Down on the Farm: Giants prospect Steven Duggar shows off full skill set


Down on the Farm: Giants prospect Steven Duggar shows off full skill set

The wait continues for the human highlight reel of Scottsdale to go from spring training star to everyday center fielder in San Francisco. As Steven Duggar suits up in Triple-A, he showed off his full skill set from defense to offense in the River Cats’ 10-6 loss Thursday night at Raley Field to the Oklahoma City Dodgers. 

What catches the googly eyes of coaches, teammates and fans first and foremost with Duggar is his defense. At 6-foot-2, Duggar glides in center field, letting his speed take over. At the crack of the bat, Duggar is hunting down his red-seamed prey. 

Andrew Toles found this out the hard way in the top of the fifth inning. Toles smoked a fastball and lined it to center field with tailing spin to Duggar's backhand side. The gazelle found his dinner. 

With his glove work on display, it was time for Duggar to dig into his tool belt one inning later. This time it was his arm he was showing off. A soft line drive one-hopped him with two outs and a Dodgers runner rounded third base before Duggar took a quick hop, cocked his right arm back and threw a perfect one-hop strike up the third base line for the final out of the inning. 

Defense has always come natural for Duggar. His bat has been behind, but not in a detrimental way. Not by a long shot. Thursday night in Sacramento, his bat was on par with his glove. The offense actually arrived before the defense against the Dodgers. 

In the bottom of the second inning, one inning after lining out to center field, Duggar scored two on a double this time over the head of center fielder Alex Verdugo. And two innings later, Duggar did the same thing, except this time his double to center field scored one run instead of two. Duggar finished the game 2-for-4 with two doubles, three RBI, one walk, and one strikeout. 

Over the last 10 games, Duggar has been on fire for the River Cats. In that span, he is hitting .390 (16-for-41). Through 54 games, Duggar is now batting .277 with a .356 on-base percentage and .423 slugging percentage. Duggar’s two doubles Thursday night brought his season total to 17. He also has three home runs and nine stolen bases. 

If Duggar’s Triple-A numbers were those of an everyday player on the Giants, he would lead the team in stolen bases and triples (3), rank second in doubles — in five less games than Andrew McCutchen — and fourth in on-base percentage.

When the Giants signed Austin Jackson to a two-year deal in the offseason, the thought was that the veteran would serve as a short stopgap before Duggar was ready. But Duggar has dealt with his ups and downs at the plate and the real speed bump in his road to San Francisco has been the emergence of Gorkys Hernandez. 

The wait is certainly winding down and it will come sooner than later for Duggar. And when it’s over, he showed Thursday night in Sacramento that he can put on quite the show.

Giants rally undone by Cardinals' explosive eighth inning in loss

Giants rally undone by Cardinals' explosive eighth inning in loss


SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants have played so many big games at Busch Stadium over the past decade, but on their first night in St. Louis this season, they weren’t able to handle the role of spoiler. 

After overcoming a two-run deficit with a rally in the seventh, the bullpen gave up two in the eighth and the Giants lost 5-3 to the Cardinals. Mark Melancon put two on and pinch-hitter Matt Adams poked a two-run double off Tony Watson. 

Here’s what else you need to know…

—- Madison Bumgarner threw 32 pitches in the sixth and that ended his night. In his first start at Busch Stadium since the 2014 postseason, Bumgarner was charged with three runs on eight hits. With one start he left, he has a 3.20 ERA, so he’ll finish above 3.00 for a second straight year after four seasons under. 

—- The Giants fell flat on two early chances to blow the game wide open. With runners on the corners and no outs in the second, Aramis Garcia struck out, Austin Slater lined out, and Bumgarner went down looking. The bases were loaded in the third and the Giants scored a run on a walk, but Garcia struck out swinging to end the threat. 

—- Jordan Hicks was sitting at 102 mph, but the Giants found a way to get two runs across in the seventh and tie the game. After a walk of Austin Slater, Alen Hanson pulled a seeing-eye single to right on a 102 mph pitch. Gregor Blanco got the same heat and hit a shallow bloop that Marcell Ozuna butchered into an RBI single. Hanson reached third on a wild pitch and tied the game when Evan Longoria grounded out to first. 

—- Aramis Garcia has had a promising month, but his first night at Busch Stadium was rough. The rookie struck out four times. 

Giants outfielders turn to new trick in trying to improve defensively

Giants outfielders turn to new trick in trying to improve defensively

SAN FRANCISCO -- In the bottom of the eighth inning Tuesday night, Giants center fielder Gregor Blanco watched Padres first baseman 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 Padres catcher 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.

Giants rookie left fielder Chris Shaw reached into his back pocket and pulled 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 toward 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 already was 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 eventually might 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 he 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.