Giants

Brian Sabean: Giants not going to anoint Steven Duggar, but...

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USATI

Brian Sabean: Giants not going to anoint Steven Duggar, but...

SAN FRANCISCO — Two years ago, the Giants went into the offseason eager to add pitchers who could give them 200 innings. Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto fit that mold. Last year, the team desperately needed a closer, and Mark Melancon was brought in. 

This year’s end-of-season press conference focused on two areas. Team officials would like to add a dynamite defensive player in center field, and they would like to close the power gap that exists between the Giants and the rest of baseball. The early indications are that the Giants expect to address these issues through trades, not free agency. But could some of the fixes come from in-house? 

On this week’s episode of The Giants Insider Podcast, I asked Brian Sabean about two players who could potentially fix those problems. First, the power bat. Sabean has seen a lot of left fielder Chris Shaw the last two years, and he said two traits that stand out are that Shaw has made himself into a really good all-around hitter and he has major league power to all fields. Sabean believes that power will play at AT&T Park, even as a lefty.

“Those go hand-in-hand with being a run producer,” Sabean said. 

Shaw hit 24 homers across two levels, leading the organization. The 23-year-old had a .858 OPS after a promotion to Triple-A Sacramento. The current concern is his lack of experience in the outfield, and he’ll play in the Arizona Fall League to get more reps. Sabean said he agrees with general manager Bobby Evans’ assessment that Shaw’s bat is ahead of his glove.

“I saw improvements through the course of the year,” he said. “The problem is playing left field in our left field isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do, but having said that, if you can improve the center field defense — where you really get a ballhawk — then you can strategically kind of (shift Shaw) hitter to hitter or as innings develop.”

That ballhawk could end up being Steven Duggar, a 23-year-old who likely would have gotten a call-up had it not been for injuries. Duggar posted a .302/.388/.488 slash line in 2016 but he was limited to 44 minor league games in 2017, most of which were on rehab assignments. He also will play in the AFL, and the Giants believe he’s a true center fielder. 

“After last year, I think he was on everybody’s board in the organization as a potential five-tool player,” Sabean said. “Very good athlete. A lot of things come natural for him in the outfield. His reads, his breaks, his ability to outrun the ball, is very impressive. While the bat is still on the come, he should be a complementary type of offensive player in a major league lineup. Now, is he let’s say top of the order? I don’t know if we have enough information. But he certainly, far and away, is the next best thing or the next center fielder that we hopefully can produce sooner than later.”

The Giants have said Shaw will get a long look in spring training. Sabean said the same holds true for Duggar.  

“It’s not like we’re going to anoint him as the center fielder or put that kind of pressure on him, but with more playing time and catching up on at-bats this winter, he’ll be positioned to show us how soon he’s capable of contributing,” Sabean said. 

During our conversation, we also talked about this year’s draft class (led by Heliot Ramos), having the No. 2 pick in 2018, getting better in the international market, analytics, and the job Evans did in 2017. 

Giants look poised to put Mac Williamson in left field Friday

Giants look poised to put Mac Williamson in left field Friday

PHOENIX — After his team was held to fewer than two runs for the 10th time this season, manager Bruce Bochy said Mac Williamson will be in Anaheim on Friday as part of the taxi squad. The Giants need the outfielder to be more of a tow truck. 

This is a lineup that has not gotten in gear in any way, but a red-hot reinforcement is on the way. Williamson was hitting .487 with six homers in 11 games in Triple-A, and while Bochy couldn’t say he’ll be active and in left field against the Angels, it was not hard to read between the lines. Hunter Pence said the thumb he sprained in the home opener continues to give him problems and needs a few days of rest. It seems likely that Williamson will officially be called up Friday, with Pence going on the disabled list. 

“We’ll see what happens tomorrow,” Bochy said. “Mostly he’s coming up because he’s swinging the bat well. We’re hoping he’ll be a shot in the arm and provide some production, and we need some help in that area.”

The futility has the Giants six games out of first after just three weeks of action. The culprit is clear. Johnny Cueto, Chris Stratton and Ty Blach combined to give up three runs over 20 innings in a tough ballpark, but the Giants still dropped two of three. 

They need more than just one offensive fix, but Williamson represents a start. The 27-year-old has never stuck in the majors, but he rebuilt his swing in the offseason while working with Doug Latta, a private instructor in the Los Angeles area who helped Justin Turner became a star. Williamson’s swing has many of the same markers as Turner’s, and he had a huge spring as he continued to work on adjustments. Williamson lowered his hands and added a higher leg kick in hopes of keeping his bat in the zone longer and being shorter and more direct to the ball. 

“In the past I’ve been really active with my shoulders and hands late in the swing instead of just going and attacking the ball,” he said this spring. “I’m trying to just really calm down a lot of that non-essential movement.”

Williamson knew there was not a spot for him on the opening day roster, but hoped to make an impact sooner than later. His torrid start, plus the struggles at the big league level, have made this a daily question. 

“He showed this spring with the adjustments he made that he’s primed,” Bochy said. “He went out and did what we were hoping.”

The key for the Giants now will be to show more faith than they have in the past. Williamson is a .226 hitter in the big leagues, but his 212 at-bats have been scattered across three seasons and plenty of call-ups. It seems he is always one 0 for 3 night away from a demotion, but the Giants would be well served to let him work through any kinks this time. 

The incumbent in left field, Pence, is batting .172. His backups — Gorkys Hernandez and Gregor Blanco — are better fits as defense-first reserves. Pence hurt his thumb while diving in left field during the home opener and said it has never gotten better. An MRI back then showed a sprain. 

“It’s been going in a backwards direction,” he said. 

So have the Giants, but perhaps help is finally on the way.

Bumgarner has pins removed from pinky, to begin strengthening program

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USATSI

Bumgarner has pins removed from pinky, to begin strengthening program

PHOENIX -- The removal of three small pins in Madison Bumgarner's left pinky represented a big step for the pitcher. 

Bumgarner had the pins taken out Thursday and he now will begin the process of strengthening his hand, which was fractured during his final spring training appearance. He could begin playing catch in two weeks. 

"Once he gets that going, I think you'll see him make real progress," manager Bruce Bochy said. 

It still will be a long process for Bumgarner, who is on the 60-day DL and not eligible to return until May 26. It seems unlikely that he's ready on that day, but it could be soon thereafter. Bumgarner will need to play catch for a bit before starting bullpen sessions and eventually a real rehab assignment. Realistically, the Giants are hopeful that he'll be back in the rotation in early June. Bochy said he wouldn't be surprised if Bumgarner beats the initial timetable. 

"But it all depends on (how he feels) when he starts throwing," Bochy added. 

The Giants will get another key pitcher back Friday when Jeff Samardzija makes his season debut. 

--- Hunter Pence has a sore right thumb and wasn't in Thursday's lineup. The timing is, well, interesting. Mac Williamson wasn't in Triple-A Sacramento's lineup, so this could be the time a move is made, but the Giants also will need to clear a spot for Samardzija and they're hoping to stick with eight relievers for now. Stay tuned.