Giants

Down on the Farm: Giants prospect Jones adds outfield to his arsenal

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USATSI

Down on the Farm: Giants prospect Jones adds outfield to his arsenal

Ryder Jones is an infielder by trade. The Giants second-round pick from the 2013 MLB Draft has played 308 games at third base, 34 at first base and 34 at shortstop throughout his minor league career. This season, Jones is adding to his arsenal with time in left field at Triple-A with the Sacramento River Cats. 

“I’ve never completely not been in the outfield, I just hadn’t done it in a game,” Jones said to NBCSportsBayArea.com over the phone after the River Cats beat the Reno Aces 4-3 in 11 innings. “The first couple of games were a little iffy just getting reads, especially off left-handed hitters with the slice and all that stuff. A lot of it is just trying to hear the sound off the bat and how well they hit it and you know, first step back and kind of stuff like that. 

“Six games in, I’m feeling a little bit more comfortable and a little bit better out there.” 

Jones, 22, has been slotted in the outfield during games for the first time this season, but the plan certainly isn’t brand new. Though he did some outfield drills with the Richmond Flying Squirrels last season in Double-A, the beginning of his transition to the outfield really started in the Arizona Fall League. Even then with the roster construction, Jones didn’t see game action in the outfield. 

“I’d say twice a week I was doing outfield stuff,” Jones said. “It didn’t really work out for me to get into a game in the outfield because (Tim) Tebow was a late add-on and he played some left field. We had a lot of outfielders, so it wasn’t a good spot to get some reps out there.” 

And then, Jones began hearing from the front office about how he may be adding a new position to his repertoire in 2017. Giants GM Bobby Evans made it clear to Jones that the outfield would soon become a reality, along with playing first and third base, but the Giants didn’t want to throw him into the fire during spring training. He continued to do outfield drills and take fly balls during batting practice to improve his skills. On the last day of April as the River Cats played against the Tacoma Rainiers on the road, Sacramento’s manager Dave Brundage sent a message to Jones before the team’s mid-day game. 

“Brundage came up to me in Tacoma in a serious tone and said, ‘We really need to do some drills today in left because I think they’re (the Giants) gonna want you to play some left here maybe tomorrow or the next day,’” Jones said. “The next day I showed up and I was in left field, so I’m playing it by ear now.”

While it’s the Giants’ call, Jones has always brought up the possibility of playing the outfield to the help the team. With a strong arm suitable for the corner outfield positions, he knows adding defensive versatility can help both himself and the organization. That also doesn’t mean he concerns himself with who is ahead of him at the big league level at first and third base. 

“I don’t think of it too much,” Jones says. “When I play first, I don’t think, ‘Well they have (Brandon) Belt for the next four years, so what am I doing.’ It’s not so much that as it is you control what you can control. 

“I’ve always been told, ‘If you can hit and you play the game right, they can find a spot for you somewhere on the field.’ It’s not too much of a concern for me.” 

Before games, his routine has certainly changed to get him more prepared for the outfield. Jones is working extensively with Brundage lately in the outfield on the little things and throws to bases. His best friend in terms of getting better is live batting practice as that best emulates game swings. On a typical game day, Jones will take a a round of live batting practice fielding balls at third or first base and then make sure to get at least one round tracking down fly balls in left field, no matter where he is playing on that given day. 

The biggest move with adding left field to his name hasn’t been physical, but mental. 

“I would just say trying to stay locked in every pitch. It’s a little bit different,” Jones said on the hardest part of the outfield for him. “You kind of just have to treat it like you’re almost at third base. Obviously, you’re not gonna get your legs going like you’re at third base, but you have to continually expect the ball to be hit to you.” 

At the plate, Jones is continuing to hit the ball himself. In 21 games for the River Cats this season, he is batting .305 with 25 hits and two home runs. The key for him is focusing on quality at-bats over statistics and the rest will take care of itself. 

“I think a lot of guys get — including me — caught up in home runs and all the power and all that stuff, but I think it shows with the Giants the opportunities come to the guys they can call up and they know you’re gonna give them four good at-bats,” Jones said. 

At each level, Jones’ bat has been his calling card. Now to make it to San Francisco, he must continue to stay locked in at the plate and in the field as he becomes an even more valuable player for the organization.

Real problem for Giants' lineup was an inability to get on base

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USATSI

Real problem for Giants' lineup was an inability to get on base

SAN FRANCISCO — When the Giants changed their hitting coach last offseason, a lot of attention was paid to the effort to increase launch angles, hit more homers, and join the modern game. But perhaps the Giants should have put a greater emphasis on a stat that was part of the previous analytics push. 

Giants hitters finished with an on-base percentage of .300 in 2018, ranking 28th in the majors, ahead of just the Orioles and Padres. It was the organization’s lowest combined OBP in 33 years and the eighth-lowest in franchise history.

As team officials watch this postseason, they’ll see OBP’s importance on a nightly basis. The Red Sox, who have a lead in the ALCS, led the majors at .339. The Dodgers (.333) finished fifth and the Astros (.329) ranked seventh. The 10 postseason teams all finished in the top 13 in the majors in on-base percentage, and it’s easy to see the correlation. 

