Down on the Farm: Giants power-hitting prospect homers on Opening Day

Down on the Farm: Giants power-hitting prospect homers on Opening Day

Programming note: Giants-Padres coverage starts today at 2:30pm with Giants Pregame Live on NBC Sports Bay Area, and streaming live right here.

While the San Francisco Giants have already gone through Opening Day festivities -- dropping a four-game road series to the D’backs -- Thursday night was the return of Minor League Baseball.

Down in Double-A for the Richmond Flying Squirrels, Chris Shaw didn’t waste any time to show off his power, cranking out the first pitch he saw to give Richmond an early 3-0 lead. The Flying Squirrels went on to beat the Hartford Yard Goats, 11-1, highlighted by Shaw’s deep homer over the right-center field wall. 

Shaw finished the game going 1-for-4 and also struck out twice. 

This season should be a big one developmentally for the power-hitting first baseman. The Giants’ first-round pick in 2015 out of Boston College mashed at Advanced Single-A for the San Jose Giants last year. In 72 games, Shaw posted a .285 batting average, .357 on-base percentage and .544 slugging percentage with 16 home runs. Shaw’s big numbers at the plate earned him a promotion to Double-A for the final 60 games of the season. 

And then, the first baseman hit a wall. Shaw’s numbers went down to .246/.309/.414 with five home runs. He also struck out 125 times between the two levels. 

Though he struggled after his call-up, Shaw made some big improvements over time with the Flying Squirrels. Over 26 games in July, Shaw slashed .208/.268/.327 with only one home run. Then in 28 games in August, he hit .279/.322/.505 with four home runs. 

"He has the potential to be a 30-homer guy,” Giants director of player development Shane Turner told before the season. “His tale of two cities to me … could have left him in A ball, probably would have hit 30 home runs. Where would we have been at in his development? The push to Double-A was to find out where he was and how fast he was going to move.” 

Shaw is back in Double-A to start the season. The power will always be there. How he continues to make adjustments will determine how quickly he goes through the farm system.

Around The Horn

— The Triple-A Sacramento River Cats were rained out on Opening Day Thursday night. Christian Arroyo was set to bat second and play shortstop. Jae-Gyun Hwang would have been at third base and batting third. 

— Here’s the lineup card the River Cats were going with before being rained out:

 Watch for where Arroyo and Hwang play night in and night out. In a scrimmage with the San Jose Giants, Hwang played first base. If the former Korean star hits in Sacramento, his bat and versatility on the field can find its way to San Francisco. 

— The San Jose Giants opened up their season with a 16-inning loss to the Inland Empire 66ers. Giants 2016 first-round pick Bryan Reynolds went 3-for-5 with a run scored and a walk in the loss. The center fielder out of Vanderbilt hit .313/.363/.484 with six home runs between Short and Full Season Single-A last season. 

Giants outfielders turn to new trick to try and improve defensively


Giants outfielders turn to new trick to try and improve defensively

SAN FRANCISCO -- In the bottom of the eighth inning Tuesday night, Gregor Blanco watched Eric Hosmer single to left field and then reached for his back pocket. Blanco pulled out a small card and studied it as he walked back toward dead center. The card had told him that Hosmer likes to go the other way, but Austin Hedges, the next batter, had different tendencies, so Blanco kept walking until he was about 30 feet to the right-field side of second base. 

Hedges grounded out to second, right in line with where Blanco was standing, and the dance started again, this time in left field. Chris Shaw reached into his back pocket and took out a similar card. He took a quick peak, hiding the card alongside his glove, and then quickly tucked it back into his pocket before moving over a few steps. 

“I try to be discreet,” Shaw said the next day, smiling. 

The Giants have been discreet about this particular adjustment for months, but if you watch the outfielders closely, you’ll see them studying between innings or hitters. Before each game, bench coach Hensley Meulens hands out the cards, which are small enough to fit in a player’s back pocket but display a wealth of information. Each opposing hitter is listed with spray charts of where he most often hits the ball against left-handed and right-handed pitchers. The card tells an outfielder whether he needs to shade over towards the line, or play deep, or shallow, and much more. Meulens has a much more detailed master copy in his own pocket and will make adjustments during at-bats depending on the swings he’s seeing, or info relayed from pitching coach Curt Young or manager Bruce Bochy.

