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New Flags, New Giants: Thoughts on Opening Day 2015

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You've probably seen this by now:

I start with today's lineup to call attention to two names: Matt Duffy, filling in for Casey McGehee at third, and Chris Heston, filling in for Matt Cain ON THE FREAKIN' MOUND ON OPENING DAY AFTER THE GIANTS RAISE THEIR WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP BANNER NO PRESSURE ROOKIE.

One thing the Giants have done well in this era is to integrate homegrown players at a slow but steady pace, roughly two a year the past decade. There's been no extreme makeover from the outside, like San Diego this winter, and no teardown/rebuild to restock the farm system, as Atlanta has just done. Witness:

2006: Jonathan Sanchez, Brian Wilson
2007: Tim Lincecum, Nate Schierholtz
2008: Pablo Sandoval, Sergio Romo, Travis Ishikawa
2009: Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner
2010: uh, Darren Ford?
2011: Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Hector Sanchez
2012: Yusmeiro Petit
2013: meh
2014: Joe Panik, Andrew Susac

I've only included players who had an impact on the team. Stars like Lincecum, Posey, Sandoval, and Bumgarner are obvious, but let's not forget the useful guys like Schierholtz, Sanchez (Jonathan and Hector), and Ishikawa, who had some nice moments in his first go-round with the team. A farm system needs to produce them, too.

Petit is a stretch for this list, since he was more of a minor-league free agent pickup, but he paid some dues pitching for Fresno in 2012, and his previous MLB organization before that was Seattle in 2010. You might say Susac is a stretch, too, since he didn't break camp with the big squad, but allow me that optimism.

What's refreshing about the list is how many of those contributors were unheralded or underappreciated: Romo, Wilson, and J. Sanchez were all late-round draft picks, Sandoval came out of nowhere, as a #10 pick Bumgarner drew groans from many fans who wanted a big hitter, and the Brandons, although fairly high-round picks, were both long shots for major league careers when chosen.

Duffy and Heston fit that mold, too. Both broke in last year, so I probably should put them with Panik and Susac, but again, you get the point. This could be their year to make an impact. We might look back and put Hunter Strickland and Steven Okert, a hard throwing lefty reliever now in Triple A, on the 2015 list, too. Or someone else. At the start of 2014, no one expected Panik to have a chance of helping the big team that season. Youneverknow.

Indeed, that might have to be our primary pleasure this year: Watching a parade of youngsters get their feet wet and wondering who will stick, who will fade, and who will turn into the Heath Hembrees and Conor Gillaspies and Charlie Culbersons, prospects whose cups of coffee lead to careers in other organizations.

As I sit in the bleachers this afternoon and keep one eye on the new flag snapping above the arcade, I'll clear my mind of near-term goals and simply enjoy the view of two new Giants trying to show they belong.

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