

Prospects to watch

It was a bit of a surprise when the Giants added all three of Doval, Santos and Castro to their 40-man roster before the Rule 5 Draft, especially with Santos and Castro seemingly so far from the big leagues. But then it came out that the young right-handers were all throwing gas in instructs, and just about anyone who was asked about fall standouts -- from Farhan Zaidi to Scott Harris to Kapler -- mentioned the trio

They're young and extremely raw, but they have the kind of stuff that could put any of them on the fast track. Doval, who was opening eyes at the alternate site last summer with an upper 90s cutter, has by far the best chance of making the team this spring, although there are a lot of veterans in his way. The Giants may play it safe coming out of camp, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see one or two of these guys hitting triple digits at Oracle Park this summer. 

Number to know: 4

That's the number of saves Gott had last season before that stretch against the A's and Los Angeles Angels, which led the team. Among returners, Rogers had three saves and Selman had one. Tony Watson and Sam Coonrod, who combined for five, are gone. 

Kapler never named a closer in 2020 and talked last spring about playing the matchups, but given the way the ninth inning repeatedly blew up on the Giants, it wasn't a surprise that he said after the year that he hoped to have a more stable solution. 

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If the Giants do want to set someone up in that role, they'll have options. McGee has 45 career saves and Wisler and Moronta could get a look from the right side. Rogers could be in the mix, although he's so valuable in a more versatile role that it's hard to see him being named the guy in the ninth. 

Opening day projection: 

Last season's opening day bullpen included Rico Garcia, Conner Menez, Rule 5 pick Dany Jimenez and Baragar, who had only been in big league camp for a couple of weeks. Predicting an Opening Day bullpen six weeks in advance isn't the greatest idea. 

But as the Giants get going, here's a guess: McGee, Garcia, Baragar, Wisler, Rogers, Gott, Moronta, Leone, Nuñez. 

There are so many non-roster right-handers that one figures to break through, and right now, we'll go with Leone. Gott may be a surprise to some, but before that A's series, he was throwing well, and he's out of options. It certainly stood out that the Giants tendered him a contract and kept him on the 40-man in the offseason given how deep the relief market was. With the early off days, the Giants can go with a four-man rotation and give Nuñez a couple of weeks to try and stick.