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?”