SAN FRANCISCO — Steven Duggar has 141 big league at-bats and is coming off shoulder surgery, but at the moment, he’s the closest thing the Giants have to an everyday outfielder.
The Giants have shuffled veterans through center field and anyone with a pulse through left field over the past decade, but even by those standards, the current situation is something strange. Duggar will enter camp with a clear shot at a full-time job. After that, the staff is essentially rolling a ball out there and telling a bunch of mid-to-late 20s outfielders to go win a job.
Now, this could change a bit. Farhan Zaidi is still looking to add a couple of veterans to the mix on short-term deals, but as we get to Part IV of this preview series (here are the catchers, corner infielders, and middle infielders) the Giants have multiple holes in their outfield:
Returning: Steven Duggar, Mac Williamson, Austin Slater, Chris Shaw
Duggar is expected to be just fine after surgery in September, and while Zaidi may seek a platoon partner, the 25-year-old should be in center field on Opening Day and a significant part of the lineup. Overall, Duggar hit .255/.303/.390 in his 2018 cameo, but he was really coming on before he got hurt, showing aggression on the field and the type of defense that will be a huge boost to a team that still won’t out-slug anyone.
The other three here are in the mix in the corners, and have had their highs and lows. Williamson looked to be the breakout of 2018 before a concussion ruined his year. He’s now out of options, and there’s nothing keeping him from his first real opportunity if he hits this spring the way he did last spring.
Slater has the most experience of this group but also has dealt with injuries and inconsistency. The Giants want to see swing adjustments out of him to tap into his raw power, and with an increase there, he should be in pretty good shape given his versatility defensively.
Shaw struck out a lot in Triple-A and did so in September, but the power is something you can’t teach, and you might have heard that the Giants have very little of it in their system. He’s expected to begin the year in Triple-A, but he’ll get another long look in spring training.
The departed: Andrew McCutchen, Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco, Gorkys Hernandez.
McCutchen was gone by September, but he still led Giants outfielders in at-bats, and every important hitting category. He’s a Phillie. Gorkys Hernandez was actually fourth on the whole team in at-bats, and he’s now with the Red Sox. Hunter Pence, despite his injury and struggles, was third among 2018 Giants outfielders in at-bats. He’s a free agent, and won’t be back. Gregor Blanco had 189 at-bats and he’s a Met. Austin Jackson had 149 and he’s long gone.
Basically, the guys who saw nearly all the outfield time in 2018 are gone. The silver lining? The 2018 Giants outfield wasn’t productive at all.
The Giants hoped to add two veteran outfielders. They still have time, but there’s not a lot left out there.
Drew Ferguson was claimed in the Rule 5 Draft and will have to make the roster in order for the Giants to keep his rights. The 26-year-old has a .393 on-base percentage in the minors, can play center field, and bats right-handed, so he could potentially back up Duggar. Ferguson’s status as a Rule 5 pick gives him a small advantage over others in camp.
John Andreoli was picked up Friday and will be fighting for a similar job. He has some big league experience and plenty of speed. Michael Gerber was the first addition of the Zaidi era but has since been DFA’d and outrighted to Triple-A. We could still see him at some point.
Non-roster invitees: Anthony Garcia, Henry Ramos
Garcia, coming off a 25-homer Triple-A season with the A’s, could be the wild card in this outfield group. He hit 16 homers a year earlier in the Cardinals system and the outfielders Zaidi has assembled mostly aren’t power guys. A right-handed hitter, he has mostly played left field in his career but has handled right, as well.
Ramos is the older brother of Heliot Ramos, the organization’s best outfield prospect, and followed Zaidi over from the Dodgers. Henry, 26, had a .817 OPS in Triple-A last season with 10 homers. Bruce Bochy likes a cool spring story, so there’s a chance Heliot is called up at some point to share a lineup with his brother. The rest of camp, Henry, who plays all three spots, will be competing for the job left open by the decision to non-tender Hernandez.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it … the Giants have some serious issues in their outfield.
But it’s not fair to fully judge this group right now because the odds are good that Zaidi still will add to the outfield. There are plenty of veterans out there, and one could walk in on March 15 and immediately take a starting job. As it stands currently, Duggar is sitting pretty, and it’s hard to picture the others beating Williamson out given what he showed before the concussion last year.
The Giants have generally carried five outfielders, although they could get away with four depending on the rest of the roster. Brandon Belt, Alen Hanson, and Abiatal Avelino can all play the outfield, along with lesser-known names in camp. This position group is as unsettled as any in the game, but the Giants still do have two months to figure it out.