San Francisco Giants Spring Training Outlook: Relief Pitchers
Safe and Sound: Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo
On the Bubble: Jake Dunning, Heath Hembree, David Huff, George Kontos, Jean Machi, Yusmeiro Petit, Juan Gutierrez, Derek Law, Kameron Loe
Not Likely: Erik Cordier, Hunter Strickland, Brett Bochy, Jose Casilla, Rafael Dolis, Adam Reifer, Sandy Rosario, Dan Runzler, Mason Tobin
After successfully rolling with the same core group of relievers throughout the past several years, the San Francisco Giants had their most bullpen trouble in recent memory during 2013. They ultimately used 17 different pitchers out of the ‘pen throughout the course of the year, and it became painfully obvious that the team hadn’t put together enough pitching depth to survive when faced with adversity.
This year the Giants have done more to protect themselves. Besides having young pitchers like Heath Hembree and Jake Dunning who now have the benefit of major-league experience, the team also brought in several big-league veterans, including Juan Gutierrez, Kameron Loe, and Rafael Dolis, to compete for jobs in spring training and provide depth in the minors if they don’t ultimately make the team.
There will be more competition for spots in the Giants’ bullpen this season than there has been any time since spring training of 2010. Lefthanders Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez and righties Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo are the only players who are assured spots, while the other three spots are very much up for grabs.
Yusmeiro Petit seems to have a very good shot at claiming the long relief role that was filled by Chad Gaudin for much of 2013, but recent acquisition David Huff will also push for that spot. In addition to his superior velocity, Huff would have the advantage of providing a third left-handed presence out of the bullpen, which the Giants have had with guys like Jose Mijares and Dan Runzler for the past several years. Kameron Loe, the 32-year-old righthander, has filled a long relief role for most of his nine big-league seasons, so he could be a darkhorse for this role, and it’s possible that a younger starter such as Mike Kickham could push for the role as well.
There are two middle relief roles that will be open for competition. Ideally, the organization would probably like to see young right-handers Dunning and Hembree win these jobs, but if they struggle during spring training they’ll be sent back to Triple-A for more seasoning. This could be particularly true for Dunning, who was called up before he was viewed to be ready last year. With that said, he had a very solid rookie year, so it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him rise to the challenge and claim a job.
If Dunning or Hembree falters, more experienced options such as Jean Machi, George Kontos, and Juan Gutierrez could come into play. Machi had a breakout year last season and at one point was the Giants’ most trusted middle reliever, but he struggled with fatigue at points and was not always reliable in pressure situations.
After being a valued member of the playoff bullpen in 2012, Kontos struggled mightily in 2013, especially when he became a victim of overuse early on in the year. Between multiple demotions to Triple-A, he finished with a disappointing 4.39 ERA for the year. He’ll look to rebound in 2014, which seems rather realistic considering that he allowed only one earned run over ten September appearances.
Gutierrez may quietly be a candidate to claim a job out of spring training, as he has very impressive velocity and has five seasons of big-league experience. While he’s never finished with an ERA under 4.00, he may be a guy who can be quickly fixed during the spring and become an attractive middle relief option.
Finally, the organization is extremely high on 23-year-old right-hander Derek Law, and it’s conceivable that with a good spring training performance he could skip over Double-A and Triple-A and go right to the big leagues. The initial plan for him, though, is to begin in Triple-A and then contribute to the major league team at some point later this year.
Among the rest of the relievers who will be in spring training, Sandy Rosario, Rafael Dolis and Brett Bochy would seem to be the most likely relievers to come up and contribute during the year should anyone go down. While he’s not a major prospect, Bochy’s had an impressive minor league career and is now seasoned enough to get a shot. Dolis was impressive in limited work with the Chicago Cubs last year, while Rosario was very solid with San Francisco until injuries consumed him and ultimately caused him to lose his 40-man roster spot.
With the way their relief corps have evolved over the past year, it’s much less likely that the Giants will suffer from bullpen issues this season the way they did during 2013.