Here’s one way to get a run-on sentence out of San Francisco Giants manager Bob Melvin. Ask him who stands out among the list of non-roster pitchers who will report to major-league camp with the Giants on Wednesday.
“Carson Whisenhunt is obviously a guy we’re really excited about, I saw Mason Black throw the other day at the complex, Hayden Birdsong is a talented guy, Reggie Crawford, obviously …” Melvin said via telephone from his home in snowy Sedona, Ariz. “I gotta be careful. I don’t want to leave anybody out.”
The Giants might have made a small ripple of news when they released their list of non-roster invitees on Thursday, but it’s the potential big splashes that continue to warrant prime focus among media and fans. There’s a good reason for that. Signing DH Jorge Soler, or one or more of the Scott Boras holdouts — Gold Glove third baseman Matt Chapman, reigning Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, right-handed power hitter J.D. Martinez, playoff-tested left-hander Jordan Montgomery — would address a roster need and potentially add the win or three (or more) that could help the Giants wiggle nearer to the top of what’s expected to be a pig pile for three National League wild-card spots.
But the young pitching is going to be important, too. Melvin doesn’t have to look far into his past to cite an example.
“I remember in 2012 with the A’s, we won the division on the last day of the regular season against Texas,” Melvin said. “We beat the team that had been to the World Series twice in a row. And we did it with five rookie starting pitchers. So, yeah. I like good, young starting pitchers.”
Perhaps it’s false hope to cite the 2012 A’s as an example of anything that might be repeatable. That 94-win team in Oakland was one of the unlikeliest division champs in history, coming on the heels of an 88-loss season and then shedding three All-star pitchers (Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey) in offseason trades. But those A’s weren’t the 2021 Giants, when everything seemed to go right on that team’s way to a franchise-record 107 wins. Sure, those A’s had Yoenis Céspedes emerge as a first-year sensation, they had Brandon Moss come out of nowhere to become a power threat, and they turned to a third-string third baseman by the name of Josh Donaldson. But that team also entered the year with a rotation that consisted of two veterans — Brandon McCarthy and Bartolo Colon — followed by a bunch of kids. Then they lost Colon to a performance-enhancing drug suspension in August. And they lost McCarthy to a scary line drive off his head on Sept. 5.
It was their young pitching depth that rode to the rescue: Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, Dan Straily, A.J. Griffin, and Travis Blackley.
Perhaps this is a good time to point it out: Only Parker and Milone began that spring on the 40-man roster. Straily and Griffin weren’t even in big-league camp. Blackley was a waiver claim from the Giants in May.
The lesson has stuck with Melvin ever since. Your group of potential contributors is often a lot bigger than you’d otherwise think. That’s why Melvin isn’t ruling out pitchers like Whisenhunt, Black and Birdsong — and Carson Seymour, a right-hander acquired from the Mets in the Darin Ruf trade who enters this camp with a ton of momentum — making an impact this season. Heck, Melvin isn’t even ruling out one or several of them earning a place on the opening-day roster.
“The organization has been looking forward to that group making an impact in the big leagues,” Melvin said. “How many may start with us, I’m not sure. If someone comes out of the pack and has a fantastic spring and there’s an opening, we’re at a point as an organization where you don’t worry about experience. Talent rules the day.”
Here’s the Giants list of non-roster invitees. This franchise will ascend as high as its young pitching can carry it. pic.twitter.com/Qh9vjJkcLM
— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) February 8, 2024
The Giants had hoped their mound talent would be on the cusp this year after spending their top nine draft selections on pitchers in 2021 and their top six selections in 2022. And like those 2012 A’s with pitchers such as Griffin and Straily, the Giants could get contributions this season from guys who weren’t invited to big-league camp: a list that includes deceptive throwers like Jack Choate and William Kempner. The Giants can point to their example of one such pitcher impacting the big-league roster: Right-hander Ryan Walker didn’t have a locker at Scottsdale Stadium last spring but posted a 2.06 ERA over his first 40 appearances last season before tiring in September. Walker had a 2.21 ERA in 13 assignments as an opener.
The standard spring training disclaimers apply, though: The pitchers already on the 40-man roster will always hold a major advantage when it comes to breaking with the team. Left-hander Kyle Harrison is a virtual lock to be in the rotation if healthy. Right-handers Tristan Beck and Keaton Winn figure to enter with something resembling incumbent status after making their big-league debuts last season. Right-hander Sean Hjelle hasn’t put together a sustained run of big-league success yet, but he remains in the picture.
All of those pitchers have minor-league options, though. So the Giants will be in a position to react to an emerging, non-roster arm — provided they can free up a 40-man roster space. (They’ll have two openings on Feb. 14 when they can place Alex Cobb and Robbie Ray on the 60-day injured list. The hope, of course, is that they’ll create that space just in time to sign a free agent or two.)
If the Giants don’t add another starter, they’d have to fill three open spots after Logan Webb and Jordan Hicks. There will be competition for the final two or three spots in the bullpen as well. Right-hander Nick Avila, a Rule 5 pick by the White Sox who was returned to the Giants last season, and right-hander Landen Roupp are among two of the more intriguing non-roster pitchers who could sneak into the competition — or show enough progress to become options later this season in the minds of the front office and coaching staff. Former A’s right-hander Daulton Jefferies and former Mets lefty Thomas Szapucki, both attempting comebacks from major injuries, will have a chance to stand out, too.
Melvin remarked on the smallish spring roster — 25 invitees plus the 40-man group — as proof that there will be plenty of game-level opportunities for everyone in Scottsdale.
“It can be hard to evaluate in spring training and you can always get fooled,” Melvin said. “But we’ll be evaluating, whether it’s the velocity or the stuff these guys have. And we’re obviously an organization that wants you to throw it over the plate, keep (contact) on the ground. The guys we’re talking about, these non-roster guys, can strike people out. You want them to be confident on the mound, you want them to throw strikes and you want them to play to their strengths.
“These younger guys will get a look and a chance. The time is now for these talented youngsters to make an impact.”
(Top photo of Carson Whisenhunt: Jerry Kime / MLB Photos via Getty Images)