Steven Duggar

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

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AP

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.

Down on the Farm: Beede throws one-hitter on Opening Day, could be headed to the bigs

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USATSI

Down on the Farm: Beede throws one-hitter on Opening Day, could be headed to the bigs

Two batters, two walks. That’s how Giants top pitching prospect Tyler Beede started off the 2018 season. It was the last thing he wanted after struggling in big league camp this spring. 

Beede was scheduled to start Opening Day for the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate Sacramento River Cats, but due to bad weather in Washington, the Giants sent Beede to San Bernardino to pitch for the San Jose Giants. The 25-year-old’s trip back to Advanced Single-A started with a walk, a pick-off attempt that resulted in an error by first baseman Gio Brusa advancing the runner to second base, and then another walk. A fly out to center brought Beede his first out, and the first of 11 straight batters retired. 

After searching for the strike zone to start the game against the Inland Empire 66ers, Beede settled in with a 12-pitch second inning on a pop out, strikeout and groundout. The third inning was just as smooth with two more groundouts and his second strikeout. Beede kept rolling with a pop out to catcher Jeff Arnold and his third strikeout of the day in the fourth inning before the streak ended on his third walk. But still, Beede was throwing a no-hitter. 

With two outs in the fifth inning, Beede’s no-hit bid ended on a soft line drive to right field that deflected off the glove of a leaping Jalen Miller at second base. The third out of the fifth inning, a groundout, was Beede’s final batter. He finished his first start of the season going five innings, giving up one hit and one earned run on three walks, and struck out four.

Throughout the game, Beede missed low trying to command his fastball. Those in attendance had him throwing 92-95 mph and he even touched 97 mph. While working to find the zone with his fastball, Beede was effective with his curveball, getting batters to roll over on the breaking ball. 

The big question now is, where will Beede make his next start? It certainly won’t be with the San Jose Giants, but it also may not be with the River Cats either. Beede might go from his first start with the San Jose Giants since 2015 to his MLB debut for the San Francisco Giants.

To start the season, the big-league Giants have gone with a four-man rotation as Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija are on the disabled list. The main reason the front office wanted to make sure Beede was on the bump somewhere Thursday, was all because of April 10. That date is Beede’s next start and it could come at AT&T Park against the Arizona Diamondbacks at 7:15 p.m. 

Once again, Beede proved he has a major-league arm in his Opening Day start. At the same time, he battled control issues with his fastball that have hampered him before. The next time he works on honing in on where his heater goes when he toes the rubber, Beede may be in front of a few more Giants fans.

Around The Horn

— The Giants’ No. 2 pitching prospect had a very similar first outing as the team’s No. 1. Andrew Suarez started the season opener for the River Cats and also only allowed one hit, but he walked four batters in four innings. Suarez did finish with four strikeouts, too. 

— It can only get better for the Giants’ first two picks in the 2017 MLB Draft. Heliot Ramos and Jacob Gonzalez combined to go 0-for-8 in their debut for the Augusta GreenJackets. 

— The River Cats’ first four hitters are all outfielders and names that you know by now. Here’s how they did: Steven Duggar (1-for-4, 2B, 2 Ks), Austin Slater (2-for-4, 2B), Chris Shaw (1-for-4, 2B, 1 K), Mac Williamson (1-for-3, 1 K).

Down on the Farm: River Cats give glimpse of Giants' future and past

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USATSI

Down on the Farm: River Cats give glimpse of Giants' future and past

The distance between Raley Field, the home of the Sacramento River Cats, to AT&T Park is only an hour-and-a-half drive. For players waiting their turn in Triple-A, it can either feel like a quick drink on a ferry ride to the park or a bumpy bus ride to Albuquerque. 

When looking at the River Cats’ roster, like so many other Triple-A teams, it shows exactly how up and down the journey of a baseball player can be. This year’s Opening Day roster includes 10 players who have seen time in majors with the Giants — Chris Heston, Derek Law, Steven Okert, Trevor Brown, Hector Sanchez, Orlando Calixte, Miguel Gomez, Ryder Jones, Austin Slater, and Mac Williamson. First and foremost though, your affiliate closest to the majors is a glimpse to the future. 

For the Giants, this year’s River Cats is highlighted by four players yet to get a taste of the bigs. The bats begin with outfielders Steven Duggar and Chris Shaw. On the bump, the front office will survey the progress of Tyler Beede and Andrew Suarez. 

Duggar is ready for the season to start Thursday as he waits for his inevitable call up to San Francisco. The center fielder led off Sacramento’s exhibition game Tuesday against Single-A San Jose with what announcer Joe Ritzo called a “towering home run to right center.” Already Duggar is a top-notch defender at the highest level. Expect him to be on the Giants by early May. His timetable, though, is all about the at-bats he first pieces together as a River Cat. 

Shaw is the opposite of Duggar in what the Giants will pay the most attention to. His bat will play, there’s no doubting that, even if he starts the season slow. Last year, Shaw led all players in the organization with 24 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A. But also last season, the big 6-foot-3 lefty switched positions from first base to left field for the foreseeable future. 

In spring training, Shaw came in slimmed down to improve his defense and there were nothing but positive reactions from how he looked in left. The pairing of Duggar and Shaw can be up as soon as this season, and is expected to be two-thirds of the Giants’ future outfield. 

Beede and Shaw, while both long shots, were each competing for a spot in the Giants’ rotation this spring. They both fell short. Between the two, Beede and Suarez combined for a 1-2 record with an 8.55 ERA over 22.1 innings. And the ball in the Pacific Coast League flies nearly as long as the Cactus League. 

Both pitchers should find their way to San Francisco this season at some point. Injuries will happen as we’ve already seen with Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija. On talent alone, the two are nearly there as well. Consistency will be the key while Beede needs to hone in on his control and Suarez needs to continue to find a knock-out pitch. 

Fans heading out to a River Cats game this season can happily dust off their old Chris Heston shirsey hoping to see some more history on the hill, and at the same time, spot their new favorite Giant of the future. That’s the beauty of Triple-A baseball.