Brandon Crawford

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.”

Giants hopeful Duggar can give them what a young Crawford once did


Giants hopeful Duggar can give them what a young Crawford once did

SCOTTSDALE — There are many ways to keep track of a prospect’s progress. When it comes to Steven Duggar, the pronunciation of his last name might be the best way. 

You could ask three different team officials about Duggar last season and get three different versions of his last name. But by the end of an offseason that included the addition of two veteran outfielders, there was consistency. It is pronounced "Doug-er," by the way. 

The outfielder is one of the names to know this spring, and he’ll get a shot to shine right away. Duggar will start between Andrew McCutchen and Hunter Pence for the Cactus League opener. Even with Austin Jackson in the fold, there’s a chance that Friday’s trio is the Opening Day lineup. 

“We’re staying open-minded,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “There are no minds made up here. Just go out there and play solid baseball.”

Bochy conveyed that message to Duggar during a meeting early in camp, but it’s another longtime Giant who might have the most meaningful advice. Years ago, shortstop Brandon Crawford was Duggar. 

The Giants called up Crawford at the age of 24 knowing his defense would be a game-changer in the middle of the field and the bat would catch up. Crawford’s glove helped the Giants win a title in his first full season and eventually he turned into a Silver Slugger Award winner, moving from the No. 8 spot to the heart of the lineup. 

Duggar, who turned 24 in November, is known for already having a strong eye and approach at the plate. Teammates have noticed his short, quick swing, which has him spraying line drives all over the Scottsdale Stadium gaps during batting practice. It is the glove, though, that will be key. It’s been years since the Giants have had an above-average defender in center, but Duggar’s speed and instincts give him a chance. 

The Giants will give him every opportunity this spring to show that he should be chasing fly balls down at Dodger Stadium on Opening Day. If it works out, what would Crawford tell Duggar? 

“Just try to help the team win by doing one thing every game,” he said. “Maybe you make a big play defensively or get a runner over or you get the big hit. There were a few games in 2011 when I was able to help the team out with the bat. I knew my defense was ahead of my offense, but I knew that at some point the bat would come along and I would be able to help out.”

The Crawford-Duggar comparisons have been made in the front office for a while. They are high draft picks (Crawford in the fourth round, Duggar the sixth) who came from big sports schools (UCLA and Clemson, respectively) and have steadily progressed despite not being named to top prospect lists. Duggar, on a recent episode of The Giants Insider Podcast, said Crawford was one of the players he watched most closely last season while sidelined by flexor and hamstring injuries.

This spring he has occasionally found himself in a hitting group with Crawford and Joe Panik, who also takes the line drive approach from the left side. Crawford said Duggar asks good questions — “he wants to learn, which is always a good thing” — and Panik said he reminds the veterans of Matt Duffy, who was always soaking up knowledge about the little parts of the game.

“He’s just a baseball player,” Panik said. “He’s one of those guys.”

The coaches just want to see that simplicity on the field. Don’t worry about the numbers, just show a good approach at the plate. Show your speed on the bases and in center field. 

“We’re looking for him to just play consistent baseball on both sides,” Bochy said. “He’s a gifted center fielder. Just throw out some quality at-bats, which he does. I don’t want him to put too much pressure on himself. I want him to be who he is.”

If he can do that, Duggar could validate the offseason decision to wait for Jackson after a winter spent scouring the market. The Giants talked to the Reds about Billy Hamilton and the Brewers about their young center fielders, and they negotiated with the likes of Jarrod Dyson and Carlos Gomez when the trade market dried up. But they liked Jackson because of his versatility, with the thought that he could back up all three spots if Duggar proves ready. 

The slash line in the minors — .292/.384/.427 — is promising, but for now the Giants are focused on Duggar's glove. The audition starts Friday, and Duggar sounds eager to show that he’s ready to help his pitching staff. 

“I just like to go get it, man,” he said. “It’s fun to go track down a ball, taking away hits from the other guys and helping our pitchers and playing fundamentally sound defense. That’s kind of how the Giants have done things, right?”

Astros beef up rotation, acquire Brandon Crawford's brother-in-law


Astros beef up rotation, acquire Brandon Crawford's brother-in-law

The World Series champion Houston Astros just got a little bit stronger.

The Pirates have traded ace Gerrit Cole to the Astros for a package of four prospects.

Cole, the former No. 1 overall pick out of UCLA in 2011, is married to Brandon Crawford's sister Amy.

An All-Star in 2015, Cole is coming off two straight subpar seasons. Last season, he posted a career-worst 4.26 ERA in 203 innings over 33 starts. He struck out 196 batters along the way.

The headliners of the package going back to Pittsburgh are RHP Joe Musgrove, RHP Michael Feliz and 3B Colin Moran. The Pirates will also receive OF Jason Martin.

Trading Cole could be the beginning of more moves for the Pirates, who are shopping former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen. The Giants have been linked to the veteran center fielder.