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Spring Training kicks off Giants' title defense

Club opens camp with majority of championship squad back in the mix

Spring Training kicks off Giants' title defense

SAN FRANCISCO -- If you can't tell the Giants without a program, just use last year's.

Of the 25 players on the postseason roster who propelled San Francisco to six consecutive victories in elimination games and its second World Series title in three years, 21 remain. Moreover, the lone Major League free agent the Giants signed from another team was outfielder Andres Torres, who performed for San Francisco from 2009-11.

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Asked earlier this week to evaluate his ballclub entering Spring Training, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, "I like where we are right now. I have to, because we pretty much have everyone back."

Skeptics will maintain that, by standing still, the Giants are falling behind in the National League West. The Dodgers boast a highly paid, high-powered roster. Arizona added Brandon McCarthy to a solid pitching staff and Cody Ross to its lineup. Colorado hopes to have shortstop Troy Tulowitzki available all season. The youthful Padres should benefit from another year of experience.

The Giants have been in this position before. They made few changes after winning the 2010 Series and finished second in the National League West the following year, eight games behind Arizona. But they actually spent 81 days in first place in 2011 and didn't fall from the top spot for good until Aug. 10 -- 11 weeks after catcher Buster Posey sustained the catastrophic left leg injuries that ended his season.

This past offseason, the Giants considered it more important to keep their potential free agents than to overhaul the roster. Thus, they retained Angel Pagan, who settled nicely into the center-field/leadoff role during the season's second half; second baseman Marco Scutaro, who batted .362 after he came from Colorado in a July 27 trade; and left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, a pillar of the bullpen since 2009.

The Giants have learned how to win. And if they need a reminder, Bochy will provide it.

"Your success is never final," he said. "We know we have to move on and go to work."

Pitchers and catchers report

Feb. 12

Full squad reports

Feb. 15

First Spring Training game

Home vs. Angels, Feb. 23, 12:05 p.m. PT

Opening Day

Away vs. Dodgers, April 1, 1:10 p.m. PT

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Which hitters will step up or stand down?
The Giants won't establish themselves as offensive threats by excelling in the Cactus League. Yet, what happens in March might serve as a harbinger of what unfolds when it counts. The projected regulars will be worth watching, because nearly each of them has something to prove.

Pagan must show signs that he's a legitimate leadoff man and not the erratic performer of last year's first half. At age 37,  Scutaro must indicate that he has something left. An encouraging spring might be necessary for Hunter Pence, who hit a career-low .253 in 2012 (including .219 after joining the Giants).

What do the MVPs of the regular season and World Series, Posey and Pablo Sandoval, do for an encore? Can Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford continue to improve? Can Hector Sanchez hit well enough to force his way into more playing time?

2. The Classic: What is the price of patriotism?
Since Major League Baseball has a vested interest in the World Baseball Classic's success, no club official would say anything remotely negative about the 16-team international tournament. But this year's Classic could prove to be a considerable inconvenience for the Giants. Nine of their Major Leaguers -- 36 percent of the projected Opening Day roster -- are participating in the Classic and thus will miss time at Spring Training. It's only natural for Giants officials to worry about the threat of injury to these players and whether they're preparing efficiently for the season.

If there's a silver lining for the Giants, it's that the disappearance of many key players will enable them to get a closer look at prospects and others who can provide depth.

3. Who's in left field?
Gregor Blanco will enter camp as the favorite to claim this spot. But for all his defensive excellence, which he displayed vividly in the postseason, Blanco will struggle to stay in the lineup if he can't contribute a modicum of offense. Blanco will face competition from switch-hitting Torres, who hit .286 as a right-handed batter last year. A platoon is possible, since Blanco bats left-handed.

Brett Pill, who hit .210 in 48 games with the Giants last year, could force his way into the mix. Don't forget about Belt, particularly when Posey moves to first base and Hector Sanchez catches.

2012 record
94-68, first in the NL West

Projected batting order
1. CF Angel Pagan:
  .288 BA, .338 OBP, .440 SLG, 8 HR, 56 RBI in 2012
2. 2B Marco Scutaro:
  .306 BA, .348 OBP, .405 SLG, 7 HR, 74 RBI in 2012
3. 3B Pablo Sandoval:
  .283 BA, .342 OBP, .447 SLG, 12 HR, 63 RBI in 2012
4. C Buster Posey:
  .336 BA, .408 OBP, .549 SLG, 24 HR, 103 RBI in 2012
5. RF Hunter Pence:
  .253 BA, .319 OBP, .425 SLG, 24 HR, 104 RBI in 2012
6. 1B Brandon Belt:
  .275 BA, .360 OBP, .421 SLG, 7 HR, 56 RBI in 2012
7. LF Gregor Blanco:
  .244 BA, .333 OBP, .344 SLG, 5 HR, 34 RBI in 2012
8. SS Brandon Crawford:
  .248 BA, .304 OBP, .349 SLG, 4 HR, 45 RBI in 2012

Projected rotation
1. Matt Cain, 16-5, 2.79 ERA in 2012
2. Madison Bumgarner, 16-11, 3.37 ERA in 2012
3. Tim Lincecum, 10-15, 5.18 ERA in 2012
4. Ryan Vogelsong, 14-9, 3.37 ERA in 2012
5. Barry Zito, 15-8, 4.15 ERA in 2012

Projected bullpen
Closer: Sergio Romo, 14/15 saves, 1.79 ERA in 2012
RH setup man: Santiago Casilla, 2.84 ERA in 2012
LH setup man: Jeremy Affeldt, 2.70 ERA in 2012

The new guys
OF Andres Torres: After a one-year hiatus with the Mets, who acquired him and right-hander Ramon Ramirez from the Giants for Pagan during the 2011 Winter Meetings, Torres has returned to the team he helped bring to the 2010 World Series title. Torres probably won't reclaim the regular center-fielder's role he occupied then, but he can provide defensive help at all three positions and should push Blanco for the left-field job.

