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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: San Francisco Giants

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The Giants fell hard after their 2012 World Series victory. Returning with a roster that changed little from their championship squad, the team went 76-86, tying for third place in the National League West.

Having become accustomed to owning one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, the Giants had to adapt to what was once a strength becoming a weakness in 2013. Matt Cain had a surprisingly poor first half, compiling a 5.06 ERA before rediscovering his control and runner-stranding ability. Ryan Vogelsong underperformed and missed time with a hand injury, and Barry Zito had possibly his most miserable season of his disappointing seven-year Giants career. Though Chad Gaudin and Yusmeiro Petit filled in admirably as substitute starters, the Giants' staff finished with the third-highest ERA in the National League. Only Madison Bumgarner and closer Sergio Romo stood out as a reliable arms over the course of the season.

2014 Fantasy Outlooks
A.L. East N.L. East
Orioles Braves
Red Sox Marlins
Yankees Mets
Rays Phillies
Blue Jays Nationals
A.L. Central N.L. Central
White Sox Cubs
Indians Reds
Tigers Brewers
Royals Pirates
Twins Cardinals
A.L. West N.L. West
Astros Diamondbacks
Angels Rockies
Athletics Dodgers
Mariners Padres
Rangers Giants

The offense gets its share of the blame, too. Buster Posey was bound to fall off his MVP pace from 2012, but few likely saw a near-halving of his home run-to-flyball ratio (from 17.8 to 9.4 percent) coming. Angel Pagan missed more than half the season due to hamstring surgery, leaving Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres to man two of the outfield spots for much of 2013. Not only did they fail to make up for Pagan's lost production, but neither one came close to replacing the departed Melky Cabrera. (In all fairness, Cabrera fell far short of the standard he set in 2011 and 2012 in his first season with the Blue Jays.)

The Giants apparently feel that the current cast is capable of contending again, as they made few offseason moves. Michael Morse was signed to provide the outfield production they missed by using Blanco and Torres frequently last season. Zito's tenure mercifully came to an end, and he has been replaced by free agent Tim Hudson, who will try to bounce back from a gruesome ankle injury. Otherwise, the team will count on Posey and Vogelsong to rebound, Bumgarner and Hunter Pence to remain consistent, Brandon Belt to build on his growth from the last two seasons, Tim Lincecum to continue the reversal of fortune he modestly began last year and for Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval to simply stay healthy.

There are a lot of "ifs" that will have to come true for the Giants to contend again, and that also means there are few players who are reliable enough to be trusted with an early-round pick in Fantasy. Posey, Pence and Bumgarner are the sole members of that brief list, though Cain will be a must-start option until he proves otherwise. Lincecum, Hudson, Romo, Belt, Sandoval, Morse and Pagan are all worth having in standard mixed leagues, particularly in Rotisserie formats.

Head-to-Head hero ... Hunter Pence, outfield

2014 projected lineup
Player Name Position
1. Angel Pagan CF
2. Marco Scutaro 2B
3. Brandon Belt 1B
4. Buster Posey C
5. Hunter Pence RF
6. Pablo Sandoval 3B
7. Michael Morse LF
8. Brandon Crawford SS
Bench Joaquin Arias 2B
Bench Gregor Blanco OF

Because Pence has a couple of fluky-looking .300-plus seasons on his resume, when I've discussed him during draft prep season in the past, it's been to warn of bust potential. Now that he is two years removed from a .314 campaign, expectations for Pence have receded, and he could be underrated now, at least in Head-to-Head formats. Particularly if Pence doesn't approach his career-high 22 steals from a year ago, he can't be trusted to repeat as a top 10 outfielder in Rotisserie, as he doesn't have tremendous power for his position. However, as Depeche Mode once sang regarding Head- to-Head formats, everything counts in large amounts. With standard categories all being of the counting variety, being durable counts for a lot, and Pence has played at least 154 games in each of his six full seasons. While Pence's rate stats might give him the appearance of being a middle-of- the-road Fantasy outfielder, he could wind up being a top 15 Head-to-Head outfielder for the fourth time in the last five years.

Bust ... Pablo Sandoval, third base

Time missed due to injury is an old story for Sandoval, and in 2013, it was foot and back issues that kept him off the field at times. He did play 141 games, his highest total since 2010, and he lost more than 40 pounds this offseason. Maybe that will help Sandoval to play more games this season, but even if it does, it doesn't mean he will reverse two seasons of disappointing power numbers. Sandoval has hit 20-plus homers in two out of his five full seasons, so he has the potential to repeat that feat, but with underwhelming production in the other three seasons, it's a big risk to bank on it. Because he doesn't strike out much, Sandoval has some Head-to-Head appeal, but that's limited due to playing time concerns, and in Rotisserie, the likelihood of moderate power and run production with no speed leaves him with minimal standard mixed league value.

