Giants

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

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AP

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. 

A year after Chris Stratton's breakthrough, a longtime teammate is doing the same

A year after Chris Stratton's breakthrough, a longtime teammate is doing the same

SAN FRANCISCO — Six years ago, in a small town in Washington named Everett, Mac Williamson met Chris Stratton.

The power-hitting third-round pick from Wake Forest made his debut for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes on July 24. A day later, the hard-throwing first-rounder from Mississippi State made the third start of his minor league career. Both were trying to make good impressions. 

“I think he threw pretty well,” Williamson recalled Monday night. “My first at-bat was a ground-ball double play. I stumbled over first and did a couple of barrel rolls trying to beat it out because I didn’t want my first at-bat to be a double play.”

The 2012 draft picks, both of whom are 27, have come a long way since, experiencing plenty of highs but also more than their fair share of lows. Williamson was standing 50 feet away from Stratton when he was hit by a line drive during batting practice and suffered a concussion that ended his first professional season. Stratton was Williamson’s teammate in San Jose two years later when the outfielder was told his rise through the minors would be halted by Tommy John surgery. Both have in recent years become all too familiar with the stretch of highway between San Francisco and Triple-A Sacramento. 

Yet there they were Monday, six years after first meeting, once again sharing the stage. Williamson hit a two-run homer against the Nationals that brought back memories of Barry Bonds and left jaws hanging in the dugout. Stratton once again used his four-pitch mix to shut down a quality lineup, throwing 6 2/3 innings and allowing just two runs in a 4-2 win over the Nationals. 

Afterward, Stratton stood in front of a banner adorned with Giants logos and talked about his recent run of success. Williamson did the same 15 minutes later. 

“What he’s been able to do for this team this season, it’s been fun to be a part of,” Williamson said of Stratton. 

Teammates are now starting to say the same of Williamson. 

The Giants have taken three of four from playoff-caliber opponents since Williamson was recalled for yet another big league tryout. This one appears to have staying power. Williamson, in his fourth year in the big leagues, has two loud homers and five RBI in his first four starts in place of Hunter Pence, but the numbers that really stand out are the ones that have only just begun to be tracked. 

His home run in the sixth inning Monday landed a dozen rows up in right-center, a part of the park that is unforgiving for even the best left-handed power hitters. It went an estimated 464 feet, standing as the longest homer by a Giant at AT&T Park since Statcast began tracking them in 2015. It had an exit velocity of 111.5 mph.

Well, maybe. 

“It said 111. That’s BS,” first baseman Brandon Belt said. “That was one of the hardest-hit balls I’ve ever seen. That was harder than 111. For that to go to that spot with the wind and the cold, that's beyond impressive.”

There isn’t a player in the big leagues who is more familiar with the harsh conditions of Triples Alley than Belt. On a cold, windy night, like Monday, you have virtually no chance of hitting a ball out to right-center. Belt has learned that dozens of times over the years, so he took off on a dead sprint from first when Williamson made contact. Williamson did, too. He thought he might have to bust it into third for a triple. When Belt looked up, the ball was sailing into the seats. 

“I was just kind of in awe,” he said. 

Bruce Bochy wached from a stunned dugout. Later, he took a deep breath when asked about the home run.

“I just haven’t seen many balls hit there, even in BP,” he said. “That was impressive. It shows you how strong he is. It’s an area where few guys can hit the ball.”

Williamson has always had that ability, but it has been unlocked by an offseason spent overhauling his swing. He said the work is not done, and in that respect, he is once again similar to the man selected two rounds before him.

Stratton wasn't happy with his changeup and altered his grip in recent days. When Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen made defensive misplays to put runners on second and third with one out in the top of the sixth, Stratton did not turn to the fastball that seems to rise, or the curveball and slider that are darlings of the spin rate era. He threw Matt Adams three consecutive changeups to get a big strikeout. 

“A young pitcher, when you get in a jam, you have a tendency to want to go harder,” Bochy said. “But he’s got confidence in his changeup and he used it.”

Stratton was asked about that confidence level after the game. He laughed, and wondered aloud why some reporters keep asking him how confident this run of success has made him. But a few minutes later, when asked about Williamson following a similar late-career path to a breakout, he lowered his voice and smiled.

“I know it’s weird saying exactly what someone just said about the confidence thing but he just looks so confident at the plate,” Stratton said. “It’s the most comfortable I’ve seen since I’ve played with him. He believes in his approach and his new swing and that’s paid dividends for our team so far.

"He just looks really confident up there and that goes a long way.”

Will Smith nearing return to big leagues: 'It's nice to be back under the lights again'

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AP

Will Smith nearing return to big leagues: 'It's nice to be back under the lights again'

SAN FRANCISCO -- Will Smith is generally in a good mood, but the smile was a bit bigger as reporters surrounded his locker on Monday afternoon. 

Smith has spent the last couple of weeks in the minor leagues but the long recovery from Tommy John surgery is nearly over. He will pitch in back-to-back games on Wednesday and Thursday, clearing the final hurdle in his rehab schedule. He will then pitch on Sunday. After that ...

"May 1. May 1, yeah," he said. "May 1."

That's the target date the Giants identified long ago and Smith is on track to be activated that day after missing all of last season and the first month of this one. In five rehab appearances, he has struck out nine over 4 2/3 innings. The reports on his velocity are good and he said his arm feels great.

"As long as these next outings go well we'll be back up here," he said. "It feels good. It feels really good. It's nice to be back under the lights again."

It's easy to forget now, but the Giants paid a steep price in prospects to acquire Smith at the 2016 deadline, hoping he would become a key part of the bullpen. He closed that season with 18 consecutive scoreless appearances before contributing to the troubles in Game 4 of the NLDS. 

If Smith is back to form, the Giants would have one of the better left-handed combinations in the game. Tony Watson has been the best pitcher in the bullpen, and Bochy said he'll appreciate having the flexibility to use Smith or Watson in different roles. It's possible that Smith's presence could allow Watson to enter in the seventh to face a tough lefty like Cody Bellinger or Bryce Harper. 

Having both also will allow Bochy to have a reliable lefty for the eighth every night of the week. There have been times this season where he has been worried about overusing Watson. 

--- Elsewhere in the bullpen, Mark Melancon will play catch on Thursday. Melancon has not thrown since being shut down at the end of spring training and he had an injection in his pronator nearly two weeks ago to try and eliminate persistent irritation. 

--- Brandon Belt said he did not watch the full 12-minute version of his epic at-bat Sunday. 

"I have too much stuff to do," he said. 

He did, however, watch the sped-up replay.