For the first time since Barry Bonds left town, the Giants had their eyes on a playoff spot last year, giving the Rockies a fight to the finish. But even though they came up short, their up-and-coming talent assures they won't go away any time soon.
It begins with their pitching staff -- one dominant enough to overcome an offense that ranked last in the NL in on-base percentage and 15th in slugging. Led by two aces coming off their 25th birthdays in Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, the starting rotation only figures to get better if prospect Madison Bumgarner catches on right away and project Jonathan O. Sanchez lives up to his potential. Suddenly, free-agent bust Barry Zito is little more than an afterthought. On the strength of that pitching staff, closer Brian Wilson, who showed enough improvement last season to convince the team he's a permanent solution, could challenge for 45 saves.
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Even though the starting lineup was mostly a liability, it did unveil one shining beacon of hope in Pablo Sandoval. He represents the organization's first homegrown hitter with All-Star potential since Matt Williams and Will Clark. That's a prospect 20 years in the making, not to mention a sign that the Giants realize they can no longer win the way they did with Barry Bonds, filling out a lineup with middling veterans and asking him to make up for any deficiencies. They need hitters up and down the lineup, and when top prospect Buster Posey takes over as starting catcher, they'll take another step in that direction.
Of course, they did bring in the obligatory veterans, convincing themselves Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa qualify as middle-of-the-order hitters even though most other teams saw them as role players. Still, both represent upgrades at their respective positions, meaning Lincecum, Cain and company will only have more reason to succeed in 2010.
Breakout: Jonathan O. Sanchez, SP
It has to come together for this strikeout artist eventually, doesn't it? He took another step forward last year, but it didn't come easily, his early-season struggles forcing him to the bullpen for a short period. He pitched well when he returned, though, posting a 3.46 ERA over his final 16 starts, which included a no-hitter. The 27-year-old left-hander will have to improve his control to avoid becoming an Oliver Perez type whose performance doesn't match his stuff, but based on his age and steady progress, if a breakthrough is coming, it'll come soon. He isn't a breakout candidate in the "turn your draft upside-down to make sure you get him" mold, but more one of the "take a flier on him late just in case" variety. Starting pitchers who average more than a strikeout per inning are few and far between.
Bust: Bengie Molina, C
Just when the Giants hinted Buster Posey would start, they backed down and re-signed Molina. On the surface, a return to San Francisco seems like good news for the veteran catcher -- after all, he had his best years there -- but just because the Giants haven't turned the page to Posey doesn't mean they haven't turned it from Molina. He won't bat cleanup anymore, which eliminates all those RBI opportunities that set him apart from other catchers, and at age 35, he has nowhere to go but down. He struck out a career-high 68 times last season, indicating a loss of bat speed, and injuries have already become a factor. The slightest muscle pull opens the door for Posey to take the job and never look back. Molina is nothing more than a stopgap -- a good one, but just as temporary as any other.
Sleeper: Madison Bumgarner, SP
Bumgarner worked mostly out of the bullpen in his brief stint with the Giants last season, but he looked every bit ready for major-league duty, striking out 10 batters in 10 innings. And that was with his velocity down -- something an offseason of rest should cure. With all the talent in their starting rotation, the Giants have no reason to rush Bumgarner, so the fact he stands to win a rotation spot at age 20 speaks volumes of his talent. He's a future ace -- and one relatively unhyped, possibly because the Giants have so many aces already. He'll endure some growing pains, but a rookie season much like the one Brett Anderson had last year is possible. If he goes undrafted in your league, you'll want to keep a close eye on him because once he figures things out, he won't look back.
| ||Pos.|| |
|1||Aaron Rowand||CF||1||Tim Lincecum||RH|
|2||Freddy Sanchez||2B||2||Matt Cain||RH|
|3||Pablo Sandoval||3B||3||Barry Zito||LH|
|4||Aubrey Huff||1B||4||Jonathan O. Sanchez||LH|
|5||Mark DeRosa||LF||5||Madison Bumgarner||LH|
|6||Bengie Molina||C||Alt||Todd Wellemeyer||RH|
|7||Edgar Renteria||SS||Top bullpen arms|
|8||Nate Schierholtz||RF||CL||Brian Wilson||RH|
|Top bench options||SU||Sergio Romo||RH|
|R||Juan Uribe||INF||RP||Jeremy Affeldt||LH|
|R||Eugenio Velez||UTL||RP||Brandon Medders||RH|
|R||Travis Ishikawa||1B||RP||Dan Runzler||LH|
|Compares to Joe Mauer, but return of Molina delays him for now. Should be perennial All-Star.|
|Dip in velocity a concern, but future ace will get shot at age 20. Numbers suggest he's ready.|
|3||Thomas Neal||22||OF||Class A||Double-A|
|Walks plenty and regained power stroke after '07 shoulder surgery. Could arrive by midseason.|
|4||Zack Wheeler||19||SP||DNP -- unsigned||Class A|
|First-round pick in 2009 still years from contributing, but should give Giants another ace.|
|Relievers rarely matter in Fantasy, but lefty has closer stuff. If Wilson goes down, watch out.|
|Best of the rest: Roger Kieschnick, OF; Chris Dominguez, 3B; Kevin Pucetas, SP; Darren Ford, OF; Joe Martinez, SP; Brandon Crawford, SS; Nicholas Noonan, SS; Conor M. Gillaspie, 3B; Henry Sosa, SP; Matt Downs, 2B; Mike McBryde, OF; Jackson Williams, C; Charles Culberson, SS; Tommy Joseph, C; Alex Hinshaw, RP; Francisco Peguero, OF; Ehire Adrianza, SS; and Osiris Matos, RP.|
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