Down on the Farm: Giants prospect Jones adds outfield to his arsenal


Down on the Farm: Giants prospect Jones adds outfield to his arsenal

Ryder Jones is an infielder by trade. The Giants second-round pick from the 2013 MLB Draft has played 308 games at third base, 34 at first base and 34 at shortstop throughout his minor league career. This season, Jones is adding to his arsenal with time in left field at Triple-A with the Sacramento River Cats. 

“I’ve never completely not been in the outfield, I just hadn’t done it in a game,” Jones said to over the phone after the River Cats beat the Reno Aces 4-3 in 11 innings. “The first couple of games were a little iffy just getting reads, especially off left-handed hitters with the slice and all that stuff. A lot of it is just trying to hear the sound off the bat and how well they hit it and you know, first step back and kind of stuff like that. 

“Six games in, I’m feeling a little bit more comfortable and a little bit better out there.” 

Jones, 22, has been slotted in the outfield during games for the first time this season, but the plan certainly isn’t brand new. Though he did some outfield drills with the Richmond Flying Squirrels last season in Double-A, the beginning of his transition to the outfield really started in the Arizona Fall League. Even then with the roster construction, Jones didn’t see game action in the outfield. 

“I’d say twice a week I was doing outfield stuff,” Jones said. “It didn’t really work out for me to get into a game in the outfield because (Tim) Tebow was a late add-on and he played some left field. We had a lot of outfielders, so it wasn’t a good spot to get some reps out there.” 

And then, Jones began hearing from the front office about how he may be adding a new position to his repertoire in 2017. Giants GM Bobby Evans made it clear to Jones that the outfield would soon become a reality, along with playing first and third base, but the Giants didn’t want to throw him into the fire during spring training. He continued to do outfield drills and take fly balls during batting practice to improve his skills. On the last day of April as the River Cats played against the Tacoma Rainiers on the road, Sacramento’s manager Dave Brundage sent a message to Jones before the team’s mid-day game. 

“Brundage came up to me in Tacoma in a serious tone and said, ‘We really need to do some drills today in left because I think they’re (the Giants) gonna want you to play some left here maybe tomorrow or the next day,’” Jones said. “The next day I showed up and I was in left field, so I’m playing it by ear now.”

While it’s the Giants’ call, Jones has always brought up the possibility of playing the outfield to the help the team. With a strong arm suitable for the corner outfield positions, he knows adding defensive versatility can help both himself and the organization. That also doesn’t mean he concerns himself with who is ahead of him at the big league level at first and third base. 

“I don’t think of it too much,” Jones says. “When I play first, I don’t think, ‘Well they have (Brandon) Belt for the next four years, so what am I doing.’ It’s not so much that as it is you control what you can control. 

“I’ve always been told, ‘If you can hit and you play the game right, they can find a spot for you somewhere on the field.’ It’s not too much of a concern for me.” 

Before games, his routine has certainly changed to get him more prepared for the outfield. Jones is working extensively with Brundage lately in the outfield on the little things and throws to bases. His best friend in terms of getting better is live batting practice as that best emulates game swings. On a typical game day, Jones will take a a round of live batting practice fielding balls at third or first base and then make sure to get at least one round tracking down fly balls in left field, no matter where he is playing on that given day. 

The biggest move with adding left field to his name hasn’t been physical, but mental. 

“I would just say trying to stay locked in every pitch. It’s a little bit different,” Jones said on the hardest part of the outfield for him. “You kind of just have to treat it like you’re almost at third base. Obviously, you’re not gonna get your legs going like you’re at third base, but you have to continually expect the ball to be hit to you.” 

At the plate, Jones is continuing to hit the ball himself. In 21 games for the River Cats this season, he is batting .305 with 25 hits and two home runs. The key for him is focusing on quality at-bats over statistics and the rest will take care of itself. 

“I think a lot of guys get — including me — caught up in home runs and all the power and all that stuff, but I think it shows with the Giants the opportunities come to the guys they can call up and they know you’re gonna give them four good at-bats,” Jones said. 

At each level, Jones’ bat has been his calling card. Now to make it to San Francisco, he must continue to stay locked in at the plate and in the field as he becomes an even more valuable player for the organization.

No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers


No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers

SCOTTSDALE — A couple of veterans walked past a clubhouse TV earlier in camp and saw that the Giants and Padres were tied heading into the bottom of the 10th of an exhibition game. The Padres infielders were just standing around, and there was not yet a new pitcher on the mound. 

“It’s that time when No. 99 comes in to pitch,” one of the players joked as he headed home for the day.

