Spring Postcard: Giants have pitching, but where's the power?
Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Barry Zito front the NL West's best rotation
Only two players for San Francisco hit at least 20 home runs in 2009
Jonathan Sanchez is looking to build on a '09 season that included a no-hitter
This spring, SI.com writers are filing postcards from all 30 major league spring training camps. To read all the postcards, click here.
1. We should get to know Gerald Demp Posey III
It's a funny thing: two of the best offensive backstops in baseball are in this organization, and neither is actually starting at catcher. The first is the free-swinging and hard-hitting Pablo Sandoval, now warmly ensconced at third base. The other is Buster Posey, the bright 22-year-old out of Florida State, who represents the Giants' offensive future. And yet San Francisco is handing the dish to a freshly re-signed Bengie Molina (one year, $4.5 million), the 35-year-old vet who, at one point, went 119 consecutive plate appearances last season without taking a single walk. (Molina finished with a .285 OBP in 132 games.) Posey, who is hitting .371 this spring, may still start the season in the minors. "I enjoy catching," Posey says, "and I think that's where I want to be. But at the same time, I'll go wherever I need to be."
In fact, if there is any awkwardness around the past beating out the future ((and arguably present), neither Posey nor Molina, both genial fellows, will cop to it. Molina praises Posey for "being a very nice, humble kid who wants to learn," and this spring the curious young catcher has peppered the vet with queries about everything from pitch sequences to throwing technique ("He's always asking questions," Molina says). In other words, it's easy to see a mentorship taking root. Adds Molina: "I think he's going to be a superstar. I don't know when -- whatever time they say -- but, like me, he's a very humble kid, just trying to make it."
2. The Giants have the best pitching staff in the National League
The NL West is arguably the deepest pitching division in all of baseball, and San Francisco possesses the best staff of them all (and the best one-two punch). Let's count it down:
1. Tim Linecum, 25 (15-7, 2.48 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 261 Ks in 225.1 IP)
No, Bumgarner doesn't officially have the five-slot nailed down yet -- and he is struggling with his velocity this spring (seemingly straining to hit 90 mph) -- but his presence in the rotation should be a matter of when, not if. Unfortunately ...
3. San Francisco needs power
Note the disconnect between the statistics after win-loss record and the actual wins and losses: it's no secret that, after years of Barry Bonds, the Giants offense is its Achilles' heel. And Sandoval, let's remember -- while immensely talented (Bill James recently ranked him fifth in his Young Talent Inventory) and lovable -- hit only 25 home runs last year. So much paucity became clear one day last week, when coaches appointed Molina and center fielder Aaron Rowand captains and had them draft teammates for hitting drills. (Pitching coach and former Yankees lefty Dave Righetti served as the designated pitcher.) The scene was hilarious -- especially as Molina seemed to draft almost all his Hispanic teammates, which was immediately pointed out by Rowand ("You want to make this racial?" he joked) -- but also arresting: the player with the second-most home runs last year, with 20, is, yes, Molina. (Reserve infielder Juan Uribe follows with 16.) Given the likes of the Dodgers and Rockies bats, such anemia only becomes more crippling.
Not Done Yet
After two years of disappointment -- and quite lucrative ones, at that -- Zito finally started looking like the pitcher he was in Oakland, posting a 2.84 ERA from July 18 to October 2. And now the 31-year-old is the closest thing this young staff has to an elder statesman. In the Giants clubhouse in Scottsdale Zito occupies the corner locker, with Lincecum immediately to his right (and Cain on the other side of The Freak). "It's a close-knit group," Rowand says, "and Barry's in the middle of that. His stats may say that he had a great second half, but he was good all year. We just didn't score runs for him in the first half. I can remember maybe two tough games all season where he didn't have his stuff."
No, his final stat line wasn't elite. But he did throw a no-hitter (on July 11, against the Padres) and the reason he looks to be more than another Bud Smith is his strikeout rate: 177 Ks in 163.1 IP. And now, at long last, he has an assured place in the rotation. "He should improve by just getting on the mound that many times," Righetti says. "The big thing -- as it is with young guys who come up real fast -- is that he'll get into those innings where you get into trouble and try to get out of it by really trying to overthrow. He still goes through that. But it started to minimize as the season went by."
While hanging in the Giants clubhouse, I was startled to see that first baseman Aubrey Huff bears a tattoo of not just the Autobots logo from Transformers but also the symbol of the Decepticons, both located on his back. Apparently, he's a fan. A very, very big fan. ... Lincecum might be the only person of Filipino descent (his mother is Filipina) to dodge Manny Pacquiao-mania. Unlike teammate Brian Wilson, Lincecum isn't a boxing fan. (For a bit more on Wilson and hand-to-hand combat, see SI's forthcoming season preview issue.) "It was awesome when I got to meet [Pacquiao]," the reigning two-time Cy Young winner says -- Pacquiao threw out the first pitch at a Giants game last season -- "and I'm proud of what he's done, but I'm not going to lie." ... Speaking of boxing: Muhammad Ali visited the Giants clubhouse while barnstorming MLB teams in Arizona on behalf of Athletes for Hope, a service organization promoting philanthropy in sports. Every player looked star-struck, waiting in line for a photo with The Greatest. And then, in one of the cooler scenes you'll ever see, Ali met up with -- who else? -- Willie Mays, who's spent his free time this spring hanging around the Giants facility in Scottsdale. "We're friends," Mays said, smiling.
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