Ooooh boy here are the heavy hitters folks. There's little doubt that the Giants' infield is going to be doing most of the heavy lifting this se ason offensively led by your reigning NL MVP, Buster Posey and followed by Sandoval and last year's playoff hero Scutaro.
Another reason for my optimism is that we've seen so far in his short career that Buster has only ever slowed down as a result of a nearly career threatening injury. So yes, as silly as it sounds I don't think Buster will have a dip in performance because there hasn't been a precedent for it.
By that same logic, if Posey can finish the season healthy, the Giants will win the World Series.
The Panda has spent nearly all offseason trying to prove that being in baseball shape is not the same as being in shape. Panda is basically exactly the same as he's been since the end of last season, hitting the ball well while looking like that guy who breathes really hard after opening his diet snapple.
Without seeing him back in action yet after the World Baseball Classic we wont see the effect it had on him, but if he can shed some pounds in the remaining time before the season starts I don't see why Panda wont have a great season hitting in front of the newly crowned MVP.
The old man of the infield has probably the highest risk for the Giants. Scutaro was signed to 3 years without ever really having a consistent track record of high performance, much like the signing of Angel Pagan. The Giants hope, as do we, that the old man can replicate what he did last year after he was acquired and simply put balls in play at a high rate. The trick to successful #2 hitters is putting the ball in play and moving the leadoff man over, something that Scutaro was exceedingly proficient at last year.
The reason I'm not too worried about Scutaro's age or the fact that he hasn't shown a lot of history of prolonged success is one lonely stat: Contact %. As most Giants fans know, Scutaro rarely if ever swung and missed a baseball last year. In fact Scutaro led the entire league last year with a 95.2% contact rate (Fangraphs) and has been improving his contact rate each year since he came into the league in the 1920s.
What was even more eye popping was the fact that Scutaro only swung at 21% of pitches that were thrown to him outside the strike zone good for 12th in the league and surprisingly he still made contact with those pitches 89% of the time which is tops in the league right above Ichiro.
With age you would be right to see a player's speed and athleticism decline, but as it's shown so far in Scutaro's career, his eye for the ball has gotten better every year.
On the opposite end of the spectrum we have the Brandons who even with their first World Series title, are still finding their way as major leaguers. Crawford may always be known as a defense first shortstop and he doesn't mind that at all, so long as he can up his average above .250 on a regular basis. I honestly believe that with a full major league season behind him he may be able to get into a comfort zone this year that will allow him to improve even more on his offensive game. Bochy's already hinted that on days that he's resting Scutaro he might like to see Crawford fill the 2 hole as he thrived there last year in spot starts as well.
Belt is now entrenched as the starting 1st baseman and with a red hot spring seems to be seeing the ball very well so far. His problem last year was swinging through a lot of inside fastballs and getting fooled badly. With some adjustments and a change in where he stood in the batters box he was able to correct some of those problems he had and finish off 2012 with a nice run.
Remember contact % rate? Belt had one of the lowest on the team at 74% almost 7 points below the league average. If Belt wants to stay on as the Giants' everyday 1st baseman he needs to work on his plate discipline and be able to use his power without sacrificing contact.
The backup race is shaping up to include a lot of talented options. If we're locking in Joaquin Arias who had a great year last year and can play both 3rd base and shortstop, then the Giants need someone who can play 2nd or take on a super utility role. The guys the Giants are looking at right now are:
Kensuke Tanaka - solid japanese player with defensive range and a steady bat
Brock Bond - a 27 year old minor league 2nd baseman who's the early homegrown favorite
Tony Abreu - former Dodgers' top prospect who's been battling injuries all spring
Nick Noonan - 23 year old shortstop who's supposed to have power and speed and yet hasn't shown much of either.
All of these guys are middle infielder options that would replace the role that Ryan Theriot held last year. None of these are particularly exciting because, well... it's the last spot on the bench and when are those ever exciting? Without much seen from Abreu because of an early spring injury, it's hard to tell who's in the lead right now. It was Tanaka at first but hasn't exactly been scalding the ball in the spring and he has had some defensive hiccups.
Bond and Noonan both have enough options left that the Giants may probably rather keep them in the minors rather than take a chance on them making an impact off the bench. I think we'll have a better idea of who is going to occupy that spot once Abreu gets some more at bats this spring.
Bret Pill going down for 3-4 weeks after a surgery on his knee may open up yet another spot.
Even with his early struggles so far I think the backup catcher spot is Hector Sanchez's to lose. Tyler LaTorre who's playing right now for Team Italy in the WBC looks pretty good as does Guillermo Quiroz, but both are probably long shots to make the team unless Sanchez goes down with an injury.
Laws of the Day
Marco Scutaro's Z-Contact % (contact when ball is in the strike zone) = 99.3%
This guy is a machine