A few seconds later, a big left-hander took the mound. He was, in fact, wearing No. 99, and in his inning on the mound he would face a No. 74 (Aramis Garcia) and No. 78 (Steven Duggar). This is the norm for spring training, when dozens of players — including teenagers and journeymen still hanging around the low minors — get into every game. That leads to action between numbers you would never see in a normal game. The Giants had 60 players in camp, plus 10 coaches and staff members with numbers. Throw in their 10 retired numbers and the unofficially retired ones (25, 55, etc.) and, well, there aren’t a whole lot of choices left. 

If Duggar makes the Opening Day roster, he’ll get an upgrade from his lineman’s number. Ditto for Garcia, who could be Buster Posey’s backup as soon as next season. Still, a taste of big league action doesn’t guarantee a normal number in camp, when young players regularly find themselves back at the end of the line. 

Ryder Jones wore 83 in camp last year and 63 in the big leagues. When he showed up this year, with 150 big league at-bats under his belt, he was told that he would have to wait until the end of the spring to upgrade. Players with more service time (think No. 2 Chase d’Arnaud or No. 19 Josh Rutledge) get priority, at least until all the cuts are made. Jones said he has a few numbers in mind for his next stint in the big leagues, but he won’t be picky. 

“Anything under 40 works,” he said, smiling. 

The steady climb toward single digits happens to just about everybody. Long before Brandon Crawford’s became @bcraw35, he wore 79 in his first camp. He moved up to 53 after that and Mike Murphy flipped that to 35 when Crawford became the big league shortstop. Hunter Pence doesn’t remember his first spring training number with the Astros, but he knows it was in the low eighties. Joe Panik wore 66 the first time he spent a spring at Scottsdale Stadium. “I was an offensive lineman,” he joked. Tyler Beede, now on the cusp of his big league debut, got promoted from 63 to 32 when he arrived last spring, only to swap to 38 this year because of some in-season shifting. When Pablo Sandoval arrived last summer, Steven Okert switched from 48 to 32.

Then there are those who have only known one jersey. Posey was a can’t-miss prospect when he arrived and doesn’t remember wearing anything other than 28. Brandon Belt was a top-25 prospect when he came to camp for the first time, and he’s been 9 since that day. Madison Bumgarner wore 40 in his first big league camp because he had already made his big league debut, but somewhere in the team archives, there are probably a few photos of a 19-year-old Bumgarner wearing something else. 

“The previous spring I came up to pitch a few times,” Bumgarner said. “I’m pretty sure I had a different number every time I came over and I’m pretty sure it was always in the eighties.”

There were seven Giants in the eighties this spring. Duggar was one of two top prospects — Chris Shaw inherited Crawford’s old 79 — to come close, and he didn’t mind one bit. He’s not thinking too far ahead, even though he could be a big leaguer in eight days. 

“I’ll take anything if I’m in the big leagues,” he said. “I’ll take No. 112 if that’s what they give me.”

Will Clark says Steven Duggar can play 'Gold Glove center field right now,' trusts the bat too


Will Clark says Steven Duggar can play 'Gold Glove center field right now,' trusts the bat too

Will Clark won his first and only Gold Glove at first base for the Giants at age 27 in 1991. It was Clark's sixth year in the major leagues. 

Steven Duggar won't have to wait that long to win the biggest hardware for his defense in Clark's eyes. 

"He can play Gold Glove center field right now in the big leagues. He can flat out go get it in center field," Clark said on the Giants' prospect Tuesday on KNBR. "He can definitely, definitely play a Gold Glove center field." 

Clark, who now serves a role in the Giants' front office after playing in five straight All-Star Games for his former team from 1988-92, has watched Duggar closely for more than just this spring training. When asked about his feelings on the 24-year-old, Clark made them clear right away. 

"I've seen Steve parts of the last two seasons in the minor leagues and I am definitely a Steven Duggar fan," Clark said. 

The question with Duggar has always been his bat. He has elite speed, gets great jumps in center field and everyone from Bruce Bochy to Buster Posey has praised his ability to track down fly balls. 

"His thing is, how quick is he going to make the adjustment in the big leagues with the pitching. I know there's a lot of people that are asking that question right now," Clark. 

Count The Thrill as one of the leaders in Camp Duggar. He joined many others in complimenting his glove left and right. But what he has to say about the Clemson product's bat is what puts him over the top. 

"He's succeeded at each level he's been at," Clark pointed out. "He will do it at the major league level and I'm kind of staking my reputation on that."

This is confidence -- to say the least -- coming from someone who was a .303 lifetime hitter and bashed 284 home runs in 15 seasons. 

Over three years in the minor leagues, Duggar is a .292 career hitter with a .384 on-base percentage and .427 slugging percentage. Duggar started off scorching hot this spring with the Giants, but has cooled down with the Cactus League soon coming to a close. In 16 games, Duggar is slashing .250/.353/.545 and has shown more pop with four home runs.