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2019 Giants Position Preview: Holes remain in inexperienced outfield

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2019 Giants Position Preview: Holes remain in inexperienced outfield

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. 

Additions

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. 

Outlook

There’s no way to sugarcoat it … the Giants have some serious issues in their outfield. 

[RELATED: Giants outfield could change drastically before Opening Day]

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. 

Brandon Crawford ties Giants record held by Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda

Brandon Crawford ties Giants record held by Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda

DENVER -- Brandon Crawford didn't know he had a chance to join a couple of Hall of Famers when he came up with the bases loaded in the ninth inning Monday afternoon. All he knew was that he was facing something he hadn't previously seen in the big leagues. 

Crawford dug in and looked up at Mark Reynolds, a first baseman who was asked to mop it up on the mound in the ninth inning of the Giants' 19-2 win at Coors Field. Reynolds was the first position player Crawford had faced in the big leagues. 

"It was a weird feeling," Crawford said. "But it's bases loaded, one out -- it's still an at-bat that counts."

Crawford made sure of that, bouncing a single up the middle to drive in two more runs. He finished with eight RBI, tying a San Francisco Giants record previously shared by Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda. He became the first shortstop in MLB history to record five hits and eight RBI in one game. Crawford said the big day was due to his teammates. 

"I hit with a lot of guys on base, that was nice," he said. "The whole lineup contributed."

That was rarely the case in the first three months of the season. But in the days leading up to the break, you could see Crawford, Buster Posey and other members of the core starting to turn it on, mixing in with Alex Dickerson, Austin Slater and other newcomers. 

Crawford took a five-game hitting streak into the game and added three walks over the weekend in Milwaukee. The breakout came Monday. He homered in the first to help the Giants take a 5-0 lead and added a long shot to right in the sixth. 

[RELATED: Breaking down red-hot Giants' historic game at the plate]

In one game, Crawford raised his average from .226 to .239. His OPS jumped from .654 to .695. That's hard to do nearly 100 games into the season -- unless you have the type of day that has you in the same company as Hall of Famers. 

"I've been feeling good," Crawford said. "I'm seeing the ball well. You expect to get hits when that happens."

Watch Giants' Brandon Crawford, Mike Yastrzemski hit back-to-back homers

Watch Giants' Brandon Crawford, Mike Yastrzemski hit back-to-back homers

Clear your October plans, Giants fans. 

The Giants somehow are the hottest team in baseball, winning eight of their last 10 games. And they couldn't have started off their doubleheader against the Rockies at Coors Field any better Monday morning. 

Brandon Belt and Buster Posey each singled to start the top of the first inning before Pablo Sandoval surprisingly squared for a sacrifice bunt. The Alex Dickerson train continued with the left fielder scoring Belt on a line drive to right field. But that was just the beginning for the red-hot Giants. 

Brandon Crawford and Mike Yastrzemski hit back-to-back jacks to give the Giants a 5-0 lead in the first inning over the Rockies. Crawford went opposite field for a 366-foot three-run homer, his seventh dinger of the year. Yaz followed him with a 433-foot shot to right-center field for a solo shot, his sixth homer this season. 

The Giants wound up winning 19-2, as the bats stayed hot all game. While they still appear to be in sell mode before the July 31 trade deadline, anything could happen once a team catches fire.