Bounceback candidate ... Tim Lincecum, starting pitcher

2014 rotation/bullpen
Player Name Throws
1. Matt Cain RHP
2. Madison Bumgarner LHP
3. Tim Hudson RHP
4. Tim Lincecum RHP
5. Ryan Vogelsong RHP
ALT Yusmeiro Petit RHP
Bullpen Breakdown
1. Sergio Romo RHP
2. Santiago Casilla RHP
3. Jeremy Affeldt LHP
4. Javier Lopez LHP
5. George Kontos RHP

Through the first two months of last season, Lincecum looked headed for another disaster. He stood at the end of May with an ERA over 5.00, even though he notched more than a strikeout per inning, just as he had done in 2012. Though Lincecum's ERA did not improve dramatically over his remaining 21 starts, he showed signs of a turnaround. He threw a respectable 62 percent of his pitches for strikes and walked 3.1 batters per nine innings, and both stats reflect marked improvement in control. Because Lincecum was still allowing extra-base hits at a higher rate than he did during his better years and was stranding runners at a subpar 69 percent rate, his final ERA was a less-than-impressive 4.37. An upward swing in strand rate is not unthinkable, so if he can maintain decent control, Lincecum's contributions to strikeouts, ERA and WHIP can return him to relevance in standard mixed leagues.

Prospects Report

Righty Kyle Crick and lefty Edwin Escobar are not only the consensus top prospects in the Giants' system, but they could be the first among the organization's best minor leaguers to reach the majors and make an impact. Since both could receive callups sometime this year, both can be targeted in the late rounds of NL-only drafts. ... Andrew Susac will have a hard time cracking the Giants' lineup thanks to the presence of Buster Posey, but the 24-year-old catcher should be able to contribute in the majors at some point within the next year or two. ... The same may not be true for outfielder Gary Brown, but perhaps he can regain his prospect status if he can cut back on strikeouts. He's worth hanging onto for at least one more year in dynasty formats. ... Shortstop Christian Arroyo, outfielder Mac Williamson, second baseman Joe Panik and pitchers Chris Stratton, Adalberto Mejia and Clayton Blackburn have all toiled almost exclusively in the lower minors so far, but all are legitimate dynasty league targets. ... Starting pitcher Michael Kickham and reliever Heath Hembree have some big league experience, and while neither projects to make a major Fantasy impact in 2014, both could make a contribution in deeper NL-only leagues this season.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al at @almelccbs .

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Player News
Phillies' McClure: Cliff Lee feels really good, right on schedule
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(5:17 pm ET) Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee, who missed the final two months of the 2014 season with an elbow strain, is slated to make his spring debut Thursday against the Astros. He is expected to throw two innings.

Lee, who will throw his second live batting practice session Saturday, is on schedule with the rest of the team's starting pitchers.

"He's thrown well," pitching coach Bob McClure said, per The Philadelphia Inquirer. "He feels really good, so he's right on schedule."


Braves' Rio Ruiz 'happy' with trade, impressing Pendleton in camp
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:16 pm ET) Braves third base prospect Rio Ruiz expressed happiness about being dealt to Atlanta as part of the package the Braves received for Evan Gattis, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

"Initially (the trade) was overwhelming," Ruiz said. "Then I looked at the big picture and I was happy with it. I watched the Braves growing up, and my dad just talked about the guys that came through this system and played in the big leagues."

Braves first-base coach Terry Pendleton, who was named National League MVP in 1991 as a member of the Braves, likes what he's seen from Ruiz in the early stages of spring training.

"I watched him play a little defense — he’s got a little work to do," Pendleton said. "But offensively, he’s sound. Really sound offensively. Just watching him in the cage, he’s inside the ball (with his swing). He’s what you want a young kid to be coming up so all you’ve got to do is tweak here and there. That’s what he looks like anyway."

Ruiz, 20, is expected to begin the season with Double-A Mississippi. He hit .293/.387/.436 with 11 home runs, 77 RBI and four stolen bases in 516 at-bats with high Class A Lancaster in 2014.


Phillies still hopeful Jesse Biddle will develop into MLB starter
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(5:02 pm ET) Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure has been impressed early on in camp with starting pitcher prospect Jesse Biddle, according to CSNphilly.com.

“Very impressive,” McClure said. “When you have that type of arm and you see a guy be able to control everything, it’s fun to watch. Of course, it’s not to Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels yet, but I mean, you can see it getting there someday possibly if he goes about everything right. It’s impressive to watch. The accuracy, the flow, how easy it was just to throw that hard. It looks really good.”

Biddle is coming off a down year in 2014, which included taking time off for what general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. termed a "mental break, and is no longer considered one of the Phillies' top prospects.

However, the team remains hopeful he will be able to bounce back.

“I think it’s an important year for him because last year was a tough one and he’s got some things to overcome,” Amaro said. “But if and when he does, he’s going to be a quality product.

“We love his stuff. We think he’s got a chance to be a very productive major-league pitcher. It’s just a matter of getting back on track."


Jose Reyes on Mets' Ruben Tejada: 'Something is wrong'
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(5:02 pm ET) When asked about former Mets teammate Ruben Tejada, Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes shook his head and said "something is wrong," per Newsday.

Reyes revealed that during his final season with the Mets he tried to pass the torch to Tejada to become his replacement. Reyes landed in Miami in the offseason, and Tejada was destined to be his permanent replacement. Now entering spring training, Wilmer Flores is viewed as the favorite to win the starting job at shortstop for the Mets.

