A few weeks ago I wrote about the options available to the Giants in terms of providing third base cover for Eduardo Nunez, whom I expected to be the Organisation’s first choice for opening day. I expected Kelby Tomlinson to provide middle infield cover for Joe Panik and Brandon Crawford as he made the bulk of his 2016 appearances at second base and shortstop. New arrivals Jimmy Rollins and Gordon Beckham were expected to compete with the relatively new arrival Aaron Hill, as well as Conor Gillaspie and a wildcard in the form of 29-year-old Korean import Jae-gyun Hwang, to see who would get the nod in Bochy’s 25 man roster. All the usual caveats apply here, small sample size, varied quality of pitching in Spring Training, blah blah blah, but I’ve evaluated the performances so far, in no particular order, to try to see who should make the cut.
I still rate Conor Gillaspie as a the man most likely to make the 25 man roster. He’s excelled with the bat this spring with an OPS of 1.124. He’s hit 2 homers in just 25 at bats too. Defensively he plays the position solidly, recording just 2 errors in over 300 innings playing third base in 2016. He is a safe pair of hands and can also cover at second base. I will be very surprised if he gets sent back down.
Based solely on his performance this spring, I would expect Jae-gyun Hwang to make the cut as well. With 3 home runs in 33 at bats and a respectable spring OPS of .900 so far, he offers the potential for something the Giants haven’t had since 2013 – a 25+ HR season. There are still a couple of wrinkles he needs to iron out. He’s yet to draw a single walk this spring despite generally good plate discipline in the KBO last year (47 walks to 64 strikeouts last season) and he’s committed two errors this spring in 63 innings at third base for a fielding percentage of just .931. I would expect him to get better as he acclimates to life outside Korea, though, and as a fan I would love to see the Giants take a risk on Hwang.
Hoping Jimmy Rollins would turn back the clock was always a bit of Hail Mary, and unsurprisingly he hasn’t been able to recapture earlier career form this spring – at least not with the bat. Pretty solid defensively at shortstop, Rollins has also been tried in 3 games this spring at second base despite never having played there at big league level. I can’t help but think that the Giants top brass were willing him to impress them somehow, but unfortunately he hasn’t done that with bat. With just 3 hits in 32 at bats, his OPS of .404 is propped up by 4 walks, and when you factor in his 8 strikeouts you get a picture of a guy who doesn’t appear capable of troubling elite level pitching.
Aaron Hill is the middle of the road candidate, in that he hasn’t been particularly good or bad. Fancied in some quarters to make the 25 man roster ahead of Hwang, Hill’s .639 OPS this spring is a long way short of Hwang’s but without the power. His plate discipline is not much better than the Korean’s either, striking out 5 times against 2 walks in 15 games. I can see why the Giants would go with Hill but I think it would be an unadventurous choice.
Gordon Beckham can console himself with the news that he hasn’t been the worst performer in this group, but it would be a stretch to say he’s been anything other than average at best. Slashing .219 / .297 / .281 shouldn’t be enough to earn a spot on a big league roster, especially coming after a 2016 season in which he struck out twice as often as he walked.
An evaluation of the backup options might not be complete without a quick word on the man who is expected to start at third base this season – Eduardo Nunez. To be honest, he has made a lot of the candidates look better by largely under-performing this spring. He started well enough, and in 34 spring training plate appearances he hasn’t struck out once, although he hasn’t walked yet either. His baserunning upside has been evident in a team-leading 2 stolen bases, but in a pre-season in which his backup options were being played off against each other it might looked better if he had put up better numbers than his paltry .559 OPS. Jae-gyun Hwang must be licking his lips.