SAN FRANCISCO — As Adam Duvall put together an All-Star first half for the Reds, some of his biggest fans were in the organization that traded him away. Over and over again, Giants officials insisted that they were rooting for Duvall, one of the few prospects to get away from the organization and find success elsewhere.
First and foremost, there’s a personal connection. Duvall spent parts of six seasons with the Giants, developing relationships with coaches, scouts and executives who want to see him succeed. There’s a business aspect to this, too. The Giants rarely have players near the top of prospect lists, but as general manager Bobby Evans gets into trade discussions, it helps to be able to point to prospects like Duvall who proved to be big league contributors.
The Giants shipped Duvall to Cincinnati in 2015 to try and plug a hole in the rotation. Mike Leake came over and got hurt, and he never made much of a difference for the Giants before departing in free agency. A year later, Duvall hit 33 homers for the Reds and was named a Gold Glove finalist. As the Giants discuss replacements for Angel Pagan, Duvall’s name is never far from mind, but not because a return is in play.
“It’s a reminder,” Evans said. “It’s a reminder. What he accomplished is not incredibly different than what he accomplished in the minors (for the Giants). If you don’t give guys opportunities, they can do it somewhere else.”
Duvall’s emergence could benefit two players who came up right behind him in the system. Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker are the frontrunners for the left field job, with the Giants preferring right now to remain on the periphery of talks for big-name free agents. They have been repeatedly mentioned as a possible home for Yoenis Cespedes, but that is mostly just chatter coming from East Coast writers looking for teams with the lineup opening and budget to pry Cespedes away from the Mets.
The focus is firmly on the bullpen, as it was in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline, when Evans sought Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Mark Melancon and others. Back then, team officials quietly raved about the work Williamson and Parker were doing for a team that looked headed for a division title.
Williamson, 26, slugged .528 with four homers and a .371 on-base percentage in July. He posted a .899 OPS that month after breaking through a bit in June. Parker made 24 starts in the first half when Hunter Pence went down to an injury, getting on base at a .365 clip and hitting five homers. The Giants already knew what kind of power potential he had; the left-handed slugger hit six homers in 40 September at-bats in 2015.
At midseason, Giants officials could easily picture turning left field over to Williamson, Parker or both in 2017. Then, the second-half collapse happened. At the GM Meetings in Phoenix last week, Evans said the teamwide slump “is not lost on us” as the front office searches for offseason improvements. Williamson got hurt and Parker went cold with limited playing time. Neither was able to contribute to a lineup that hit just 55 homers after the break, ranking the Giants 14th out of 15 National League teams.
“That puts more pressure on us to look at power options (this offseason),” Evans said. “But at the same time, those are two guys who are power options and they’re ready to graduate.”
Duvall had a similar pedigree. He hit 30 homers in High-A in 2012 and 17 in Double-A in 2013. In 191 Triple-A games for the Giants, he hit 53 homers. Duvall came up as a third baseman, and the Giants traded him in part because they did not believe in the glove. They did not realize he could be such an impact left fielder, but that job wasn’t open anyway, with Pagan locked into a four-year deal that expired at the end of the 2016 season.
It all led to Duvall getting an opportunity elsewhere. What he did with it might pave the way for Williamson and Parker to get a similar shot with the team that drafted them.