San Francisco Giants: Spring Watch – Third Base Battle

Welcome back to Spring Watch, the San Francisco Giants edition. No, this isn’t your grandad’s Springwatch on BBC Two. We’re not out here watching birds and flowers. Springtime for baseball fans has us carefully examining the intricate shaping of our beloved ballclubs, ahead of an exciting new season. Hope and optimism reign supreme.

Following my in-depth look at future ace Kyle Harrison, today we’ll focus on what I consider to be the most interesting position battle in Giants camp, and review the candidates vying for a starting gig there.

Heating up at the hot corner

When the Giants decided to move on from Evan Longoria at third base, our attention quickly turned to who would replace him. San Francisco appear quite content with their short-term and long-term options at the position, so let’s run through the candidates.

David Villar is the number one contender to man the hot corner and has done everything possible to earn the opportunity to make the position his own. Villar tore apart his Triple-A competition in 2022, slashing .275/.404/.617 with 27 home runs in Sacramento, and finished the season with a strong September audition in the majors (.269/.327/.570 with 8 homers). He has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues and his time with the Giants was impressive enough to warrant Villar getting first dibs this spring.

Villar’s initial call-up in July showed the young infielder still needed to adjust to the elite level but by September he had done the necessary work. Villar played solid defense at third base and a little bit at first and second for good measure. What might work against him is the fact the veteran guys he’s competing with are also right-handed, and unlike Villar, they don’t have a minor league option remaining. The Giants could (unfairly) have Villar start the year in Sacramento and carry a left-handed infielder in his stead, to help balance other areas of the roster. Look for someone like Isan Díaz (already on the 40-man), Brett Wisely or even utility man Blake Sabol to make the Opening Day roster if Villar doesn’t.

However, now 26-years-old with five years of stellar minor-league play behind him, I feel this is Villar’s chance to establish himself on this team, and his spring performances will be a must-watch.

Villar’s immediate competition on the 40-man roster are a pair of right-handed, experienced, and versatile infielders: Wilmer Flores, brought back on a two-year extension, and J.D. Davis.

Flores, a fan favourite and the reigning Willie Mac Award winner, enjoyed a successful 2022 and was arguably the Giants’ most important player on a daily basis. Now entering his fourth year with the team, Flores can play all across the infield but doesn’t excel at any particular position. His defence at third base is serviceable but you get the impression the Giants would prefer to play him elsewhere if they can: Flores featured at third base in just 34 games last year, whereas he played second base in 61 games and first base on 45 occasions.

Flores is a Swiss Army knife and will feature often, but I don’t foresee manager Gabe Kapler considering Flores as the primary third baseman this year. That being said, you can’t rule out the always-dependable Venezuelan, and a strong Cactus League performance in the field would give the skipper cause to reconsider Flores as his first choice.

Davis, a 2022 trade deadline arrival from the Mets, got off to an effective start in his Giants career, hitting .263/.361/.496 with 8 home runs in 49 games. The Elk Grove native performed well when called upon and, like Flores, was deployed in a variety of roles: 14 games at first base, 18 at third, and even two appearances in left field.

Just like Flores, Davis’ value to the Giants is in his versatility, and shoehorning him into an everyday position could diminish a lot of what makes Davis such an asset. It’s why I can see him playing third base in 2023, just not regularly. However, similar to Flores, if the Giants feel the roster can be better balanced with Davis beginning the year as an everyday third baseman, thus creating room on the team for more middle infield depth, then we can’t rule this out as a possibility. A strong spring performance will help determine the likelihood of this happening.

Ultimately, if Villar hits as well as we expect then his path to secure the job appears relatively clear. Flores and Davis are contenders and can be relied upon, but their versatility at first base and elsewhere can be utilised to greater effect. The duo can spell Villar at third base when necessary (or when injuries strike).

However, there’s a dark horse contender on the horizon that could put a spanner in the works. Step forward Casey Schmitt.

Schmitt, a 2020 second-round pick and notoriously elite defender, has rocketed through the minor leagues. The 23-year-old advanced three levels in 2022 alone, beginning the year at High-A Eugene before finishing in Triple-A Sacramento, and is on the verge of a call-up to the majors in the not-too-distant future.

Over the entire season he slashed .293/.365/.489 and 21 home runs, with 17 of those homers at Double-A Richmond, where he absolutely dominated: a .342/.378/.517 slash line in 127 plate appearances for an .895 OPS.

Schmitt’s combination of power and contact at the plate pairs perfectly with his celebrated defensive skills. A thoroughly deserved 2022 MiLB Gold Glove award at third base only cemented what many of us have already come to learn: Schmitt can handle the hot corner with the best of them.

Included on the list of non-roster invitees this spring, Schmitt will have the opportunity to impress the Giants’ decision makers in big league camp for the first time. With only four Triple-A games under his belt so far, the odds are against him making it onto the Opening Day roster. More seasoning in Sacramento likely lies ahead of Schmitt but who can say with certainty that a ridiculously impressive spring won’t force the Giants’ hands to promote him early?

Whether or not that happens is yet to be determined, but what seems inevitable is Schmitt in a Giants uniform, playing third base at Oracle Park, at some point in 2023.


Join me again for another installment of Giants Spring Watch, where we’ll be focusing on Brandon Crawford, his legacy at shortstop in San Francisco, and whether 2023 could be his last ride into the sunset.

Ash Day is the San Francisco Giants writer for Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @AshDay29

Photo credit for featured image by Thearon W. Henderson via Getty Images.

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