Down on the Farm

Down on the Farm: Don't forget about Austin Slater

slaterap.jpg
AP

Down on the Farm: Don't forget about Austin Slater

The Sacramento River Cats are filled with outfield talent. Finding ways to send them to San Francisco is the problem. Mac Williamson is on his way up after hitting .487 with six home runs in 11 games, but going into Friday's game, the Giants are stilling figuring out how to activate him on the roster.

While Williamson's hot start has deservedly grabbed headlines, another outfield option who showed what he can do at the big league level last year, is also peppering the ball all over the yard in Sacramento. 

Austin Slater has only played in eight of the River Cats' 14 games, but has been a force so far, going hitless in just one game. After going 2-for-4 with a double, triple, and two RBI on Thursday, Slater is now batting .433 with a 1.300 OPS. In his eight games played, Slater has 13 hits -- seven of those are doubles and two are triples. 

What Slater brings to the table that other options don't as much as himself, is versatility. Slater has played all three outfield positions in the short going this year and is adding another glove to his repetoire. 

The 25-year-old was a top prospect in high school as a shortstop. He even played seven games at shortstop for the San Jose Giants in 2015 and 96 games at second base between San Jose and the Richmond Flying Squirrels the same year. So far, he is yet to play first base. 

All of the Giants' outfielders in the bigs are simply one dimensional. That's where Slater separates himself. The Giants are an aging team full of veterans. They badly need athleticism and versatility, and Slater can do exactly that for them all while bringing a consistent bat. 

If the Giants could, they would get one of those memory-erasers from Men in Black and wipe away last season. One of the memeories they would keep is Slater's 34 games. Before missing significant time due to a hip injury in July and then re-injurying himself in September, which required sports hernia surgery, Slater slashed .282/.339/.402 with three home runs in his first taste of the majors. 

Bruce Bochy hopes that Mac Williamson's power can give the Giants a needed shot in the arm. There's no denying the team could use Slater's skillset too. The question of when and how that will happen though, will not be easy to answer for Bochy or anybody else. 

Down on the Farm: Q&A with Mac Williamson on his new swing and red-hot start with River Cats

Down on the Farm: Q&A with Mac Williamson on his new swing and red-hot start with River Cats

Spring training is the Best Shape of My Life Season. For Mac Williamson, it was the debut of Best Swing of My Life Season. Williamson hit .318 in the spring with four home runs, but there simply wasn’t a spot for him on the Giants’ Opening Day roster.

The results from the desert went right to Sacramento. Williamson is hitting .487 with a 1.626 OPS and six home runs in 11 games for the River Cats. After the team’s game Wednesday in Salt Lake City, NBC Sports Bay Area caught up with Williamson about his new swing and what has led to his torrid start.

Q: In spring training you said you wanted to see where you were in two months with your new swing. We’re pretty much there now and you’re hitting .487. How does it feel and how happy are you with the changes? 

A: I feel really good. I feel like I’ve made a lot of strides. There’s a lot of things that I’ve tried to fine tune that I’ve gotten really good at, and then again there’s still some things that I time and time again want to be more consistent with. But overall… it’s early, small sample size, haven’t played a ton of games, but I’m happy with the way things are going and the direction I’m headed. 

Q: The changes are that high leg kick and lower hand placement. A lot of people have compared it to Justin Turner. For you, what’s the key? 

A: I think for me, it’s getting on time for the fastball consistently every pitch. When I’m on time for the fastball I’m able to see the ball much better and be able to adjust if it’s an off-speed pitch if I’m in a better position to hit, no matter what pitch it is. Here early on it’s been fairly easier for me, relatively speaking to the past, to put a quality swing on more pitches and have better plate discipline. I don’t feel that I need to cheat to certain pitches or have to do too much. I’m trying to be in the same position time and time again every pitch and see the ball better. I think that I’ve been able to put better swings more consistently. Good swings, quality swings on good pitches. When you give yourself a chance, you’re gonna have more success. 

Q: You talked about plate discipline. The strikeouts are down, the walks are up (7 walks, 5 strikeouts). Is that an approach with your mindset you’ve worked on or has that leg kick allowed you to see the ball longer? 

A: I think a lot of it has to do with being in position. I’m able to see the ball longer. I’m able to see the ball more consistently and pick and choose earlier, not be committed so late. I’m not finding myself lounging at pitches or being late on a good fastball. In addition to that, just trying to mature as a hitter and kind of know where I’m hitting in the lineup, what my role is, who’s hitting ahead of me and behind me, what the situation is and what the pitcher is trying to do. Stuff like that. It plays a role in how you try to attack an at-bat. If you kind of have an idea what they’re trying to do to you, you’re able to form a good plan. If you’re having a good plan and seeing the ball good up there, then it’s another recipe for success. 

Q: Everyone is seeing the power numbers (6 home runs, 1.026 slugging percentage). Is that the biggest difference you have noticed? That it’s really being unleashed now?

A: I’ve really just found myself — no matter an out, a hit or whatever — I’ve found myself barreling a lot of balls a lot more consistently. Almost every single ball that I’ve hit, whether it be an out or a hit, if I put it in play I feel like I’ve found the barrel, which is encouraging. If you can put a good swing on a good pitch and put your barrel on it, even if it’s a ground ball, line drive or fly ball, you can do that seven out of eight or eight out of nine times, you’re gonna have good results. If you’re hitting the ball on the handle or hitting the ball on the end of the bat consistently, you’re results aren’t gonna be as good. Despite the numbers of ground balls of fly balls, I think one of the biggest positives is my plate discipline as well as consistently putting the barrel on the ball. 

