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San Francisco Giants spring preview: Denard Span likely bumps Pagan to left

By Dave Del Grande, The Sports Xchange   |   Feb. 19, 2016 at 5:13 PM
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Given his recent history with back and hamstring problems, you could argue Angel Pagan will be the most inflexible player at spring training for the San Francisco Giants this month.

That said, Giants manager Bruce Bochy is counting upon the veteran's flexibility when it comes to weighing his lineup options for the 2016 season.

The Giants signed speedy center fielder/leadoff man Denard Span to a three-year, $31 million contract in the offseason.

Speedy and leadoff have been two words pretty much reserved for Pagan in his San Francisco career. But that's no longer the case.

"The one nice characteristic we've had on this club is unselfishness," Bochy said when asked to describe Pagan's role this season. "I'm sure his preference is to stay in center field. But I think he's a good enough athlete where he could go (to left field)."

Bochy said he planned to communicate regularly with Pagan as decision time on a starting lineup -- both at the plate and in the field -- approaches.

He is counting upon that aforementioned flexibility.

Moving Pagan to left field seems like a no-brainer. Span, who was signed away from the Washington Nationals, is strong defensively. And playing left field, where there isn't as much ground to cover, would seem like a good idea for Pagan, a 34-year-old with hamstring issues.

"He's healed up," Giants general manager Bobby Evans said of Pagan. "I know he's looking at (this season) as a very big one for us (and) for him."

At his best, Pagan was a .300-hitting, 16-steals guy for just over half a season (96 games) in 2014 before his hamstring started acting up.

Imagine if he could bring those numbers to the seventh or eighth spot in the batting order, which is where Pagan is likely to land now that Span has all but been handed the leadoff spot.

A late-career move out of center field and big-time demotion in the batting order probably wouldn't be Pagan's first two choices entering a free agent season. But ...

"Angel wants to win like everyone else," Bochy said.

NOTES, QUOTES

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: One of the first observations Giants manager Bruce Bochy had after greeting pitchers and catchers on Feb. 17 was how good veteran RHP Matt Cain looked. Then again, Bochy said the same thing multiple times last season, and Cain never demonstrated it in regular-season game action, going 2-4 with a 5.79 ERA as he battled a sore right forearm. The 31-year-old is penciled in to be the team's fifth starter this season, but he will be pushed by RHP Chris Heston, one of last year's biggest surprises (12-11, 3.95). It's a rare occasion when the veteran is the guy with something to prove.

ROOKIE WATCH: C Trevor Brown goes to spring training a solid third on the Giants' depth chart behind C Buster Posey and C Andrew Susac. However, his ability to play first and second base could get Bochy pondering the possibility of keeping three catchers. Brown, 24, hit .261 at Triple-A Sacramento last season before getting a taste of the majors, going 9-for-39 (.231) with three doubles in 13 games. Susac's numbers weren't much more impressive -- .218 with better power (three home runs, two triples, seven doubles in 133 at-bats) -- but he was dependable nonetheless before breaking his right wrist in September. Bochy isn't likely to exhaust a roster spot on a backup for 1B Brandon Belt, so keeping Brown around could serve as a nice insurance policy.

COMEBACK TRAIL: 2B Joe Panik made the National League All-Star team last season, hitting .312 in 382 at-bats. However, he missed 56 of the final 59 games with a sore lower back, which makes him at least a bit of a question mark for this season. No surgery was required, so the Giants have to hope treatment and rest will get their 25-year-old back to where he was a year ago. Given that it was a back ailment, they have their fingers crossed.

PLAYER NOTES:

--LHP Madison Bumgarner didn't need to throw a single pitch at spring training before getting manager Bruce Bochy's nod to be the Opening Day starter April 4 at Milwaukee. It was Bochy's way of saying that despite the offseason addition of World Series winner Johnny Cueto, the Giants' rotation will begin with the 2014 World Series Most Valuable Player, Bumgarner.

--LHP Josh Osich pitched his way into a prominent role in the Giants' bullpen last season with a 2-0 record and 2.20 ERA in 35 appearances. That earned him an opportunity to fill some big shoes this year -- those left unlaced by retired LHP Jeremy Affeldt. Few managers are as adept at making situational changes as Bochy, so having at least one dependable lefty other than veteran LHP Javier Lopez figures to be critical to the club's success. The Giants will give 23-year-old Clayton Blackburn a chance to take over Osich's 2015 role as the bullpen's third lefty.

--OF Gregor Blanco once against arrives at spring training as a reserve, and that is exactly where manager Bruce Bochy wants him ... for now. Blanco has been an invaluable member of the Giants in recent years, the last four of which have begun with him opening the season as a backup. He hit .291 with 13 steals when pressed into 115 games of action last season, and he would be wise to expect a busy 2016 as well. All three of the club's projected starters in the outfield -- LF Angel Pagan, CF Denard Span and RF Hunter Pence -- had significant injury problems last season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Going into this camp, it's probably the most set I've ever been as far as the team and pitching staff. But you want to keep it competitive." -- Giants manager Bruce Bochy, vowing to give all his young prospects a look this spring.

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