Giants Opening Day roster projection: A lot rests on San Francisco’s young pitching

Predicting the San Francisco Giants’ roster two weeks before Opening Day is like trying to fill out a perfect NCAA Tournament bracket. It’s virtually impossible to be 100 percent accurate. There will be upsets. There will be injuries. There will be unforeseen circumstances. Didn’t have Saint Peter’s or Valparaiso crashing the Sweet 16? Don’t feel bad. Nobody had Connor Joe and Michael Reed starting as the Giants’ Opening Day corner outfielders in 2019, either.

We’re a long time removed from that first frenetic season under Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi. Now in the sixth season of his administration, the Giants should be able to rely on internal options instead of waiver flotsam. Zaidi is operating with different marching orders, too. The fans have spoken and so has ownership: The Giants plan to have more continuity in the lineup, fewer platoons and more week-to-week roster stability.

But that doesn’t make the roster prediction business any less hazardous. Remember last year when the Giants flew to New York with a roster that was all but set? Zaidi sprung an early-morning surprise at Yankee Stadium: The club made a waiver trade for lefty bench bat Matt Beaty, which meant someone had to reach up, tap 6-foot-11 pitcher Sean Hjelle on the shoulder and tell him he was on the taxi squad. It also meant that Brett Wisely, who had advised his parents against flying from Florida to New York, was a last-minute addition. His family wasn’t there to see his major-league debut. The Giants began the season abuzz with confusion. And for all that jet scrambling, Beaty spent a grand total of four games in a Giants uniform.

The lesson here: No matter how set the Opening Day group might appear, never underestimate Zaidi’s proclivity for last-minute roster futzing.

Of course, as injuries and performances have played out this spring, the Giants have a rotation that sure could use a futz or two. For now, anyway, here’s a best guess at how the Giants will line ’em up against the San Diego Padres on March 28 at Petco Park.

On the fringe: Joey Bart

Wondering why Joey Bart hasn’t been traded yet? Look no further than last year’s catching group. Roberto Pérez, who was signed to be at least a tandem starter, sustained a season-ending shoulder injury a week into the season. So although Bart is out of options and likely to be wearing another uniform soon, the Giants will delay a decision on him until the last possible moment.

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Joey Bart, 27, has 162 games of major-league experience over four seasons. (Joe Camporeale / USA Today)

A team is always one foul tip away from testing its catching depth, and sure enough, Bailey took one off his right hand in the Giants’ 6-4 loss to the Dodgers on Tuesday. X-rays were negative, and Bailey is expected to return to action soon. There’s no question the Gold Glove finalist will be the team’s primary backstop. Murphy, who signed a two-year, $8.5 million contract, offers right-handed pop off the bench and the ability to start against left-handers, which should allow the switch-hitting Bailey to focus on his left-handed side and perhaps stay a little fresher into August and September.

On the fringe: Casey Schmitt, Otto López, David Villar

The Giants have been dreaming on Marco Luciano’s future impact for years. That future isn’t right now. Luciano had a rough time in the Dominican Summer League, he was set back by a tender hamstring this spring, and he was 1-for-20 with 11 strikeouts over his first eight exhibition games. None of this should be a surprise. The 22-year-old top prospect has played just 34 games above Double-A. So it won’t be a career-defining failure if Luciano begins in the minor leagues. Nick Ahmed, who joined the Giants as a non-roster invitee, is healthy after a year rehabbing from shoulder surgery and he’s not far removed from his pair of Gold Gloves. He should combine with Chapman to form a dynamic defensive left side of the infield, which will funnel into the pitching staff’s ground-ball tendencies.

Estrada reprises his role as the everyday second baseman, and Wade will form a platoon at first base with Flores, who will mix in elsewhere as needed. Nobody’s quite sure where Flores’ 400 or so plate appearances will come from, but he’s not concerned. “You know how it always goes,” he said.

The Giants have just one bench spot left after accounting for Flores, Murphy and a fourth outfielder (Austin Slater), and they’ll need speed and middle infield coverage from that spot. IF/OF Tyler Fitzgerald is the most versatile, and although he isn’t having a great spring (.192, 13 strikeouts in 26 at-bats), neither is Schmitt (.116). So we’ll lightly pencil in Fitzgerald as the choice (for now) on Opening Day. López offers an intriguing blend of skills, too. With an all-right-handed bench, there’s an avenue for a lefty hitter like Wisely to force his way onto the roster after a while. The good news for the Giants is that all of these young infielders have minor-league options, so protecting inventory won’t guide the decision.

Designated hitter (1): Jorge Soler

On the fringe: Luis Matos, Blake Sabol, Wade Meckler

Giants manager Bob Melvin had Lee playing back-to-back exhibition games earlier than the rest of the expected everyday players as the former KBO star sought to familiarize himself with major-league pitching. But the Giants had to back off Lee in recent days because of minor hamstring tightness. When healthy, Lee’s blend of skills has been on display for everyone to see. He’s drawn raves from the coaching staff as well as opposing scouts. Although there’s every reason to believe there will be an adjustment period, just as there was for Ha-Seong Kim in San Diego, the Giants will exercise every bit of patience in Lee as their contact-hitting catalyst atop the lineup and in center field.

