Andrew Susac, who appeared to have the inside track on the backup catching position for the San Francisco Giants at the start of spring training, was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento along with outfielders Juan Perez and Gary Brown, infielder Adam Duvall and relief pitcher Hunter Strickland on Sunday, March 29.
Perez, Strickland and Susac all had roles during the Giants run to a third World Series title in the last five seasons.
In addition to the quintet, six other players within the Giants organization were reassigned to the minor leagues: catcher Guillermo Quiroz, infielder Brandon Hicks, right-handers Brett Bochy, Juan Gutierrez and Curtis Partch, and left-hander Steven Okert, who could make his debut with the Giants at some point during the 2015 season. San Francisco now has 29 players left at the major league camp, including outfielder Hunter Pence and right-hander Erik Cordier. Pence and Cordier will begin the regular season on the disabled list, leaving the Giants with two more roster cuts to make before Opening Day arrives.
Giants Manager Bruce Bochy said that it is never easy to make decisions when the final cuts loom, but out of respect for the players the cuts were announced on Sunday.
“We thought it’d be fair to these kids to let them know now,” he said.
While players being reassigned and optioned to the minor leagues during spring training is a normal occurrence, the thought of Susac not breaking camp with the big league club was surprising. The 25-year-old catcher, who served as Buster Posey’s backup during the 2014 MLB Postseason, ingratiated himself well to the major leagues, slashing .273/.326/.466 with three home runs and 19 RBI over 35 games during the 2014 regular season. He did not make a significant impact during the MLB Postseason, going just 1-for-4 in four games, but his ability at the plate and behind it was supposed to give Bochy more of an option to rest Posey.
Susac performed so well during his regular season stint that several analysts had him ranked as the Giants’ number one prospect entering the 2015 season, with a chance to make the 25-man Opening Day roster. But, an illness from an infection caused by a root canal and discomfort in his right wrist, which dated back to 2014, held the talented catcher out of early spring action. Susac will try to make up for the time missed early in camp at Sacramento.
“To have that stuff happen is frustrating,” Susac said about the injuries early in camp.
It would not be a surprise to see Susac up early in the season, especially if Sanchez struggles out of the gate.
“He has not played a lot in the minor leagues,” said Bochy, adding that Susac getting more time in the minors will be better for him and the team in general. “So this is not hurtful.”
Perez, who is a versatile outfielder capable of playing all three outfield positions, was in a battle for one of the last remaining spots on the Opening Day roster at the beginning of camp, something that looked like it may be a little easier after Pence suffered a non-displaced fracture of his left ulna, just above the wrist. But Perez has struggled this spring, slashing just .239/.300/.348, certainly not numbers that screamed Opening Day roster worthy. He was also hurt by the performance of non-roster invitee Justin Maxwell, who is slashing .316/.361/.526 this spring, although Maxwell is not a lock to make the Opening Day roster either.
The 28-year-old Perez is an exceptional defender, but his bat has lagged behind at the major league level. In 95 games with Giants over two seasons, the outfielder has slashed .212/.261/.307.
Strickland’s departure to Triple-A was not as surprising as the other two members of the Giants’ postseason roster. The hard-throwing right-hander burst onto the scene for the Giants, compiling an impressive nine strikeouts over seven innings towards the end of the 2014 regular season. His performance was good enough to earn a spot on the San Francisco during the postseason. But the 26-year-old struggled, giving up six home runs in just 8.1 innings of work, including two moon shots to Bryce Harper and a two-run home run to Omar Infante during the World Series that almost led to a brawl between Kansas City and the Giants.
Strickland, who features a high-90s fastball and a sharp-breaking slider, has spring numbers that appear worse than they really are as he was not scored on during eight of his 11 appearances during his Cactus League action. He was hurt by two appearances where he surrendered three runs each time, which accounts for the majority of the eight runs (seven earned) he gave up in 10.1 innings of work this spring.
Where Strickland will need to improve during his stint in the minors is his control. The right-hander walked five batters while striking out eight. The addition of a changeup to his repertoire could also help offset his dominating fastball and slider combination.
A player who was never really expected to make the 25-man opening day roster but could be a call-up at some point this season was left-hander Steven Okert, who made a good impression during his first time at Major League Camp. The former Oklahoma Sooner worked 6.2 innings this spring, striking out six while walking two hitters. He was failed by his defense as he allowed six runs, but only two were earned.
Okert, who dominated the Arizona Fall League during 2014 by compiling 17 strikeouts, one walk, an ERA of 0.75 and WHIP of 0.50 in 12 innings of work, features a fastball and slider combination. His fastball sits in the mid-to-upper-90s while his slider has a hard, sharp break that makes him especially tough against left-handed hitters.
While Okert’s stuff is impressive alone, the fact that he is able to throw strikes makes him an intriguing option for the San Francisco bullpen. With incumbents Javy Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt holding down the situational left-handed roles currently, Okert will be afforded the opportunity to gain a little more seasoning before making the jump to the big league club. If either Lopez or Affeldt falter or suffer an injury, a call-up for the 23-year-old Okert could come rather quickly.
Even after moving 11 players to minor league teams and camps, the Giants have several other roster moves looming, which they will have to make after traveling north to the San Francisco area on Wednesday. Bochy said recently that the 25-man roster has not been determined. It appears that San Francisco is trying to fill one position spot and one spot in the bullpen before the start of the season. It will be interesting to see if Bochy keeps Maxwell to serve as the team’s fourth outfielder until Pence returns, or if he decides to keep an infielder like Matt Duffy or Ehire Adrianza.