Michael Conforto logged six innings of right field work in this afternoon’s Spring Training contest against the Brewers. It was his first defensive time of exhibition play, as he’d previously been limited to designated hitter duties. Conforto has continued to build shoulder strength after his 2022 campaign was wiped out by surgery. Strengthening his arm has been the final hurdle in the rehab process; there were rumors Conforto could even return at the tail end of the ’22 campaign as a DH only, but he ultimately elected to wait things out until this offseason.
Despite the lost year, Conforto landed a surprising $36MM guarantee from the Giants. He’ll make $18MM this year and could test free agency next winter if he tallies at least 350 plate appearances during the upcoming season. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi discussed the signing with Joel Sherman of the New York Post, noting that while he’s “sympathetic” to those who were taken aback by the contract, the front office is “just so confident how good he’s going to be this year.”
Zaidi noted the Giants expect Conforto to be fully healthy and broadly expressed the belief he’ll return to the middle-of-the-order hitter he was for the majority of his time with the Mets. Zaidi called Conforto a candidate for a nine-figure free agent deal before his shoulder injury, although that’d have been likelier if he’d hit free agency after 2020 as opposed to following a relative down year in ’21 (.232/.344/.384 in 479 plate appearances). Regardless, it’s clear the Giants anticipate Conforto more closely resembling the player he was over the preceding four seasons, when he combined for a .265/.369/.495 line.
The signings of Conforto and Mitch Haniger overhauled San Francisco’s corner outfield. They’ll play regularly when healthy, although Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area writes that it’s still to be determined who’ll man which corner. Both players have seen more action in right field than left. Pavlovic notes that concerns about Conforto’s post-surgery arm strength could push him to left field but they’ll move the duo around in Spring Training to gauge their best alignment heading into the season.
The pair of offseason pickups should push Joc Pederson off the grass for the most part. He’s likely to be the designated hitter most days but has gotten some first base reps this spring to give the team slightly more flexibility. That’ll be put on hold during the World Baseball Classic, however. Pederson is expected to work solely in the outfield for the Israeli national team, writes John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle. He’ll continue to get first base reps once he returns to S.F. camp.
That’s not the only experiment the Giants are running with the luxury of exhibition games. The club brought in former Rangers first baseman Ronald Guzmán on a non-roster deal and is allowing him to work as a two-way player. Guzmán has pitched three times this spring, allowing three runs in as many innings. He’s coming off easily his best outing, though, striking out Eddy Alvarez, Skye Bolt and Jesse Winker in a perfect inning today.
After the game, Gumzán told reporters he signed with the Giants in large part because they were the sole club offering him an opportunity to play both ways (link via Andrew Baggarly of the Athletic). “That was a big issue, to be honest. The Giants were the only team that wanted me to pitch only,” the 28-year-old said, noting that other teams targeted him strictly as first base depth. “I had to really think about it. I had to let them understand how I feel about things. At the end of the day, they gave me the opportunity to do both but mostly pitch. But some teams rejected me. I knew what I wanted. I wanted to do both. And I knew I had the capability to do both.”
Baggarly writes that Guzmán isn’t under consideration for an Opening Day roster spot. He’ll head to Triple-A Sacramento once the season starts and continue working out of the bullpen there. The Giants have Taylor Rogers and Scott Alexander ticketed for MLB jobs, while Sam Long offers a depth candidate already on the 40-man roster. Guzmán joins Sean Newcomb and Darien Núñez among the non-roster players in camp.
Thomas Szapucki, one of four players acquired from the Mets in last summer’s Darin Ruf deal, also could factor into the group if healthy. He tossed 13 2/3 innings of three-run ball after the trade, striking out 16 while walking just four. Kapler told reporters today that Szapucki is headed for further examination after experiencing some elbow discomfort, however (via Evan Webeck of the San Jose Mercury News). The club figures to provide more information about his outlook and return timetable in the coming days.