“Everything is evolving,” Meulens said. “It’s much easier for me to have them have that info out there in their pocket. We needed to be in a better position to catch more balls in the air, and sometimes it’s a lot easier for them to take a peak at the card instead of me having to move three players from the dugout.”

In past seasons, Giants outfielders were presented with that info before a series or game and would have to memorize it. Meulens would make adjustments with hand signals from the dugout, but that’s easier said than done. With 40,000 fans buzzing and action on the bases, it can be hard to get an outfielder’s attention from the top step and relay that he needs to move a few paces one way or the other. 

Enter the card system, which was already being used by several other teams. The card itself is just a slip of paper with spray charts that look similar to the one shown on broadcasts, except instead of the field being broken up into five segments, it’s nine or more. There are plenty of details, but players have found the info useful.

“I’ve liked it a lot,” Austin Slater said. “There’s a lot of info that last year you would take five or 10 minutes before a game to memorize. This is way more efficient. Purists might not like it, but this is the way the game is moving.”

There already have been objections. Umpire Joe West confiscated a similar card from Phillies reliever Austin Davis earlier this month and MLB may eventually crack down on the type of info that can be taken onto the field. For now, it’s helping the Giants try to improve an outfield defense that was awful last season. In September, it has proven especially useful.

Slater said he consulted the card for just about every batter against the Braves, who are an unfamiliar out-of-division opponent, and he expects to do the same against the Cardinals. Gorkys Hernandez doesn’t use the card against NL West opponents because he knows their tendencies, but said he has used it to adjust against September call-ups. Shaw tries to check often and memorize the next four batters’ tendencies. 

The card is just the latest step for a staff that has tried to keep up with an evolving game. The Giant have had a member of the front office traveling with them all season to provide additional data, and members of the staff will get together next week to break down every aspect of their outfield defense and see where there have been improvements. It’s likely the card system will stick, which means players will have to get used to an adjustment to their pre-game routine.

“I forget to take it a lot of times,” Hernandez admitted, laughing. “When they give it to me I put it in my locker. Sometimes I’ll see the batter come up and I don’t have it, so I try to look at his swing and read him that way, and then after the inning I’ll run down and pick it up.”

There’s another adjustment, too. Slater said the in-game homework has led to some increased heckling. 

“We were on the road the other day and some guy yelled ‘Why do you keep reaching for your pocket? Stop cheating!’” he said. 

The Giants view it more as gaining a tiny and legal edge. If they pick up an extra out here and there, it's all worth it. 

Giants CEO Larry Baer updates contract talks with Madison Bumgarner


Giants CEO Larry Baer updates contract talks with Madison Bumgarner

The Giants have promised change this upcoming offseason. 

Trades, free-agent signings and everything in between could be on the way after two straight disappointing seasons. The biggest change, though, would be the loss of lefty team legend Madison Bumgarner. 

Make no mistake, however, the Giants and Bumgarner, whose contract ends after the 2019 season, are already having open discussions. 

"We'll talk during the offseason. I had a nice conversation with him, and I'm not going to be the one that's making the deal or making the baseball evaluation," Giants CEO Larry Baer said Thursday night on KNBR. "But we had a good chat last week in the clubhouse."

Bumgarner has spent his entire MLB career with the Giants after making his debut at 19 years old in 2009. He also recently told the San Francisco Chronicle he hopes to spend his entire career in San Francisco. Baer is on the same page as Bumgarner, but he's also trying to be realistic with how the Giants are trending. 

"Somebody of his impact in this organziation deserves every consideration," Baer said. "Having said that, we have to see how this team comes together and where we are. This decision is not just a 2019 decision, but a decision that goes way beyond 2019 potentially."

Despite entering the last season of his seven-year contract, Bumgarner, who turns 30 next August, would certainly bring back the greatest return in a trade. The veteran lefty is still a premium arm, plus the Giants badly need to upgrade their farm system. 

"Maybe we sign him before Opening Day next season, maybe we don't. If we don't, the hope is a trade is the last thing on your mind becasuse you're competing for a title," Baer said. 

Either the Giants will rock the boat and the whole Bay Area by shipping off Bumgarner, or Baer sees some odd-year magic in the future.