Adam Duvall might have paved way for young Giants outfielders

Adam Duvall might have paved way for young Giants outfielders

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.

Q&A: Damon Minor on Giants' Steven Duggar, Chris Shaw and Aramis Garcia

Q&A: Damon Minor on Giants' Steven Duggar, Chris Shaw and Aramis Garcia

For the past two seasons — either in Triple-A Sacramento or the Arizona Fall League — Damon Minor has worked with the Giants prospects trio of Steven Duggar, Chris Shaw and Aramis Garcia. In 2018, Minor saw all three of them as the River Cats’ hitting coach before each player made their major league debuts in San Francisco. 

NBC Sports Bay Area recently spoke to Minor, as the former Giants first baseman assessed each hitter’s development at the plate.

NBCS Bay Area: You’ve worked with Steven Duggar the last two years (13 games in 2017, 78 in 2018). He obviously made a big impression on the Giants this past season. What were his biggest improvements the last two years at the plate? 

Minor: I think it was just the adjustments to the leagues. He had to adjust to Triple-A pitching with guys who can command the ball better, and learning the strike zone. Obviously when he went up to the big leagues, it was another challenge for him to learn, and Alonzo [Powell] and Schuey did a good job of honing in on him really knowing the strike zone, and staying in the strike zone.

It was just unfortunate that he got hurt because he was starting to break through with it. 

[RELATED: Why Giants assistant hitting coach sent Steven Duggar film of Nick Markakis]

Ideally, you’d want him as your long-term lead-off hitter. Can he be that guy for the Giants? 

The best thing about Duggar is that I think with his ability, he can lead off, he can go to the 2-hole or 3-hole depending on how hot he gets, he can drop down to hit in front of the pitcher, too. He learned how to hit a little bit in front of the pitcher, so that flexibility that you give a manager, that’s really, really good for him.

Does Chris Shaw have some of the best natural power you’ve seen? 

Yes. He has someone of the best natural power there comes from the left side. I was fortunate enough to play with some guys who had that power. It was good for him to go up and see what the big leagues are about.

Just like Duggar did, he just has to make those adjustments and be more of a hitter to be able to get to his power. I think with time, and as young as he is, he will [make adjustments].

[RELATED: Chris Shaw showed potential, needs more time at Triple-A]

Are there any keys you see to Shaw unlocking that power by becoming more of a pure hitter first? 

First, it comes down to getting at-bats. And then just knowing the strike zone. It’s not really a swing issues. Little tweaks here and there. It’s more timing. If you have time to recognize the pitch more often, you’ll be more consistent and on time and ready. Your swing will take care of itself, and you’ll hone in on the pitches you want to hit.

For someone like Chris Shaw, what’s the toughest part mentally after struggling right away in the majors as a top prospect? 

It happens as a young player. You go up there, and everything’s a little bigger. You got a bigger crowd, it’s the big leagues, and you’ve been striving to get there through the minor leagues. When you do, it is a bigger picture.

You just have to learn how to control the emotions and not let things get overly big for you. For him, he’s a tough kid. He’s from Boston. He’s a hockey player. The best thing about Chris Shaw is that he’s gonna find a way to figure things out. He’s not stubborn, and he’s gonna make changes accordingly to have success in the big leagues.

What was your first impression of Aramis Garcia once he made it to Triple-A? 

I was fortunate enough to work with Aramis in the Fall League when I was there last year. I’ve been seeing him work his way up from Double-A to up here the last couple weeks before he was called up. The main thing with him was not only his bat, but being a catcher and being a guy to handle a pitching staff. I think that was the most impressive thing.

It just so happens he’s a pretty good hitter as far as staying through the field, being able to drive the ball the other way, and he’s learning to pull the ball a little better. He has a really good high ceiling. 

[RELATED: Aramis Garcia flashes power, opens eyes in September]

He looks like someone who could at least a backup in the bigs sooner than later. 

And it took him a little bit of time. He’s a little bit older at 25, turning 26. But that happens with players. He stuck with it, and he’s been more aggressive. You see it as a hitting coach and what he does behind the plate. I’m happy for him. 

Going from Sacramento to AT&T Park, do you think there’s a swing or mental adjustment for players? 

Fortunately, the Sacramento field actually plays to the tendency of AT&T. It’s got some shadows to it. It’s deep in center field like AT&T, and when the sun goes down, the ball doesn’t carry. It plays fairly fair. But obviously just like anywhere, you still gotta hit and do your damage on the road, like Colorado. In the PCL, it’s Las Vegas and different places like that.

There is a different mindset [to AT&T Park], but the thing is, if you keep your mindset of going up there and staying with your plan, things will take care of itself. If you put too much pressure on yourself — I was fortunate enough to play there, and you crush some balls, and I’m not fast enough to run around even in Triples Alley. There was only one guy that made that place look small, and that was Barry [Bonds]. 

MLB rumors: How Dodgers' Dave Roberts could replace Giants' Bruce Bochy


MLB rumors: How Dodgers' Dave Roberts could replace Giants' Bruce Bochy

The Giants already made one drastic change to their franchise this offseason in hiring Farhan Zaidi away from the Los Angeles Dodgers as their new president of baseball operations. Another year from now, could they add another prominent figure from their archrival?

According to FanCred's Jon Heyman, the Dodgers and manager Dave Roberts appeared close to a multiyear contract extension a week ago, but they now sit at a standstill, unable to come to an agreement. Roberts is said to be on vacation overseas, per Heyman, and the sides “remain far apart."

Los Angeles picked up Roberts’ $1.1 million option for 2019, meaning he’s under contract for next season, but not beyond. If the sides can't come to an agreement on an extension, Roberts essentially will enter next season as a lame-duck manager.

How do the Giants figure into this, you ask? Well, they just might have a managerial opening in one year’s time.

Bruce Bochy is entering the final year of his contract, and while the Giants have experienced plenty of success under the future Hall of Fame manager, there is plenty of reason to believe this will be Bochy’s last season in orange and black.

If 2019 indeed is Bochy’s final season with the Giants, could Roberts be the front-runner to replace him, provided he and the Dodgers don’t reach an extension? In many ways, it would be a logical pairing.

Zaidi obviously is familiar with Roberts, having served as general manager of the Dodgers since the beginning of the 2015 season. Roberts was hired as manager the following year, and Los Angeles has won the National League West in every season since, ultimately losing in the World Series each of the last two years.

Giants fans should be familiar with Roberts as well, and not just because of the last few years. The Dodgers manager spent the final two seasons of his 10-year playing career in San Francisco, batting .252 and stealing 36 bases in 166 games for the orange and black. He also played three seasons in Los Angeles and two in San Diego.

There’s still plenty of time for Roberts and the Dodgers to come to an agreement on an extension, but if for whatever reason they don’t, he could find another home within NL West a year from now.