SAN FRANCISCO — With eight days remaining until the Giants open the 2020 season against the Dodgers, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and manager Gabe Kapler are still determining which 30 players will travel to Los Angeles.
Roster decisions are made more complicated by uncertainty regarding the availability of several players who initially figured to have prominent roles with the club this season.
As projected starters such as Brandon Belt and Hunter Pence nurse injuries, we examined the likelihood certain players who have missed time due to injuries or unexplained absences will be ready for the season-opening series against the Dodgers.
Injury: Right heel soreness
Prognosis: Belt spent much of the last week in a walking boot, but took batting practice in the cages at Oracle Park on Tuesday and could begin mixing into live batting practices soon. Kapler wouldn’t commit to saying whether or not Belt will be ready to face the Dodgers, but it’s unlikely he’d start on July 23 anyway as he’s 4-for-60 with 29 strikeouts against Clayton Kershaw. The question is whether he’ll be ready to play on day two of the regular season against right-hander Walker Buehler.
Possible replacements: If Belt opens the season on the injured list, look for Pablo Sandoval to play first base when the Giants face right-handed pitchers. Sandoval figures to factor into the lineup as a fill-in corner infielder or part-time designated hitter, but he’s proven he’s a capable replacement when Belt and third baseman Evan Longoria have dealt with injuries over the last two years.
Another option at first base is Joe McCarthy, an outfielder who has taken more reps at first base since Belt began missing workouts. McCarthy came to the Giants in a July 31 deadline deal with the Rays last summer and has yet to make his big league debut. The front office loves his plate discipline.
Injury: Right foot soreness
Prognosis: Pence has looked comfortable in the batter’s box in modified games at Oracle Park over the last week, but the Giants haven’t had him running the bases. It’s uncertain when he’ll be expected to start running and still unclear when he’ll be able to play the outfield, so it’s not a stretch to think he could be left off the Opening Day roster and given time to heal. The Giants want his right-handed bat in the mix against lefties, so it’s also possible he’s included on the original 30-man roster and limited to pinch-hit duties.
Possible replacements: A stint on the injured list for Pence would open the door for the Giants to keep the trio of Austin Slater, Jaylin Davis and Darin Ruf on the Opening Day roster. The Giants may have all three in Los Angeles even if Pence is healthy, but they’d likely need to sacrifice some infield depth to have all of those right-handed corner outfield options on the roster.
With a week remaining until Opening Day, the Giants don’t have much clarity as to who will play center or right field on a regular basis.
Injury: Shoulder tightness
Prognosis: The Giants haven’t provided many details on Watson’s injury status, but he didn’t start summer camp on the same schedule as other pitchers on staff. Kapler said the medical staff recommended a “slow ramp up” for the regular season for the veteran left-hander, but he has yet to pitch in an intrasquad game.
Kapler was encouraged by the way Watson threw in a live batting practice session and expressed confidence in him being available on Opening Day, so there may not be as much to worry about with him as there was when he fell behind in spring training.
Potential replacements: Southpaw Wandy Peralta seems close to securing an Opening Day roster spot in the team’s bullpen regardless of whether Watson is available, but other lefties in camp including Andrew Suárez, Conner Menez, Sam Selman and even recent player pool addition Caleb Baragar could be in line to join the bullpen if Watson has a setback.
Absence: Medical reasons
Prognosis: The Giants were light on details when they placed the former Marlins left-hander on the 10-day injured list for “undisclosed medical reasons,” but Kapler said Tuesday the club expected García to begin practicing again Wednesday.
Will eight days be enough time for the Dominican Republic native to prepare for the regular season? It depends on whether he’s been able to throw during his absence and whether the Giants think they can rush his preparation. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if García opens the summer schedule on the injured list and is activated immediately following the Dodgers series.
Potential replacements: See the list of replacements for Watson? The potential fill-ins are no different if García must miss time. If neither Watson nor García are ready for the opening series, it would probably solidify Suárez’s spot on the roster.
Absence: Medical reasons
Prognosis: García is expected in camp Wednesday, but Kapler has not had any updates on Hamilton who was in the running for the starting center field job back in spring training.
There’s no timetable for Hamilton’s return and at this point, it would be tough to expect the light-hitting center fielder to get his swing ready for Opening Day. The good news for the Giants is they don’t necessarily need Hamilton to swing the bat for him to be an effective player as he’s an outstanding defensive center fielder and a potentially game-changing player on the basepaths.
Could Hamilton waltz into camp at the last moment and snag a roster spot? Don’t rule it out.
Potential replacements: An extended absence would seemingly open the door for Steven Duggar to break camp with the club as the Giants want a left-handed platoon option in center field and feel more confident in Duggar’s ability to play the position than any other outfielders on the roster.
If the Giants go without a left-handed hitting center fielder, they could keep an extra infielder such as Yolmer Sánchez on the Opening Day roster. They could also go with a bigger group of right-handed hitting outfielders that includes Ruf, Davis and Slater.
Absence: COVID-19 positive test
Prognosis: Madero is the only member of the 40-man roster known to have tested positive for COVID-19, but it doesn’t mean he’s the only one to have contracted the virus so far. Madero gave the Giants his consent to announce the positive test, which helps explain why he hasn’t participated in summer workouts.
It’s unclear when Madero will return, but the Giants loved his work in spring training and think his two-seam fastball is much improved from a year ago when the right-hander was a member of the Angels organization.
With no experience above Double-A, it was unlikely the 23-year-old would have carved out a role in the Opening Day bullpen, but it’s possible he’ll play a role with the big league club later on in the summer if and when he’s healthy enough to pitch.