SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants' decision-makers must select the ballclub's season-opening contingent of reserves late next week. Clues regarding who will compose the bench have emerged, though nothing's certain at this juncture.
"The guys who are battling to make this club are all having good springs," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said after the Giants' 8-5 split-squad victory Friday over Kansas City.
Bochy has repeated that the bench will consist of the lucky few who provide the most "coverage." That is, versatility will be highly valued. Candidates who are on the 40-man roster have an edge, but that status isn't essential. Non-roster invitees have won Opening Day jobs in the recent past, such as outfielders Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres and utility man Joaquin Arias.
Experience is preferred but mostly unattainable for the Giants. Among the pool of reserves, only Blanco, infielder Conor Gillaspie and catcher George Kottaras can be termed as veterans. One wonders if, at some point this season, the club will regret being unable to sign Juan Uribe or Jimmy Rollins. Both are proven performers who would command respect in the late innings as potential pinch-hitters.
As always, one issue affects another. Should the Giants begin the season with 13 pitchers, one more than usual, Bochy will stare daily at a bench consisting of just three players -- not including the backup catcher, who rarely appears unless he starts. "I'd like to stay away from it," Bochy said, admitting that "it's fair to say" that a 13-man staff is possible, until Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain increase their pitching stamina.
The Giants' hierarchy will consider all of these factors and more when they make final roster cuts. Here's the outlook for reserves at each position group as the April 4 regular-season opener at Milwaukee approaches:
Since his initial season with the Giants in 2007, Bochy has not opened a season with three catchers. There's no reason to believe that he'll change this pattern.
Andrew Susac began Spring Training as the favorite to win the backup role behind Buster Posey. That changed when Susac injured his troublesome right wrist and Brown started hitting. Brown owned a .355 batting average after Friday's game against Kansas City.
The Giants definitely are giving Brown a serious look. He leads San Francisco's catchers with 60 innings played. The Giants have paired him with pitchers he had never caught before this season, such as Johnny Cueto, so he can familiarize himself with them.
Kottaras appears destined to give the Giants depth at Triple-A.
Infielders Kelby Tomlinson's promising finish last year as injured Joe Panik's replacement at second base may have been enough to earn him a utility role. Tomlinson has played second base, shortstop and a little bit of third base to prepare for his duties. Though the Giants curtailed their offseason experiment to try him in the outfield, Bochy has indicated that he could play left field if necessary.
Ehire Adrianza has gained personal momentum. Having acquired a reputation for fine defense and flimsy hitting, he gained 14 pounds this offseason to strengthen himself and is batting .353. He also has played more than 16 innings at first base and ventured to Minor League camp on Thursday to play left field in an intrasquad game -- a clear sign that the Giants want him to diversify himself.
Gillaspie can play first base as well as third. Perhaps more importantly, he would represent a moderate pinch-hitting threat.
With other teams in other years, Grant Green (.295 entering Friday) might have a better chance to make the Opening Day squad. But he's out of Minor League options, so the Giants would have to clear room on their 40-man roster to keep him. They could use a right-handed hitter such as Green, but not at the cost of a roster spot.
Should the Giants start the season with 13 pitchers, Blanco could be the lone extra outfielder. It should not be forgotten that Brandon Belt possesses some outfield experience.
Bochy said at the outset of Spring Training that Mac Williamson would be better off if he received more Minor League seasoning. Then Cactus League games started, and Williamson hit for average as well as power. He has cooled off somewhat, taking a .300 batting average into Friday night's game against the Dodgers.
Jarrett Parker has provided glimpses of the productivity he displayed last September, when he hit .400 (16-for-40) with six homers and 14 RBIs in 17 games. He also went 3-for-6 with a double, one home run and two RBIs as a pinch-hitter. But the 13-pitcher issue could force him back to Triple-A.
In a perfect world, Gorkys Hernandez would serve as an admirable late-inning defensive replacement. However, the Giants might simply run out of roster room for him.