While we’re all on pins and needles here in the Bay Area awaiting the NFC Championship game between the 9ers and the hated Seahawks (which, by the way, isn’t even a real animal). I thought I’d give us a much needed short rest by coming up with another Giants article for those of us counting down the days until Pitchers and Catchers report, which is February 14 for those of you who care about that sort of thing.
2014 will be a key season for the San Francisco Giants. This year we will figure out if they are contenders for the long haul, or if this year doesn’t go so well, will find out if the Giants make some changes as Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean’s contracts are up at the end of the season. There remain a lot of questions regarding this team, and ironically, the important ones have to do with the number three. Who is going to hit third for example? or how will The Brandon’s perform in their third year’s, that being a benchmark season for young players. What kind of production are the Giants going to get from the Third Base position and finally, are the Giants going to contend or are they doomed for another season in third place?
A players third season in the league is usually judged as a benchmark for if that player is going to separate himself from being good to being great, or being a 4A player to a bona fide Major Leaguer. That benchmark has come for the Brandons. Both are entering their third (full) seasons in the majors, and while both have good seasons to build on, it is this year that will answer the question whether or not the Giants see them in their long term plans.
Crawford is going to have to get off to a much better start defensively. I actually can’t believe I just said that, as I still think he is one of the top tier defensive Shortstop’s in the game, but he came out of the gate last year with a stone glove. Maybe he didn’t break it in? Didn’t put enough oil on it? Who knows why he struggled defensively to begin the season last year, but he rebounded later in the year. His fielding numbers are skewed due the rocky start. Offensively, however is where the real concern lies. His hitting remained about the same last year as it did during his debut. Hitting only .241 with 9 HR and 43 RBI. He also K’d 96 times. His OBP and Slugging% grew a bit, but not a significant amount. Crawford is going to need to show some improvement with the bat this season, and defensively he will be a key factor in how the Giants want to win.
Maybe the biggest question mark on the team is the performance of Brandon Belt. Is this finally the year he steps up and becomes who the Giants thought he was going to be. I’m not necessarily saying they think he should be an all star, but certainly he can be all star caliber. Belt will most likely start the year off hitting third, as he had some success in that role late in the season when he got hot. Brandon Belt is a guy with the ability to hit 25 HR’s per year. We’ve seen his power, and if his numbers tell us anything he clearly can hit 25 or more HR’s this season, as his HR number went up by 10 from his rookie season from 7 to 17. If he can improve his homerun total by another 10 this season, and keep the roughly the same numbers he had last year, hitting .289/.360/.481 with a pretty darn good .841 OPS. then he will be a fixture in the three spot in the Giants lineup for a long time.
There have been some new developments just today regarding the Giants beleaguered Third Baseman Pablo Sandoval. According to Andrew Baggarly of CSN’s most recent article, Pablo Sandoval apparently has dropped a ton of weight. The number being thrown around is 42 LBS. But I agree with one of Baggs’ tweets, he could drop 100 LBS and it wouldn’t matter if he can’t produce on the field or with the bat. Sandoval should begin the year hitting fifth or sixth, as I think he’d be a little more comfortable in that role rather than hitting third. He’d see more pitches, and have better chances to drive in runs. Sandoval is going into his contract year and it remains to be seen which Pablo Sandoval we see. The Sandoval who was so great in 2012 while helping this team win a World Series, or the out of shape, slow, bad defender that we saw in 2013. The Giants will decide whether or not to re up Sandoval this year depending on his play this year. If the Giants see another season from the Skinny Panda, then they’re in good shape (see what I did there).
And lastly, as far as the question of contention is concerned. Are we going to battle the Dodgers and DBacks for the division title, or are we doomed for another third place finish in the NL West? I think that if everything goes right for the Giants this year they CAN contend. They’re going to need better production from the bottom half of their rotation with Hudson and Vogelsong. And they question marks above are going to all need to pan out, which they very well could. They have five guys with the ability to hit 25 Homeruns each in Posey, Sandoval, Morse, Pence and Belt, still one of the best starting pitching staffs in the league, and I believe the Giants bullpen is on par with the Dodgers. The Giants certainly have the potential to contend, but all potential goes out the window on April 1st when you have to execute. Its going to be a big year for the San Francisco Giants, one way or another.
Oh an one more thing. GO NINERS!