"Every time I talk to him I try to give him some advice," Reyes said. "What can I do? I try to push him to do stuff. I don't know if he gets it or not...He had the opportunity to be the everyday shortstop for a long time there in New York. You have to work, man. When you're younger, you think you have everything there for you. But if you do something wrong, it's going to go away. Quick.

"When I was there, I always give a lot of advice to him. We were always together. My last year there, every time I talk to him: 'This is going to be your position for a long time. Don't let it go away.' See what happened now? It's 2015 and he doesn't have a position to play. When they talk about who is going to play every day, they don't talk about Tejada. They talk about Flores."


D-Backs' Aaron Hill making strong impression early on in camp
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:46 pm ET) Diamondbacks second baseman Aaron Hill has left a strong impression on chief baseball officer Tony La Russa through the early days of spring training, per MLB.com.

"He definitely is in the competition for playing time," La Russa said. "That's just front office talking, remember that, because [manager] Chip [Hale] makes out the lineup. I'm just echoing what Chip has seen. I'm sure he would say the same thing to you."


D-Backs might find a way to keep Jake Lamb on roster
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:40 pm ET) While the Diamondbacks are trying to see if Yasmany Tomas can develop into a starting third baseman at the major-league level, Jake Lamb is doing his best this spring to make sure the Diamondbacks don't forget about him, per MLB.com.

"He just looks great," Diamondbacks chief baseball officer Tony La Russa said. "I didn't see him last spring so I don't have anything to compare it to. I saw him at the end of the season, he could have been worn down. His talent is oozing. Believe me, at the point we're a contending club there is room for both of those guys [Tomas and Lamb] on the team. It's not that tough to figure out. They can't both play third base, but you could be creative. Get the best players on the field."


White Sox's Robertson won't see 'ton of opportunities' in Cactus League
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:38 pm ET) Because his role on the team is already defined, White Sox closer David Robertson is not expected to see "a ton of opportunities" during the Cactus League season, according to ESPN.

"Even talking to him, he doesn't need a lot of appearances to really be ready," manager Robin Ventura said. "I think more goes on what he does right now (in workouts before games). I know he's not going to sit there and have 20 appearances in spring training just to be ready. I would say 10, or less. Really it's up to him. He's been around long enough to understand what he needs to be ready."

Robertson signed four-year, $46 million deal with the White Sox this offseason, and is entering camp with high expectations. He converted 39 of 44 save opportunities in 2014 for the Yankees, registering a 3.08 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP over 64 1/3 innings of work.

"I really ease into spring training," Robertson said. "We've got 45 days here to get ready. If I can’t be ready in 45 days, there's something wrong. I look at it as a chance to get out here and slowly get yourself acclimated and get back to playing baseball. Obviously I've done things in the offseason to get my body to where it needs to be. It's just a matter of getting back on the field and getting in tune with everything."


Mariners catcher prospect John Hicks on the radar for MLB callup
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:35 pm ET) Mariners catcher John Hicks might not be on the radar as an elite prospect, but after posting a .288/.337/.419/.756 slash line through four minor-league seasons, he at least has the attention of the Mariners' decision makers.

“He’s a catcher who has the ability to do a lot of things,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, per The News Tribune. “His bat plays. He’s got a bright future. He’ll probably see significant playing time this spring.”

Hicks is expected to open the season at Triple-A Tacoma, but he could make his MLB debut in 2015.

“Listen, you’re on the 40-man roster,” McClendon said. “You’re on that roster for a reason. That’s to (the club to) protect you in case we have injuries. Then you move up.

“So, yeah, there’s a chance he could see time in the big leagues this year if there’s an injury.”


Twins P Ryan Pressly hoping to earn bullpen spot
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4:25 pm ET) Relief pitcher Ryan Pressly was able to crack the Twins' roster in 2013 only to spend most of last season in the minors, thanks to three minor-league options he had left. 

This spring training, Pressly is looking to do enough to prove he deserves a spot on the Twins roster once camp is over. 

"We'll see how everything kind of plays out," Pressly said. "It's going to be interesting. You've got guys like [Michael] Tonkin and Lester [Oliveros] who are going to come out of the gates swinging. I just have to control what I can control. So, it's about who shows up and who has a good spring, and I'm hoping I have a good spring like I did in 2013."

With Triple-A Rochester, Pressly posted a 2.98 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings. When he was called up to the Twins in July, he posted a 2.86 ERA in 25 games. 


Padres shortstop Alexi Amarista grateful to have starting job
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:21 pm ET) Padres shortstop Alexi Amarista is ready for the challenge of entering the season as a starter for the first time in his career, per MLB.com.

"I'm blessed that they gave me the opportunity and that gave me more confidence, being an everyday player," he said.

Monitoring Amarista's progress will be one thing Padres general manager A.J. Preller will watch closely this spring.

"I think, in general, we're really more anxious just to see how the spring training goes for the infield, in the middle of the infield, with Alexi and Clint Barmes, we're hoping we're covered," Preller said.


 
 
 
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