With Lee in center, Yastrzemski’s defensive chops should play up with a return to right field, where he was a Gold Glove finalist in 2021. He’ll platoon with Slater, who was brought around slowly this spring because of offseason elbow surgery. Slater started in center field Saturday, and he’s expected to be full go when the season begins to reprise his platoon role with Yaz.

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Eight of Luis Matos’ nine hits have gone for extra bases this spring. (Joe Camporeale / USA Today)

Conforto hopes to avoid the platoon treatment after starting just 21 out of 48 games against left-handed starting pitchers (and batting .177 against them). There will be pressure to perform, though, if Luis Matos continues to force the issue. Matos entered Saturday with a 1.113 OPS that ranked fourth among all big leaguers in the exhibition season. Nobody this spring has more extra-base hits (five doubles, three home runs). Assuming the Giants cannot find a taker for Conforto and most of his $18 million salary, they’ll begin the year hoping he can have a bounce-back season as he seeks a platform to free agency. If any of their lefty-hitting outfielders get dinged up, Sabol figures to be a phone call away. He has a full set of minor-league options with Rule 5 draft strings no longer attached. Sabol is out of action with a mild groin strain but should return to baseball activity soon. Meckler was 11-for-26 when the Giants optioned him to minor-league camp. If he hits up a storm at Triple A, he’ll get opportunities at some point.

On the fringe: RHP Spencer Howard, RHP Blayne Enlow, LHP Blake Snell (?), LHP Jordan Montgomery (?)

Don’t bother asking Melvin if he’s worried that Webb has a 10.03 ERA in four exhibition starts while allowing 22 hits in 11 2/3 innings. If any pitcher in camp gets the benefit of the doubt to work on stuff, it’s the guy who led the major leagues with 216 innings last season and finished second in NL Cy Young Award balloting. But you might need truth serum if you ask Melvin whether he’s worried about getting dependable innings from the pitchers who will follow Webb in the rotation.

Harrison and Hicks have looked filthy this spring, combining for 24 strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings, but the Giants will need them to demonstrate efficiency and durability, as well. After that, injuries to Tristan Beck (right arm aneurysm, out at least two months) and Hjelle (sprained right elbow, unlikely for Opening Day) have reduced the Giants’ choices. And they’ll need a fifth starter the first turn through the rotation since they won’t have a day off on the seven-game, season-opening road trip against the Padres and Dodgers.

The Giants should have a better read on things after Sunday when Winn, who was set back by elbow inflammation, is scheduled to start the exhibition against the Colorado Rockies. Black has a 6.97 ERA in four starts, but he’s had just one clunker out of the bunch, and impressively, he hasn’t issued a walk all spring. When in doubt, bet on the Giants to go with the most reliable strike throwers. (Unless they sign Snell, who led the NL in walks last season but was otherwise pretty darn good.)

On the fringe: Nobody

The Giants felt good enough about their late-game relievers that they made no upgrades in the offseason. Jackson, who was a midseason addition last year after returning from Tommy John surgery, has looked particularly nasty in his exhibition appearances. Getting a full and effective season out of him could be an underrated factor. The rest of the group is having quietly effective springs, as well. Shhhhhh. No news is good news.

On the fringe: LHP Juan Sanchez, LHP Erik Miller, RHP Cody Stashak, RHP Nick Avila, RHP Spencer Bivens

Left-hander Ethan Small, whom the Giants acquired in a cash deal from Milwaukee, had the inside track to a job by virtue of his left-handedness and ability to throw multiple innings. But he strained his oblique and will be out of action for several weeks. So the Giants’ choices for a second lefty are down to Garrett, Sanchez and Miller. Sanchez, a 23-year-old non-roster invitee who came up through the system and pitched at High-A Eugene last season, is having the strongest spring. He’s wowing the catchers and coaching staff with his emerging velocity and changeup and has allowed one run in five appearances (six innings) with six strikeouts and no walks. If the Giants base their roster decisions on inventory and experience (with extra credit for charisma), then Garrett has a leg up. Miller already was optioned to minor-league camp but could return if needed.

Jefferies is a former Cal pitcher who last appeared for the A’s in 2022 before undergoing Tommy John surgery. He’s the surest bet to make the team as either a bulk reliever or starter. Roupp hasn’t pitched above Double A and didn’t make his exhibition debut until March 9, but his curveball is the most talked-about pitch of the spring in Scottsdale, and his two-seamer might rank a close second. If the Giants can get Roupp stretched out quickly enough, he’ll join Jefferies as a candidate to start or pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen.

This much is certain: To some extent, the Giants will rely on their young pitching to keep them afloat this season. That’ll be true whether the Giants sign Snell or Montgomery, whether Alex Cobb makes a healthy return as early as May and whether former Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray has a no-hiccups rehab process from Tommy John surgery to become a factor in the second half.

(Top photo of Mason Black: Rick Scuteri / USA Today)

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