Giants position battles to watch as MLB season gets ready to start

Alex Pavlovic
NBC Sports BayArea

When the Giants reported to Scottsdale Stadium in February, much of the conversation was about competition. Gabe Kapler wanted every player to feel like he had to earn a spot, and even some veterans took up that motto. Evan Longoria, for instance, talked early on about how he felt established guys were being pushed more to earn their at-bats and innings. 

Months later, the Giants will return for their final three weeks of spring/summer training that was interrupted for more than 100 days by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. There are questions about their ability to stay healthy, how they can properly social distance while playing a sport, and what will happen when players inevitably test positive. 

But there are not actually that many questions remaining about the roster.

The Giants released their initial list Monday, with 51 players in the 60 spots and the likelihood that many of the remaining nine will go to prospects. You can easily look it over and find 25 guys, at least, who seem like locks or near-locks to be standing on the line -- six feet apart -- on Opening Day.

There still are decisions to be made, though. Kapler is eager to get a look at players who have been told for three months to stay ready. Here are some position battles to watch as the Giants return to the field this week:

Backup catcher

This is the easiest one to wrap your head around, because it remains a two-man race. It's possible that Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris will find another veteran before July 24, but with expanded player pools many organizations are carrying five or six catchers on their 60-man rosters, so there's not a lot out there.

Back in March, this was a race between Rob Brantly and Tyler Heineman and that remains the case. Brantly has more big-league experience and is a left-handed hitter, while Heineman is a switch-hitter who has done well in the minors. Neither was tearing it up in Cactus League games, and without another exhibition season, the Giants will have to make this evaluation based on what they already know. 

The Giants currently have just four catchers on their roster, but the fourth is a big name. Joey Bart is coming to Oracle Park initially, but isn't in the conversation for Opening Day.

"I have no doubt that he has the talent to help us win games this summer," Kapler told NBC Sports Bay Area last week. "Do I think that it's likely that his best path to his best career is starting with the major league club? I don't think that's his best path."

The Giants do not plan to carry a third catcher, although they can bring one on the road as part of the three-man taxi squad. It seems likely that the loser of Brantly-Heineman will get that role. 

The bullpen

The Giants could run out there on Opening Day with 17 pitchers if they wanted, but that won't happen because of guys locked in elsewhere. We'll get to them in a second, but it's possible they'll carry 16 position players, leaving 14 pitchers, and nine relievers once you get past the four veteran starters and Logan Webb

Tony Watson, Tyler Rogers and Trevor Gott were three locks in the spring. Tyler Anderson now is healthy and should be an easy pick, along with swingman Trevor Cahill and lefty Jarlin Garcia, who struck out eight in six scoreless appearances in the spring. 

With 30 spots to play with for the first two weeks, it makes sense to keep Rule 5 pick Dany Jimenez. Sam Coonrod had a good rookie year and Wandy Peralta also had a good spring, and in theory that can get you to a full staff right there.

But Zaidi and Kapler have made it clear they're going to lean heavily on guys who can go multiple innings, which looks good for former starters Shaun Anderson, Dereck Rodriguez, Trevor Oaks, Andrew Triggs and Andrew Suarez, among others. 

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This was a puzzle in March. With four additional roster spots, it's still a puzzle.

The only thing you can say for sure is that the pitching staff will undergo change potentially on a daily basis. It's a short drive from Sacramento to San Francisco, and some of these guys will become very familiar with it. 

Ninth infielder

That's right, I said ninth infielder. 

There are six easy picks in Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Evan Longoria, Pablo Sandoval, Mauricio Dubon and Wilmer Flores. Zaidi sure gave the indication that Yolmer Sanchez is in a good spot, and Donovan Solano is coming off a season in which he hit .330. That's eight. 

The ninth man here is Darin Ruf, who primarily played first base in the spring but also can play the outfield. Giants officials have been talking him up as a DH, and with a .921 career OPS against lefties, he makes a ton of sense. 

I mean, it's pretty easy to get to nine locked-in infielders. It looks wild on paper, though, so perhaps there's a surprise cut in store. 

[RELATED: Kapler explains mindset in choosing closer]

Fifth outfielder 

Here's why the Giants could technically show up for their opener with nine infielders and four outfielders: Dubon is expected to see a lot of time in center, and with so many other infielders around, that may actually be where he fits best as an everyday starter. Ruf can play the outfield and Belt can play left.

You could start with four outfielders, with Mike Yastrzemski being the only one who plays there just about every day. But that leaves Jaylin Davis and Austin Slater on the outside.

Davis may be the player with the biggest swing in potential roles this season. It's not hard to picture a world where he grabs the job in right field, hits a few home runs early on and becomes a fixture. He's talented enough to do it, but the Giants may look around and decide that they can't give him that runway at the start of a 60-game season. 

It's a tough decision, one they have three weeks to make. 

Giants position battles to watch as MLB season gets ready to start originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

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