How Gi­ants be­gin new era un­der Kapler as Posey opts out for ’20

Merced Sun-Star - - Front Page - BY JANIE MCCAULEY

The San Fran­cisco Gi­ants are be­gin­ning a new era un­der man­ager Gabe Kapler with many of the fa­mil­iar faces who were part of all that win­ning last decade.

And one glar­ing ab­sence: Buster Posey.

The vet­eran catcher has opted out of the sea­son af­ter adopt­ing twin girls who were born pre­ma­turely on July 3.

The Gi­ants are count­ing on ev­ery­body who is still here be­ing bet­ter in this sprint of a sea­son to get San Fran­cisco back in the mix as a con­tender, even if no­body else ex­pects it from this group.

“The cool thing about this is we’re go­ing to start this 2020 cam­paign in a pen­nant race so ev­ery game takes on an added level of im­por­tance,” Kapler said.

If the Gi­ants are go­ing to make strides af­ter fin­ish­ing 77-85 last year, keep­ing key play­ers healthy will be para­mount – from Bran­don Belt at first base to key starters Johnny Cueto and Jeff Sa­mardz­ija on the mound.

“It’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent off­sea­son when you’re not bat­tling an in­jury,” out­fielder Mike Yas­trzem­ski said. “It’s great to have guys who are com­fort­able com­ing in and not hav­ing to worry about spend­ing an ex­tra three hours here ev­ery day just to try and make sure they can go out and play.”

BELT’S HEEL: Belt needed a walk­ing boot and was side­lined early in summer camp be­cause of a sore heel that Kapler didn’t ex­pect to slow him sig­nif­i­cantly.

“The prob­lem that we’ve had over the past cou­ple years was in­juries, so hav­ing ev­ery­body back and ev­ery­body healthy, we re­ally be­lieve that we’re go­ing to have a shot to make a run this year, ” Belt said. “It’s just a mat­ter of be­liev­ing it our­selves and go­ing out there hav­ing the goal in mind to win base­ball games. I re­ally think we have a good chance to do that this year more so than the past few years.”

MISS­ING POSEY: Rob Brantly and Tyler Heine­man are the catch­ers who will now be com­pet­ing to start af­ter they ex­pected to fight for the backup job. Both spent most of 2019 at Triple-A.

Posey came out swing­ing from the first day of spring train­ing, a pos­i­tive sign his sur­gi­cally re­paired right hip was fi­nally healthy again af­ter it both­ered him last sea­son. The six-time All-Star had sea­so­nend­ing right hip surgery in Au­gust 2018, then he bat­ted just .257 with seven home runs last year.

The Gi­ants will miss his bat and pres­ence.

OLD STANDBYS: Hunter Pence and Pablo San­doval are a cou­ple of fan fa­vorites who re­turned for another go with the Gi­ants this year – and their ex­pe­ri­ence was felt in the club­house and on the field from Day 1.

Pence spent a sea­son away with Texas. He bat­ted .297 with 18 homers, 17 dou­bles and 59 RBIs over 83 games with the Rangers.

He was part of the Gi­ants’ 2012 and 2014 World Se­ries cham­pion teams, while San­doval was the 2012 World Se­ries MVP.

The switch-hit­ting San­doval re­turned to summer camp no­tice­ably heav­ier fol­low­ing the lay­off. He is work­ing back from Tommy John surgery on his right el­bow in early Septem­ber.

NEW LOOK: In­fielder Wilmer Flores will pro­vide Kapler with flex­i­bil­ity to mix and match and pro­vide play­ers with key days off and also is ex­pected to be a reg­u­lar in the lineup at first base against left-handed pitch­ing.

San Fran­cisco knows plenty about Flores, who bat­ted .317 with nine homers, 18 dou­bles and 37 RBIs over 89 games for Ari­zona last sea­son.

MAN­AGER TO WATCH: All eyes will be on Kapler and how he leads a mix of proven vet­er­ans and young play­ers while be­gin­ning his first sea­son man­ag­ing the Gi­ants fol­low­ing two dis­ap­point­ing years in Philadel­phia.

Kapler, who was fired Oct. 10 by Philadel­phia af­ter go­ing 161-163 with the Phillies, has put his play­ers’ health and well­be­ing first and com­mit­ted him­self to keep­ing ev­ery­body com­fort­able dur­ing such strange cir­cum­stances.

He fol­lows Bruce Bochy, who re­tired af­ter 13 years in San Fran­cisco and three World Se­ries cham­pi­onships.

COM­PE­TI­TION: Teenager Marco Lu­ciano has made an im­pres­sion in camp and demon­strated why he is the club’s top prospect at 18 with a mighty home run swing. The tal­ented in­ter­na­tional ad­di­tion from the Do­mini­can Repub­lic isn’t the only young­ster turn­ing heads.

Ev­ery­body ex­pected more com­pe­ti­tion to make the ros­ter out of spring train­ing months ago, at nearly ev­ery spot on the di­a­mond.

ELAINE THOMP­SON AP

San Fran­cisco Gi­ants man­ager Gabe Kapler smiles as he takes the ball from start­ing pitcher Kevin Gaus­man dur­ing the fourth in­ning against the Texas Rangers in a spring train­ing game on March 11 in Sur­prise, Ariz.

ROSS D. FRANKLIN AP

Gi­ants catcher Buster Posey last week an­nounced he will skip this sea­son be­cause of con­cerns over the coro­n­avirus. The vet­eran catcher adopted twin girls who were born pre­ma­turely on July 3.

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