Down on the Farm: Mac Williamson off to scorching start in Sacramento


Down on the Farm: Mac Williamson off to scorching start in Sacramento

Spring training is a month of baseball where players put together numbers and 97 percent of them get crumpled into a paper ball before Bruce Bochy yells “World B. Free!” and tosses them into a tiny trash can. The three percent that stay on his decision are bigger than his hat. 

When a player makes a fundamental change to his swing and succeeds mightily, the numbers make it to the three percent. Mac Williamson had almost no chance of making the Giants’ Opening Day roster, but it’s time to start looking at his staggering stats. 

“I’m not getting any younger,” Williamson said to Insider Alex Pavlovic at the end of February. “At some point you’ve got to have some success and figure it all out.”

Williamson said that making massive changes to his swing would take time. His goal was to be the player he wants to be in a month two since those quotes. It has now been six weeks and Williamson is playing like a created player in MLB The Show in his fourth stint with the  Sacramento River Cats. 

Debuting his new approach in spring training he learned from Doug Latta — the same instructor who transformed Justin Turner from a player cut by the Mets to a star for the Dodgers — Williamson adapted a high leg kick and low hand placement. The results couldn’t have been better. He hit .318 with four home runs and a 1.061 OPS in the desert. 

Power has always been there for the 27-year-old Williamson, but his swing path saw him pounding balls into the ground. Now with a re-made swing and launch angle that has swept the souls of baseball, Williamson is unleashing what the Giants have known has always been inside of him. 

Williamson’s batting average is now 270 points higher than what he produced in spring training. In the River Cats’ first six games of the year, he is hitting .588. On top of that, five of his 10 hits are either doubles or home runs — three doubles, two home runs — and he's only struck out twice. His 1.784 OPS looks like a typo from someone handed their first calculator.

“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,” Williamson said in the same interview with Pavlovic. “I’m trying to just really calm down a lot of that non-essential movement.”

So far, so beyond good. Is this sustainable? Well, not a .588 batting average. But, this is a different case with the powerful outfielder as he drastically changed his approach and swing. If this was the same Williamson starting the season like this fans could reasonably argue that he’s just an older player in Triple-A who is a AAAA player. Maybe that’s true, but now we can take a longer pause when saying maybe not.

At the early stages of the season, the Giants simply don’t have a spot for Williamson right now. Not even the team knows when that could change. For now though, all he can do is continue to show off his new swing and stop, drop and roll when the Human Torch crosses home. 

Around The Horn 

-- Steven Duggar is off to a slow start for the River Cats, but has picked it up the last two games. The center fielder had back-to-back 2-for-4 games. Through five games, he is batting .250 with seven strikeouts and two stolen bases. 

-- Ryan Howard just keeps hitting. The shortstop won't find himself at the top of prospect rankings, instead he's at the top of hitting leaders. Howard hit his first Double-A home run Tuesday and is now hitting .360 for Richmond. 

-- Heliot Ramos is still getting his feet wet in Class A Augusta. The Giants' No. 1 prospect is hitting just .174 in the first five games with eight strikeouts and no walks. Reminder: Ramos is 18 years old.

Brian Sabean not sure why 'star in the making' Brandon Belt is so polarizing


Brian Sabean not sure why 'star in the making' Brandon Belt is so polarizing

So far this season, Brandon Belt is hitting .304 with six home runs and 12 RBI.

He boasts a .402 on-base percentage.

"We need him. The guy is a star player in the making," Giants executive VP of baseball operations Brian Sabean said on KNBR 680 on Wednesday. "We hope with the strength of a deeper lineup -- which I think in time will prove to be true -- that he's got a lot that can really help this ball club and contribute in a big way."

So why then is Belt so polarizing?

"I'm not sure," Sabean answered. "There are folks that do swing and miss (Belt has struck out 22 times in 20 games). He's kind of a study in contrast. And while I say that, he's probably got one of the best eyes in the big leagues and can work a count, work an at-bat and take a walk with anybody.

"But what I'm seeing this year is that he's getting to more pitches, where in the past he would not put it in play. He's doing that in a big way. There are just some guys for whatever reason don't square up as many balls as you think they would be capable of.

"He's been a work in progress. He's still a young guy and I think that once he finds his power, he'll be a guy that will be very dangerous in anybody's lineup."

Belt was an All-Star in 2016.

The 30-year old is making $16 million this season, and will earn $16 million each year through 2021.

Samardzija, other Giants pitchers need to move on quickly from 15-2 loss

Samardzija, other Giants pitchers need to move on quickly from 15-2 loss

SAN FRANCISCO -- Ten minutes into his start Wednesday, Jeff Samardzija got a mound visit from manager Bruce Bochy and a member of the training staff. 

His fastball was sitting 89-91 at the time, and given that Samardzija is just two starts removed from a DL stint for a strained pectoral, the concern was understandable. 

"He's fine. We just wanted to check on him at that point," Bochy said. "He said he was fine and as you saw his stuff picked up, which you see sometimes from starting pitchers."

Samardzija did get back to the 93-94 range by the third, which is still a couple ticks from normal for him, but at least isn't concerning. He didn't make it to the fourth, though. A Matt Adams homer put the last three of six runs on his line.

"Just one of those days," Samardzija said. "I've been feeling really good. It just took a little longer today (to get loose). There's really no explanation for it sometimes.

"Obviously it's a little bit of a different script for me right now (coming off the injury). We're going to learn from it and keep getting better and get on to the next one." 

A few Giants need to move on quickly after this one. Josh Osich, coming off a sparkling spring, continued to backslide at the worst possible time. The Giants will need to clear a roster spot for Will Smith next week. Osich was charged with four earned runs. Cory Gearrin walked two of three he faced and cashed in two of Osich's runners. He, too, has fallen down the depth chart a bit.

"They're not on track. O really had some good moments today, lots of swings and misses, but also had trouble getting the ball where he wanted at times," Bochy said. "Cory is battling too much right now instead of going out there and attacking the strike zone. This game is all about confidence and if they get shaken a bit they don't throw the ball with as much conviction."