By Morris Phillips
SAN FRANCISCO–The most obvious path to success for the 2020 San Francisco Giants disappeared when Buster Posey opted out of the season, citing his family and the adoption of prematurely-born twin girls.
With just 60 games in a 100-yard dash of a season, the Giants figured to rely on a veteran, starting pitching staff to establish a pattern of low-scoring games winnable with an offense adept in scratching across a run or two as opposed to slugging its way past NL and AL West opponents. Without Posey–in his familiar role as the orchestrator of the pitching staff–the Giants may need to revisit just how capable their offense is.
Any evaluation of the Giants offensively should begin with right fielder Alex Dickerson, the 2019 mid-season acquisition from San Diego who turned heads with 22 extra-base hits in playing time limited by injuries. Dickerson has the swing and the frame of a 30 home run guy at big league level, but a balky back and other physical issues have kept the 30-year old from blossoming. His home run off Shaun Anderson highlighted Tuesday’s intersquad game and provided hope that Dickerson can be the starting left fielder on Opening Day and stay put.
Michael Yastrzemski, the Giants’ other under the radar acquisition from last season, returns with a firm grip on the centerfield job, the leadoff spot and an opportunity to improve on his 101 hits and 21 homers in 2019. The Giants love his work ethic and approach, all reasons to bet on the Hall of Famer’s grandson to trend upward in 2020.
Hunter Pence returns to San Francisco after a year in Texas in which he re-energized a career that appeared to be over. Pence is healthier than he was in his last season as a Giant in 2018, and he’s successfully tweaked his batting approach and daily habits, giving him a shot to recapture the starting job in right field.
Evan Longoria, starting his 13th big league season, is no longer a stranger to San Francisco, the cooler weather and the National League, and is in fact, the team’s closest thing to a senior leader in Posey’s absence. Most importantly, Longo’s not satisfied, believing that his stats should return to previous standards now that he’s completely acclimated. In seven previous seasons, the third baseman hit more home runs than the 20 he had in 2019.
Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford return at first base and shortstop respectively, and both are out to prove they’re more than the last links to the team’s world championship past. Crawford slipped some defensively last season, and Belt stayed healthy–tying his career high with appearances in 156 games–but saw his batting average and offensive impact slip dramatically. Both Brandons are eager to shore up their defenciencies but Belt’s availability for the opener in Los Angeles is up in the air due to a foot injury.
Maurice Dubon was a breath of fresh air in the clubhouse and on the field following his 2019 acquisition from Milwaukee, but 28 games were hardly enough to show his full capabilities. Can he continue his growth in 2020? Manager Gabe Kaplan is betting yes by handing the second base job to the 25-year old originally from Honduras who played as a prep in Sacramento.
Posey’s catcher spot remains up in the air with Tyler Heineman, Rob Brantly and Chadwick Tromp all in camp and getting reps while free agent veteran Russell Martin keeps getting mentioned as a potential acquisition. Currently, Tromp’s getting a lot of attention with his power bat and dramatic rise after seven seasons at the minor league level.
The universal DH is baseball’s COVID-19, shortened season surprise adjustment that has all 15 National League teams scrambling to staff on the fly. The Giants are even further behind here given their lack of power options, but they’ve already decided to pass on Yasiel Puig who just signed with the Braves. Instead the Giants will cobble together a left-right platoon with Pablo Sandoval, Pence, non-roster invitee Darrin Ruf, Steven Duggar and Tromp all in the mix.