Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and manager Gabe Kapler spoke with reporters today. They touched on a wide array of topics, offering insight into the club’s early outlooks at third base, behind the plate, and in the starting rotation.
Zaidi said the club considers David Villar the starting third baseman heading into camp (relayed by Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Area). The 26-year-old earned the first crack at securing the job after an impressive rookie season. Despite lacking much prospect pedigree, the South Florida product has consistently performed at an excellent level in the minors. He had arguably his best season with Triple-A Sacramento in 2022, connecting on 27 home runs with an incredible .275/.404/.617 showing over 84 games.
The Giants called Villar up for the first time last July. He continued to make a strong power impact, hitting nine homers over his first 181 MLB plate appearances. Villar also walked at an above-average 9.9% clip against big league pitching, though his 32% strikeout rate is alarming. Villar has run higher than average strikeout rates throughout his time in the minors as well. He’s consistently more than offset that with strong plate discipline and power, however, and his .231/.331/.455 line through his first 52 MLB games was a strong start.
Villar has primarily played third base as a minor leaguer. He also has some experience at the other corner infield spot and at second base. Zaidi indicated the Giants would continue to get Villar some work at second base this spring, allowing Kapler to pencil him into the lineup at the keystone on days when Thairo Estrada moves to shortstop to give Brandon Crawford a day off.
The Giants have J.D. Davis and Wilmer Flores on hand as potential third base alternatives. Each of Villar, Flores and Davis hits from the right side. Davis has had neutral platoon splits over the course of his career, while Flores has fared better against left-handed pitching as most righty hitters do. The Giants look set to turn to left-handed hitting LaMonte Wade Jr. and Joc Pederson at first base and designated hitter, respectively.
Both Wade and Pederson have struggled against lefties in their careers, leaving opportunities for Davis and Flores to factor in at those positions. Aside from Crawford, the only left-handed hitting infielders on the roster are Isan Díaz and Brett Wisely. Neither player is established at the MLB level yet and both can still be optioned to the minor leagues.
There’s a fair bit of possible fluidity to the group, but the 26-year-old Villar will get a chance to seize everyday playing time if he can replicate or improve upon his rookie showing. The catcher situation could be even more up in the air. Kapler suggested there’s a true four-way competition for reps behind the plate and indicated no one in camp is assured of an MLB job (link via Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle).
Former second overall pick Joey Bart was the primary starter last season. He connected on 11 home runs with a .215/.296/.364 line over 291 trips to the plate. Bart’s power has long drawn plaudits from evaluators, though his overall offense at the MLB level has been below-average thanks to huge strikeout tallies. He fanned in 38.5% of his plate appearances last season, the third-highest rate among players with at least 250 trips. Bart is still only 26 and has hit the ball hard when he’s made contact. It’s certainly not out of the question he can be a productive #1 catcher, but he’ll likely have to take a step forward with his bat-to-ball skills to take a firm claim to that job.
The only other catcher on the 40-man roster is Rule 5 draftee Blake Sabol, whom the club has to keep on the MLB roster or place on waivers and offer back to the Pirates. Sabol has no MLB experience, splitting last season between the top two levels of the minor leagues. He was excellent at both stops, combining for a .284/.363/.497 line over 513 trips to the plate. The 25-year-old also saw some corner outfield work in the minors, but Kapler informed reporters the Giants strictly consider him a catcher.
Bart and Sabol are joined in camp by a pair of more experienced non-roster invitees. Last year’s backup Austin Wynns accepted an outright assignment after clearing waivers last month. He’s coming off a .259/.313/.358 showing across 66 MLB games. Two-time Gold Glove award winner Roberto Pérez is also in camp after signing a minor league contract as a free agent. He lost virtually all of last season with the Pirates after suffering a serve hamstring strain. Pérez is just a .207/.298/.360 career hitter but regarded as one of the sport’s best defensive catchers.
On the other side of the ball, Kapler informed reporters that righty Anthony DeSclafani enters camp healthy after undergoing surgery on his right ankle last July (link via Evan Webeck of the San Jose Mercury News). That kept the veteran hurler to five starts in the first season of a three-year free agent deal. DeSclafani had been a crucial member of the starting five the year prior, tossing 167 2/3 innings of 3.17 ERA ball to earn a $36MM guarantee over the 2021-22 offseason.
A healthy DeSclafani should vie for a rotation spot, although it’s possible he’s outside the top five options on Opening Day. Logan Webb is the staff ace, followed by Alex Cobb in the second spot. Offseason signees Sean Manaea and Ross Stripling are penciled into the middle of the group. That leaves DeSclafani and Alex Wood in the mix for the fifth spot. Zaidi indicated the club could use a six-man starting staff on occasion but cast doubt about the possibility of deploying that permanently. It’s possible one of DeSclafani or Wood starts the season in the bullpen if everyone’s healthy, although a Spring Training or early-season injury could clarify the decision.
San Francisco is already preparing to push Jakob Junis back into a multi-inning relief role after he started 17 of 23 games last season. Top prospect Kyle Harrison figures to get a rotation look at some point during the year, although he’ll open the season with Sacramento.