On-base percentage is a simple concept: It's about not making outs. The Giants don’t hit for power, and they didn’t really do the little things all that well in 2018, but they also made far too many outs up and down the lineup to sustain any kind of legitimate offense. 

For the lineup, the dip was nearly universal. Buster Posey led the team with a .359 on-base percentage, but that was his lowest mark in eight years, and down 41 points from 2017. Andrew McCutchen was the only other Giant above .350, and at .357, he posted the second-lowest OBP of his career. 

Brandon Belt (.342) has one of the best eyes in the game, but in an injury-filled season, he was down 13 points from 2017 and more than 50 points from 2016. Joe Panik (.307) was down 40 points from a year before. 

Among the everyday starters, Evan Longoria did the most damage to the team’s effort to get on base. Longoria was at .341 in 10 years with the Rays, but drew just 22 walks in his first season in San Francisco, posting a .281 on-base percentage. There were 64 NL hitters who qualified for the batting title and Longoria was last in OBP, nine points worse than No. 63, Nick Ahmed. 

Most of the rest of the players who saw regularly time had just as much trouble reaching base. Pablo Sandoval had a .310 on-base percentage; Austin Jackson was at .309 before he was traded; Nick Hundley posted a .298; Mac Williamson was at .295 before he got hurt; Gorkys Hernandez was a .285 in 451 plate appearances, and just .220 during a sneaky-rough second half; Alen Hanson drew just one walk after the All-Star break and finished at .274; Kelby Tomlinson was at .265, just ahead of Gregor Blanco’s .262; Hunter Pence had a .258 on-base percentage, the lowest of his career by 57 points. Aside from Austin Slater (.333), none of the rookies had an OPB above .310. 

There were 20 National League hitters who had at least 200 plate appearances and an on-base percentage of .285 or lower, and an astounding five of them played for the Giants. 

Even the pitchers were a problem, combining to reach base at a .105 clip, which ranked 14th out of 15 National League clubs. 

You knew the Giants needed more power, but it’s clear there’s a greater issue. The first step to scoring is usually to simply get on base, and in 2019, the Giants need to do so at a much, much higher rate. 

Recapping Giants prospects from Week 1 of the Arizona Fall League

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McCovey Chronicles

Recapping Giants prospects from Week 1 of the Arizona Fall League

There’s small sample size, and then there’s the first week of the Arizona Fall League. 

In a league where you’re sharing time with everyone getting at-bats and innings pitched, it’s easy to fall in an early hole at the plate or see your ERA balloon right away. 

That’s been the case with some Giants prospects after one week of action in the AFL. 

At the plate, three Giants prospects hit a combined .138 (4-for-29) in the first week. On the mound, the Giants’ four pitching prospects weren’t much, combing for a 5.56 ERA in 8.1 innings pitched, though one of those arms is yet to allow a run. 

Here’s a quick look at how each prospect performed one week into the AFL. 

Heath Quinn, OF 

Talk about small sample size. Quinn has only played in two of Scottsdale’s six games so far, and those two certainly have not gone how he hoped. After a breakout year this season, the Quinn is 1-for-10 with six strikeouts. He also had two RBI and two runs scored. 

The 23-year-old outfielder has a swing-and-miss hole in his powerful stroke, but it’s way too early to look into two games. 

C.J. Hinojosa, INF

Hinojosa has also played in only two games after starting at second base in the Scorpions’ opener. After going 2-for-5 to start off the AFL, he went 0-for-6 two days later. 

The Tale of Two Games saw Hinojosa go from batting .400 to .186. Here’s my advice — just don’t go 0-for-6 again. *Disclaimer: future advice won’t be free. 

Matt Winn, C

Winn has caught half of Scottsdale’s six games, and like Hinojosa, has gone downhill after the opener. In the first game, he went 1-for-2, but has gone 0-for-6 with five strikeouts since. 

It seriously can only get better. 

Melvin Adon, RHP

Adon’s 3.86 ERA doesn’t tell the full story. In his first appearance out of the bullpen, Adon allowed two runs — one earned — on a two-run home run in one inning. He also struck out two with no walks. His next time out, Adon was dominant. 

Closing out the game against the Salt River Rafters on Oct. 12, Adon faced the final five batters of the game, needing four outs. Those five batters had one hit off him and struck out four times. The 24-year-old now has six strikeouts and no walks in 2.1 innings pitched. 

Garrett Williams, LHP 

Williams has a 4.50 ERA in his two innings pitched so far. He’s allowed one earned run off two hits, which sounds like a standard start. There’s a bigger issue though. 

Walks have followed Williams to Arizona. The lefty has already walked three batters to one strikeout, and his biggest key in AFL will be command. 

Chase Johnson, RHP

Johnson rebounded nicely Tuesday after a rough start. 

In his first outing of the bullpen, Johnson allowed three earned runs on three hits, including a two-run shot, in one inning. But his next time out, Johnson tossed a scoreless inning while giving up one hit and one walk. 

Sam Wolff, RHP

Of course our lowest ranked Giants prospect in the AFL is off to the best start. Wolff has come out of the bullpen twice and has totaled two scoreless innings without giving up a hit. He is also yet to walk a batter and has three strikeouts.