The Giants’ 26-man roster is taking shape, as president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has indicated that the club will break camp with at least two players from outside the 40-man. In speaking with reporters (including Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle and Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area) over the last couple of days, Zaidi hinted that catcher Roberto Perez and outfielder Bryce Johnson will each make the team. Perez signed a minor league deal with San Francisco this winter, while Johnson was outrighted off the 40-man back in November.
Perez has “done a great job, the pitchers love him,” Zaidi said. Since Perez only played 21 games last season due to hamstring surgery, Zaidi noted that “I think really the evaluation has just been from a health standpoint, how he’s moving around, how his shoulder feels, how his lower body feels…and how much of the catching would we think he can handle. He’s felt really good and he’s ready to catch more, so that part of the evaluation has been very positive.”
Because Perez is an Article XX(b) free agent, today marks the first of three automatic opt-out dates within Perez’s minor league contract, but that looks like it will be a moot point given the Giants’ apparent desire to put him on their Opening Day roster. Perez will be one of three catchers on the 26-man (along with Joey Bart and Rule 5 Draft pick Blake Sabol), though Zaidi and manager Gabe Kapler have both intimated that the team probably isn’t likely to have a three-catcher formulation for all season, or perhaps even for very long into the season.
There’s plenty of uncertainty behind the plate for the Giants, given that former top-prospect Bart has yet to establish himself as a true regular at the big league level. As such, the Giants brought Perez and Austin Wynns into camp as non-roster invitees, and Slusser writes that Wynns isn’t yet out of the running either. Since Bart still has a minor league option remaining, it’s possible he could yet be moved down to Triple-A for more seasoning.
As a Rule 5 player, Sabol must remain on San Francisco’s active roster for the entire season or else be offered back to the Pirates, his original team. Sabol’s roster chances are improved by his positional versatility, since he can also play the outfield in addition to catching. With the Giants’ outfield thinned out by injuries, it has opened the door for both Sabol and Johnson to make the Opening Day roster, even if Zaidi said that the club is ultimately still prioritizing Sabol as a catcher.
“When Mitch Haniger and Austin Slater get back, Blake’s got to fit more firmly in the catching mix,” Zaidi said. “For us to get through the full season with Blake on the roster, he’s going to have to be able to prove himself to be a viable Major League catcher, and I think we’ve seen a lot of progress with that.”
Luis Gonzalez will miss at least half the season due to back surgery, while Slater will begin the season on the injured list due to a hamstring strain. Haniger suffered a Grade 1 oblique strain two weeks ago and the Giants had been hopeful that the outfielder would recover in time for Opening Day, but it now seems as if Haniger will need at least a brief IL stint to fully recover.
Gonzalez will be placed on the 60-day injured list prior to Opening Day, joining Thomas Szapucki and Luke Jackson as longer-term injury absences for the Giants. With three 40-man roster spots opened by these forthcoming 60-man placements, the Giants will have plenty of room to select the contracts of Perez, Johnson, and possibly Wynns or any other minor league signings. Given how actively Zaidi searches the waiver wire, it also wouldn’t be a surprise if San Francisco adds a player from outside the organization who becomes available when another team makes an end-of-camp roster cut.
As for spots on the 26-man roster, Alex Cobb isn’t yet a guarantee to avoid the injured list, as the veteran righty is still battling some knee soreness after being hit with a Miguel Vargas line drive on March 11. Cobb was able to pitch again five days later but hasn’t pitched since, so the Giants could perhaps place him on the IL to both provide more recovery time and to give the team more roster flexibility. San Francisco has two off-days within the first six days of the regular season schedule, thus delaying the club’s need for a fifth starter.
If Cobb is sidelined, it would make it a bit easier for San Francisco to fit right-hander Sean Hjelle onto the roster, though Zaidi said that “I think he could be on the team in either configuration” regardless of Cobb’s status. A second-round pick for the Giants in the 2018 draft, Hjelle has had unspectacular numbers in the minors as a starter, though he did climb the ladder and make his MLB debut with 25 relief innings in 2022.
Hjelle was deployed as a long reliever and as a bulk pitcher behind an opener, so the Giants might be eyeing him as something of a piggyback option to keep starters’ arms fresh early in the season. Regardless of role, Hjelle has certainly looked the part of a big league-caliber pitcher this spring, with a 1.80 ERA and 18 strikeouts over 15 innings, with only two walks allowed.
The news isn’t good for another recent high draft pick, as Pavlovic reports that outfielder Hunter Bishop will require elbow surgery. It would seem that Bishop is facing either a full Tommy John procedure or the better-case scenario of an elbow-brace surgery, yet Pavlovic notes that Bishop’s status won’t be known until the surgery is actually underway. Bishop was the 10th overall pick of the 2019 draft and was still drawing top-100 attention as recently as the 2021 preseason, but he has been hampered by injuries. Between his health problems and the canceled 2020 minor league season, Bishop has played in only 134 minor league games since being drafted.