Q: Have you done any new drills or changed up your hitting routine? 

A: Not particularly. There’s a couple things I’ll do from time to time if there’s one thing I’m working on that day. Honestly, this year it’s been about taking less swings. Our first series in Tacoma, we took BP once with the rain in five times and I hit in the cage one time. And I hit pretty well in that series (9-for-14, 1 home run, 3 doubles). The same went for that second series. I think I took BP once. For me, I think it’s more about not wearing myself out and if the swing’s feeling good, don’t overwork myself. Don’t work myself into a slump. If it’s not where I want it to be, take 20 or 30 purposeful swings to work on whatever I’m working on and the shut it down. Really, it’s been about not overworking myself. The organization has been great this year with what we need in BP or no BP that day and it’s worked really well for me. 

Q: That goes back to your maturity as a hitter. Quality over quantity — 

A: Exactly. That’s how I feel. There’s some guys who prefer to swing a lot and I definitely swung a lot in the past. When you’re going well you don’t want to do too much to work yourself into a slump and I’m sure when I get into a little funk, I’m gonna want to do a little extra. But right now, I think it’s really about game reps. … I feel confident about what I’ve done so far. I think in this game, you’re constantly tweaking things. Even the guys who have done it for 15 years. They’re fine tuning things. I feel good about where I’m at right now and hope to keep that going forward. 

Q: Your swing now is that modern launch-angle swing. Are you looking at that or do you just know with the feel of your bat path?

A: I just think it’s a result thing. For me, it’s kind of like, if I hit a ball on the barrel and I hit it in the air, not straight up and not straight down, it’s gonna go out. Hitting those balls 110 miles an hour at 27 degrees will result in a home run. Of course it will. But it’s not like I’m in the box thinking, ‘Alright I need to hit this ball 27 degrees.’ If I barrel the ball hard enough and I put it in the air, it’s gonna be far enough. That’s kind of how I look at it. Everything else mechanics wise and stuff like that, you can change. In the box, you’re just trying to hit it in the air. You’re not thinking numerically what you want your launch angle to be. Sometimes you’re gonna hit the crap out of the ball with the right launch angle and the right exit velo and it’s not gonna go out. Sometimes you’re gonna get lucky and pop one up and the wind’s gonna blow it out. I think it’s more of an ego boost than anything else to have that data, but I don’t really know what that does. A lot of broadcasters, it’s all they want to talk about. It’s just hitting the ball in the air. People aren’t sitting in the box trying to hit the ball at a certain degree or angle. It’s a result to me more than a thought process. 

Down on the Farm: Two San Jose Giants hit for the cycle in same game

cycle2.jpg
Twitter

Down on the Farm: Two San Jose Giants hit for the cycle in same game

Lightning struck twice Wednesday night in Lancaster. 

In a game where the offense put together 25 hits, one off the team record, two San Jose Giants hit for the cycle in the same game as part of their 18-6 win over the Night Hawks. Gio Brusa and Jalen Miller became the fourth and fifth players in San Jose’s 31-year history to accomplish the rare feat. 

Every kid rides their first bicycle. No baseball team has a bi-cycle. One team having two players hit for the cycle in the same game has never been done in Major League Baseball history. According to statistician Ryan Spaeder, this has never even happened with two players on opposing teams in the same game in MLB history. Data currently does not show if this has ever been done in the minors. 

Brusa, who entered the game with only four hits on the season, put his name in the record books first with his 4-for-6 night. The local product from the University of Pacific came out swinging and knocked a home run in the first inning, singled in the second, doubled in the fourth, and then capped off his cycle by tripling in the eighth. 

The Giants’ leading home run hitter from last season attributed his cycle to getting in the right mindset through his faith earlier in the day. 

"Honestly, I'm going to have to say my faith," Brusa told MiLB.com after the game. "Today I had a great devotional, and it was all about the verse, 'Today is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.' It's very easy to look at the big scheme of things, but it just kind of really planted me in today and grounded me to focus and enjoy each and every pitch, each up, each down, each twist and turn."

Miller tied the San Jose single-game record with five hits and ignited the team’s offensive onslaught, knocking in the first run of the game on a RBI single in the first inning. The infielder singled again in his next at-bat, doubled in the sixth, and homered in the eighth. 

Hitting a triple is by far the hardest and most unlikely part of a cycle. And yet on this magic night, Miller’s triple in the ninth gave him the cycle and meant both he and Brusa’s last leg of the cycle came on a triple. 

"When I got on third, no one knew that I had actually hit for the cycle." Miller said to MiLB.com. "One of my teammates, [pitcher] Mac Marshall, he looked at me from the dugout and mouthed, 'Cycle?' I shook my head in a 'yes' way, and after the inning, we all celebrated. It was pretty cool."

The last San Jose Giant to hit for the cycle was Thomas Neal in 2009. The two other Giants to hit for the cycle are Carlos Valderrama in 2002 and Kevin Frandsen in 2005.