Prospects to watch
CF Gary Brown: This will be Brown's third trip to big league camp since the Giants selected him in the first round (24th overall) in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. Brown's speed is electrifying, but he must prove that he can contend with right-handed pitching consistently. Batting .313 in 17 Arizona Fall League games should bolster Brown's confidence as he enters this spring.

INF Nick Noonan: The 23-year-old has come full circle since he entered the organization as a highly touted prospect in 2007. Noonan never hit higher than .279 after that year -- that is, until last season, when he batted .296 for Triple-A Fresno. Noonan probably won't make San Francisco's Opening Day roster, but he can position himself for an in-season promotion with a strong spring.

OF Francisco Peguero: Gifted with impressive tools, Peguero received his first big league action in seven professional seasons last year, hitting .188 (3-for-16) in 17 games. He'll almost surely return to Fresno, though he'll join Blanco and Torres in competing for the left-field job.

RHP Heath Hembree: Widely considered the Giants' closer of the future after amassing 38 saves in two classifications in 2011, Hembree struggled with the transition to Triple-A, where he posted a 4.74 ERA last year. But he demonstrated enough talent to suggest that the Major Leagues still could be in his future. Opponents hit only .207 off Hembree, who struck out 36 in 38 innings.

RHP Chris Heston: Consistency has separated Heston from his peers, and the Giants are intrigued to see whether he can maintain that quality against Cactus League competition. In the past two seasons, Heston is 21-12 with 266 strikeouts and only 80 walks in 299 2/3 innings. Since Cain and Bumgarner are San Francisco's only two starters under contract for 2014, the Giants will continue to scrutinize Heston for a possible role in the rotation.

On the rebound
LHP Eric Surkamp: The 25-year-old is still recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery, which he underwent on July 24. Though he could resume pitching competitively before the end of this season, the Giants won't rush him. Since Surkamp wasn't an overpowering thrower before his injury, he should be able to regain a groove with relative ease.

LHP Dan Runzler: A strained lat muscle that Runzler sustained in the 2011 season finale continued to bother him last year. It's easy to forget that Runzler ascended from low-Class A to the Majors in 2009, stopping at every classification along the way, before making the Opening Day roster in 2010 and '11. At 27, Runzler still has ample time to realize his considerable potential.

Classic departures
LHP Jeremy Affeldt: Every ballclub needs a reliable lefty in its bullpen, which is why Team USA jumped at the chance to enlist Affeldt for the World Baseball Classic. He finished last season strong, making scoreless appearances in 18 of his last 21 regular-season games.

RHP Santiago Casilla: The 32-year-old impressed enough observers while recording a team-high 25 saves to make the Dominican Republic's provisional roster. He led the Giants with 73 appearances last year.

LHP Javier Lopez: The lefty specialist could receive broader responsibilities while pitching for Puerto Rico. Lopez has allowed 14.5 percent of inherited runners to score since 2009, the lowest percentage in the Majors in that span.

LHP Jose Mijares: The early-August waiver acquisition who intends to play for Venezuela in the Classic allowed just two of 20 inherited runners to score while pitching for the Giants. He also limited lefties to a .211 batting average.

CF Angel Pagan: The fleet switch-hitter will lend his skills as a leadoff batter and defender to his native Puerto Rico. Pagan's the type of athlete who maintains top physical condition year-round, so being ready for the Classic shouldn't be a problem for him.

RHP Sergio Romo: The humorous reliever has been known to wear a T-shirt or two poking fun at his Mexican heritage. This time, Romo will be all business on behalf of his native country.

3B Pablo Sandoval: The powerful Sandoval, who loves to play under any circumstances, will especially relish representing Venezuela. The Giants hope that Sandoval, who has endured weight problems, will be motivated to remain in playable shape by the Classic competition.

2B Marco Scutaro: The Most Valuable Player of last year's NL Championship Series promises to be an ideal performer for Venezuela, given his knack for clutch hitting. As mentioned above, Scutaro is 37, so he'll probably have to pace himself to avoid preseason burnout.

RHP Ryan Vogelsong: Team USA will rally around Vogelsong's ceaseless intensity when he's on the mound. Due to strict pitch limits in the Classic, the Giants shouldn't have to worry about Vogelsong's health.

Long gone
1B Aubrey Huff: Huff officially remains a free agent, but the 36-year-old's active Major League career appears to have ended. He went 1-for-9 in 10 postseason games as a pinch-hitter in October.

RHP Guillermo Mota: The reliever was the Walter Alston of Giants players, operating on one-year contracts from 2010-12. Mota's final season with the Giants was dampened by a 100-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance that he said appeared in a trace amount in his daughter's prescription cough medicine.

OF Xavier Nady: The 34-year-old made the postseason roster but didn't play after appearing in four of the five NL Division Series games against Cincinnati. Nady hit .240 in 19 late-season games with the Giants, starting 15.

INF Ryan Theriot: Rumors persisted earlier in the offseason that Theriot was considering returning to San Francisco. But he remains available in free agency. True Giants fans shall always remember that Theriot, occupying the designated-hitter role, singled to lead off the 10th inning of World Series Game 4 on Oct. 28 and scored the run that completed San Francisco's sweep of Detroit.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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