Adam Duvall might have paved way for young Giants outfielders

Adam Duvall might have paved way for young Giants outfielders

SAN FRANCISCO — As Adam Duvall put together an All-Star first half for the Reds, some of his biggest fans were in the organization that traded him away. Over and over again, Giants officials insisted that they were rooting for Duvall, one of the few prospects to get away from the organization and find success elsewhere. 

First and foremost, there’s a personal connection. Duvall spent parts of six seasons with the Giants, developing relationships with coaches, scouts and executives who want to see him succeed. There’s a business aspect to this, too. The Giants rarely have players near the top of prospect lists, but as general manager Bobby Evans gets into trade discussions, it helps to be able to point to prospects like Duvall who proved to be big league contributors. 

The Giants shipped Duvall to Cincinnati in 2015 to try and plug a hole in the rotation. Mike Leake came over and got hurt, and he never made much of a difference for the Giants before departing in free agency. A year later, Duvall hit 33 homers for the Reds and was named a Gold Glove finalist. As the Giants discuss replacements for Angel Pagan, Duvall’s name is never far from mind, but not because a return is in play. 

“It’s a reminder,” Evans said. “It’s a reminder. What he accomplished is not incredibly different than what he accomplished in the minors (for the Giants). If you don’t give guys opportunities, they can do it somewhere else.”

Duvall’s emergence could benefit two players who came up right behind him in the system. Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker are the frontrunners for the left field job, with the Giants preferring right now to remain on the periphery of talks for big-name free agents. They have been repeatedly mentioned as a possible home for Yoenis Cespedes, but that is mostly just chatter coming from East Coast writers looking for teams with the lineup opening and budget to pry Cespedes away from the Mets.

The focus is firmly on the bullpen, as it was in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline, when Evans sought Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Mark Melancon and others. Back then, team officials quietly raved about the work Williamson and Parker were doing for a team that looked headed for a division title. 

Williamson, 26, slugged .528 with four homers and a .371 on-base percentage in July. He posted a .899 OPS that month after breaking through a bit in June. Parker made 24 starts in the first half when Hunter Pence went down to an injury, getting on base at a .365 clip and hitting five homers. The Giants already knew what kind of power potential he had; the left-handed slugger hit six homers in 40 September at-bats in 2015.

At midseason, Giants officials could easily picture turning left field over to Williamson, Parker or both in 2017. Then, the second-half collapse happened. At the GM Meetings in Phoenix last week, Evans said the teamwide slump “is not lost on us” as the front office searches for offseason improvements. Williamson got hurt and Parker went cold with limited playing time. Neither was able to contribute to a lineup that hit just 55 homers after the break, ranking the Giants 14th out of 15 National League teams. 

“That puts more pressure on us to look at power options (this offseason),” Evans said. “But at the same time, those are two guys who are power options and they’re ready to graduate.”

Duvall had a similar pedigree. He hit 30 homers in High-A in 2012 and 17 in Double-A in 2013. In 191 Triple-A games for the Giants, he hit 53 homers. Duvall came up as a third baseman, and the Giants traded him in part because they did not believe in the glove. They did not realize he could be such an impact left fielder, but that job wasn’t open anyway, with Pagan locked into a four-year deal that expired at the end of the 2016 season. 

It all led to Duvall getting an opportunity elsewhere. What he did with it might pave the way for Williamson and Parker to get a similar shot with the team that drafted them.

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

PEORIA — Jeff Samardzija spent a couple minutes after Thursday’s start talking to reporters about how deep he thinks the Giants lineup can be. It’ll be a hell of a lot deeper if Hunter Pence keeps hitting like this. 

After a slow start to the spring, Pence is charging. He had three hits against the Padres: a triple that bounced off the top of the wall in right-center, a hard single up the middle, and a double to center. The more encouraging plays for the Giants happened in left field. Pence chased down a drive to the line in the third inning, leaving the bases loaded. He opened the fourth by going the other direction and gloving a fly ball to left-center. 

"A good game for Hunter, both ways," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's getting more comfortable out there. You can see it with the jumps he's getting right now. It takes a little while when you change positions, but I think he's going to be fine out there."

The Giants appear set to have Austin Jackson and Pence atop the lineup against left-handed starters, and that duo could see plenty of time early. Seven of the first nine games are against the Dodgers, who have four lefty starters. 

--- Evan Longoria had a double off the right-center wall on Wednesday after missing a week with a sore ankle. He had a single the same way in his second at-bat Thursday. More than the at-bats, Longoria has impressed with his soft hands and steady arm at third. The ankle looks fine, too. 

“My ankle feels pretty good,” Longoria said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue going forward.”

--- It’s been a quiet spring for Andrew McCutchen, but we saw the wheels tonight. McCutchen easily stole second after a two-run single in the fifth. When Evan Longoria bounced one to the left side, shortstop Freddy Galvis tried to go to third for the lead out, but McCutchen beat that throw, too. He got up and put his hands on his hips, as if to say, "Why'd you even try that?"

--- Samardzija allowed three homers in a six-batter span in the third. He allowed three homers in an inning in his previous start, too, but he said he’s not concerned. Samardzija deemed it a sequencing issue. He’s working in a new changeup and threw it in situations he normally wouldn’t; Eric Hosmer took advantage of a floating one, crushing it to deep, deep right for the third homer. 

--- With a runner on, Brandon Belt put down a perfect bunt to foil the shift. Belt does that every spring, particularly against NL West teams, but rarely during the regular season. Maybe this will be the year?

Belt later crushed a homer to deep right. That had to feel good for a number of reasons. Belt is fighting a cold and he learned earlier in the day that his college coach, Augie Garrido, had passed away.

Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential


Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For most pitchers, spring training is a time to experiment and add a pitch or two. Josh Osich is using this month to go the other direction. 

Osich spent the offseason watching film of his 2015 season, when he looked like he might one day be the closer in San Francisco, and decided that he needed to get back to his roots. That means the curveball, which he tried so hard to mix in last year, is now far back in the cupboard. The four-seam and two-seam fastballs are once again the focus, with an emphasis on changing eye levels more than he did a year ago. The changeup and cutter will round out his arsenal for the most part. 

Osich’s raw stuff is still as good as just about any lefty reliever in the league, and he hopes to take advantage of that while putting a rough 2017 season in his rearview mirror. He had a 6.23 ERA last season and 1.73 WHIP.

“It’s just one of those learning years,” Osich said. “I tried to live at the bottom of the zone and I was, but I was actually below the zone. So then I would fall behind and need to throw a strike and that’s when guys would hit me.”

Osich, 29, had a 2.20 ERA and 1.12 WHIP during that 2015 season that he keeps going back to. He walked eight batters in 28 2/3 innings, a far cry from the 27 he walked in 43 1/3 last year. While watching the 2015 version of himself, Osich saw that his hands were higher, and that’s something he’s working to replicate. He’s also trying to slow his pace to the plate. So far, the results are nothing but encouraging. Osich allowed one hit and struck out one in a 2 1/3 inning appearance on Wednesday night. Manager Bruce Bochy let him extend himself to keep the good vibes going. 

In six appearances this spring, Osich has allowed just four hits over seven scoreless innings. He has seven strikeouts and one walk. 

“O, it just seems like he’s got confidence,” Bochy said. “He’s kept it simple, he’s not tinkering with different pitches. He’s throwing more strikes, and more than anything he’s just trying to pound the strike zone now with quality strikes. That’s all he has to do. You look at him and he’s hitting 95 with a couple of good off-speed pitches. That works here.”