San Francisco Giants Spring Training Outlook: Starting Pitchers
Safe and Sound: Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong
On the Bubble: Mike Kickham, Mitch Lively
Not Likely: Jose De Paula, Edwin Escobar, Kendry Flores, Jason Berken, Ty Blach, Clayton Blackburn, Kyle Crick, Chris Heston
Starting pitching was one of the biggest issues for the 2013 San Francisco Giants, as the team used 10 different starters throughout the year and received a 4.37 ERA and an average of only 5.8 innings per start from the rotation. It was speculated that the Giants could revamp as much as three fifths of their rotation for 2014. Ultimately, though, the team decided to play it rather safe by bringing back four of the five members of the 2013 group and only replacing Barry Zito with his former Oakland Athletics teammate Tim Hudson.
While Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain are rather safe bets to be successful and Tim Lincecum is what he is, the Giants are taking a leap of faith with Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong. Hudson, who will turn 39 in July, is coming off an inconsistent season in which he suffered a gruesome season-ending broken ankle after being spiked by the Mets’ Eric Young Jr. Vogelsong, who had been mediocre for most of his career before emerging as a star in 2011, had a very disappointing and injury-riddled 2013 which left many observers wondering if the 36-year-old had anything left. It seemed as if the Giants may have shared those sentiments when they non-tendered him following the season, though he ultimately was re-signed to a more financially-friendly deal.
If anyone in the Giants’ rotation should go down, the organizational message has been that Yusmeiro Petit and 21-year-old Edwin Escobar will be the first pitchers considered as replacements. Obviously this is a fluid process, though, as Chris Heston (who returns to camp this year as a non-roster invitee) was anointed as the sixth starter last spring training before ultimately failing in Triple-A and being designated for assignment in mid-July.
With that said, these two seem to be more reliable options. Petit was very impressive down the stretch last year, coming within one out of a no-hitter during September while finishing with a 3.56 ERA overall. He’ll likely start the year as the team’s long reliever and be ready to start if necessary. Escobar, rated the number two prospect in the organization by Baseball America, has made a quick rise through the system and may be ready to contribute in the bigs by midseason.
As far as the rest of the starters in camp, none of them have much of a chance at making the opening day roster, but there is more intriguing depth than there was at this time last year. 25-year-old Mike Kickham, who was forced to make his big-league debut before he probably should have last year due to injuries, now has some quality experience under his belt and can continue to develop at a more reasonable pace. His quality velocity may make him a more intriguing candidate in the bullpen, though. 28-year-old right-hander Mitch Lively, who has not reached the majors largely because his fastball does not live up to his last name, has experienced major success since becoming a starter midway through last year. After posting a 1.70 ERA and holding hitters to a .215 average in 10 Venezuelan Winter League starts, Lively may be the biggest darkhorse to battle his way onto the Giants’ opening day roster as a long reliever.
New acquisitions Jason Berken and Jose De Paula should provide starting depth at the upper levels of the minors, as well as Heston, who will be looking to rebuild his image as a prospect this year. Kyle Crick, Clayton Blackburn, and Ty Blach, who were dominant at the top of Class A San Jose’s rotation last season, will each make their first appearances in major league camp and look to solidify their statuses as future big-league starters. Each of them looks to be targeted for Double-A, though they all appear to be on the fast track and any of them could be up to Triple-A by midseason. Kendry Flores, an offseason addition to the 40-man roster, will look to make a good first impression as he prepares to ascend to San Jose this year.