Austin Slater

Any of Giants' young players part of the solution? 'I really wish...'


Any of Giants' young players part of the solution? 'I really wish...'

Programming note: Tune in tonight at 10 p.m. for 2017 Giants -- What Happened?!?  Only on NBC Sports Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO — A few minutes after team executives sat down with reporters and discussed a rough season, Austin Slater walked through an empty clubhouse. 

“I’m done for the day,” he said, smiling, as general manager Bobby Evans offered a greeting. 

Slater’s offseason started in the trainer’s room. He spent Tuesday morning rehabbing from sports hernia surgery and he'll be doing that for several weeks. Slater's rehab schedule is a reminder of one of the most disappointing parts of a 98-loss season. 

If you’re going to flirt with 100 losses, you might as well come away from that experience with three or four young players who proved without a doubt that they can be part of a turnaround. The Giants feel good about Chris Stratton’s chances of being a rotation contributor, and Ty Blach will certainly have a role on next year’s team, but beyond that it’s tough to point to too many young players who are a good bet to be standing in the dugout next opening day. Slater was on his way after a hot start to his career, but injuries kept him off the field most of the second half and the Giants wish he had gotten more at-bats to try and show what he can do. Other young players suffered from the same bad injury luck.

During an interview that will air Wednesday night at 10pm on NBC Sports Bay Area, I asked manager Bruce Bochy what he makes of 2017’s class of younger players. The Giants have said they want to get more athletic. Did any of these 20-somethings show that they can be part of the solution? 

“I really wish that we could have kept these young players healthy so we would have had a longer look and a better evaluation of some of these players who did, I think, show that they can contribute on a major league level,” Bochy said. “Slater, for one, I think he stepped up and he was doing a nice job. Because of the groin injury, we missed him a lot.”

Slater, who turns 25 in December, hit .282 with three homers and a .339 on-base percentage in 117 rookie at-bats. The Giants hope he is able to recover from surgery in time to play winter ball, and doing so would allow him to compete for an outfield job next spring. The Giants plan to give left field to Denard Span, but some of their younger outfielders could see more time in right field, or one could develop into a platoon partner. 

It’s unclear where that leaves Parker, who hits left-handed — like Span — and is out of options. The 28-year-old had a .746 OPS after returning and played good defense.

“Here was a guy that you talk about (the) power, and he was going to be our left fielder,” Bochy said. “He runs into a wall and breaks his clavicle, so he never really got a chance to get on track. So that’s disappointing.”

Parker and Mac Williamson are scheduled to play winter ball, along with Christian Arroyo, who provided a jolt in his first couple of weeks but slumped to a .192 average. Arroyo would have returned for another round, but he suffered a season-ending hand injury. He's just 22, and if the Giants don’t add a third baseman, he should compete for that starting job next March. 

“He made an impact right away,” Bochy said. “He started to struggle but we did have to rush him up.”

Bochy felt Ryder Jones was put in the same situation. The 23-year-old hit .173 as a rookie while playing at both corners. He is also scheduled to play winter ball. 

“I think it’s fair to say we rushed him,” Bochy said. “He didn’t have a full year in Triple-A but we played him. Sometimes this happens to young players — not sometimes, but most of the time, they’re going to struggle. You’re going to suffer with young players who aren’t quite ready, but at the same time you hope to benefit down the road.”

A little further down the road, the Giants have a class of intriguing prospects. For more on the front office’s evaluations of Chris Shaw, Steven Duggar, Tyler Beede and others, you can watch our season-ending special Wednesday night at 10pm on NBC Sports Bay Area. Bochy, Brian Sabean, Bobby Evans and Larry Baer discussed the 2017 year and the roster outlook for 2018. Bochy is hopeful that next year’s squad has a bit more luck with young players. 

“Hopefully we do find lightning in a bottle with one of these young guys that can impact our offense,” he said. 

Giants rookie outfielder undergoes surgery, will miss six to eight more weeks


Giants rookie outfielder undergoes surgery, will miss six to eight more weeks

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants thought Austin Slater's season was over when he tore his groin on July 8. This time, it really is over. 

Slater had surgery this week to repair a sports hernia and he will miss six to eight weeks. That adds some uncertainty to his offseason, as he was supposed to get additional at-bats in the Dominican Winter League. It's unclear if Slater will return in time to play winter ball, but this certainly is a blow as he works to put himself in position to win a job next spring. 

Slater finished his rookie season with a .282 average and three homers. He had a .740 OPS. Slater originally missed 52 games with the groin strain. 

The news was much better for another injured Giant. First baseman Brandon Belt took BP with the team for the first time since getting hit by a curveball in early August and suffering a concussion. Belt's season has been over for several weeks, but he will have a normal and healthy offseason. 

Has the game passed them by? Giants aim to join home run trend


Has the game passed them by? Giants aim to join home run trend

DENVER — When hitting prospects are called up by the Giants and they visit the home batting cage for the first time, they’re confronted by a strange sight: a yellow rope running alongside the side of the cage. The rope is meant to show the best launch angle for hitting home runs at AT&T Park based on data collected by the front office and dissected by the coaching staff. 

The Giants are not blind to the fact that the game seems to have passed them by. It’s a home-run-happy sport this season, and the Giants have just 112. They’re 24 homers behind the next lowest team, the Pirates.

There’s only so much you can do with veterans. Buster Posey has made adjustments to tweak his fly ball percentage, and he has seen his slugging percentage jump accordingly. Brandon Crawford has made subtle changes lately and the results in the second half are dramatically different. For the most part, however, these Giants hitters are who they are. 

But can the next generation be different? Can the Giants join the home run craze, even in the most restrictive ballpark in the majors?

Austin Slater will be a good test case, and Ryder Jones, Christian Arroyo and others are right behind him. When Slater went on the DL, hitting coach Hensley Meulens took a deep dive into the numbers and found a very low average launch angle that was 12 degrees below league average. 

In an interview that ran on this week’s Giants Insider Podcast, Meulens talked about adjustments some of the younger hitters need to make. 

“He’s way behind on launch angle compared to all major league hitters,” Meulens said of Slater. “We talked about that. He worked on it when he was coming back. I’m hoping that he catches on. He’s a bright guy.”

Slater, a Stanford product, said he’s already trying to make changes. 

“It’s clear there’s room for improvement,” he said. “My (three) homers were all low line drives. If I get my launch angle up, you might see more consistency.”

For Arroyo, Meulens said any swing adjustments will come after a change of approach. Arroyo showed some power during a hot start but he slumped to a .192 average. 

“He was swinging out of the zone a lot and they kept throwing it out of the zone," Meulens said. "Now, as he’s thinking about things as he’s (recovering from surgery), the adjustment he needs to make first is to get the ball back into the zone. And then he can work on other things mechanically.”

A hand injury has kept Arroyo from getting at-bats this month, but Jones has soaked many of those up. He has two homers, two triples and five doubles in 111 at-bats, with several long foul balls to right that he wishes he could straighten out. AT&T Park is death on lefties, but it plays fair right down the line, and Jones is a pull hitter. 

“He’s got long arms to begin with and he’s a tall guy but he’s got a quick top hand, which jumps ahead of the bottom hand, and that’s why you see some of the balls hooking at the last minute and not staying fair,” Meulens said. “That’s the quality he has, that he can pull the ball. We’d like to see more guys come up and be able to do that because of our ballpark — that’s the shortest distance to hit home runs. Now he has to work on making sure that that top hand is not rolling over as he’s hitting the ball, or before. Keeping that top hand underneath all the way through and extending through the ball (will) keep those balls back-spun and straight.”