Down on the Farm: Mac Williamson off to scorching start in Sacramento


Down on the Farm: Mac Williamson off to scorching start in Sacramento

Spring training is a month of baseball where players put together numbers and 97 percent of them get crumpled into a paper ball before Bruce Bochy yells “World B. Free!” and tosses them into a tiny trash can. The three percent that stay on his decision are bigger than his hat. 

When a player makes a fundamental change to his swing and succeeds mightily, the numbers make it to the three percent. Mac Williamson had almost no chance of making the Giants’ Opening Day roster, but it’s time to start looking at his staggering stats. 

“I’m not getting any younger,” Williamson said to Insider Alex Pavlovic at the end of February. “At some point you’ve got to have some success and figure it all out.”

Williamson said that making massive changes to his swing would take time. His goal was to be the player he wants to be in a month two since those quotes. It has now been six weeks and Williamson is playing like a created player in MLB The Show in his fourth stint with the  Sacramento River Cats. 

Debuting his new approach in spring training he learned from Doug Latta — the same instructor who transformed Justin Turner from a player cut by the Mets to a star for the Dodgers — Williamson adapted a high leg kick and low hand placement. The results couldn’t have been better. He hit .318 with four home runs and a 1.061 OPS in the desert. 

Power has always been there for the 27-year-old Williamson, but his swing path saw him pounding balls into the ground. Now with a re-made swing and launch angle that has swept the souls of baseball, Williamson is unleashing what the Giants have known has always been inside of him. 

Williamson’s batting average is now 270 points higher than what he produced in spring training. In the River Cats’ first six games of the year, he is hitting .588. On top of that, five of his 10 hits are either doubles or home runs — three doubles, two home runs — and he's only struck out twice. His 1.784 OPS looks like a typo from someone handed their first calculator.

“In the past I’ve been really active with my shoulders and hands late in the swing instead of just going and attacking the ball,” Williamson said in the same interview with Pavlovic. “I’m trying to just really calm down a lot of that non-essential movement.”

So far, so beyond good. Is this sustainable? Well, not a .588 batting average. But, this is a different case with the powerful outfielder as he drastically changed his approach and swing. If this was the same Williamson starting the season like this fans could reasonably argue that he’s just an older player in Triple-A who is a AAAA player. Maybe that’s true, but now we can take a longer pause when saying maybe not.

At the early stages of the season, the Giants simply don’t have a spot for Williamson right now. Not even the team knows when that could change. For now though, all he can do is continue to show off his new swing and stop, drop and roll when the Human Torch crosses home. 

Around The Horn 

-- Steven Duggar is off to a slow start for the River Cats, but has picked it up the last two games. The center fielder had back-to-back 2-for-4 games. Through five games, he is batting .250 with seven strikeouts and two stolen bases. 

-- Ryan Howard just keeps hitting. The shortstop won't find himself at the top of prospect rankings, instead he's at the top of hitting leaders. Howard hit his first Double-A home run Tuesday and is now hitting .360 for Richmond. 

-- Heliot Ramos is still getting his feet wet in Class A Augusta. The Giants' No. 1 prospect is hitting just .174 in the first five games with eight strikeouts and no walks. Reminder: Ramos is 18 years old.

Potential trade partner will get up-close look at Madison Bumgarner today


Potential trade partner will get up-close look at Madison Bumgarner today

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants are still more than two months from what will be one of the most important trade deadlines in franchise history, but team officials aren't waiting around for July 31 to get closer. 

The prep work started long ago, with the front office identifying potential fits for their most tradable players. The biggest fish is Madison Bumgarner, and as some in the organization started to scout potential destinations, they found themselves laughing over a similarity. 

The Giants have a pretty good idea of the teams, fewer than a dozen, that could realistically make a deal work, and when Bumgarner and his representatives presented their updated no-trade list, they had hit just about every option. The list, first reported by The Athletic, is a slick one.

Forget about location or the DH or any of that. Bumgarner picked eight teams that should be contending and could be in need of a starter: the Braves, Red Sox, Cubs, Astros, Brewers, Yankees, Phillies and Cardinals. 

A few of those teams have scouted him already, but the Braves on Thursday will become just the second, joining the Yankees, to face him this year, and they long have been rumored as a top choice. Atlanta is as close as it gets to Bumgarner's North Carolina home, and the young team certainly could use a seasoned starter to lead a potential postseason rotation.

The Braves have key members of their front office, including GM Alex Anthopoulos -- who worked with Farhan Zaidi in Los Angeles and spent plenty of time with him this week -- in San Francisco, but if they truly are after Bumgarner, they could find themselves in the middle of a staring contest. 

Bumgarner put together a list that would allow him to keep some leverage and control, but the Giants do not seem all that worried. Ultimately, a trade is best for Bumgarner's financial future because it would keep the Giants from hitting him with the qualifying offer that shrunk the markets of Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel and others. 

Some rival officials surveyed in recent weeks on Bumgarner's next deal are split. There are certainly plenty of admirers still out there in front offices, but most say Bumgarner will definitely be hurt if he's attached to a draft pick. 

The Giants do not seem to be anticipating having to pay any sort of assignment bonus to Bumgarner in order for him to accept a trade, although it's possible a new team could do so in order to make a deal come together more quickly and get an extra start or two out of the left-hander. Bumgarner also could ask for a window to negotiate an extension with a new team, although again, his best shot at a huge payday is true free agency.

It's common for veterans to have some sort of no-trade protection -- just about every high-salaried Giant has a clause in his contract -- but it's relatively rare for a player to actually block a trade at the deadline. Adam Jones was a notable exception last year, rejecting a proposed trade from the Orioles to the Phillies. 

"I earned this, and it's my decision," he said at the time. 

Part of this will be Bumgarner's decision, too, and he has said repeatedly that he would like to stay in San Francisco long-term. But he now plays for an organization that has accepted the high likelihood of a Bumgarner trade this summer, and people close to the pitcher say the constant losing has weighed heavily on him. More than anything, Bumgarner wants another shot at October, and ultimately the teams on his no-trade list are the ones who can give him that opportunity. 

The odds are good he'll end up in one of those eight spots. The Braves are one of them, and they'll get their best look at a potential target this afternoon. 

Giants experience downside of the shift in lopsided loss to Braves

Giants experience downside of the shift in lopsided loss to Braves

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants did not take batting practice on Wednesday or run through any pregame drills on the field, but even with a six-hour workout they probably would not have practiced the play that helped put them in a deep hole. 

Jeff Samardzija should have been out of the second with the game still scoreless, but the Giants botched what looked to be an inning-ending double play. Ozzie Albies hit a one-hopper back to the mound and Samardzija spun to throw, but there was a shift on, and third baseman Evan Longoria, playing short, did not cover the bag. Shortstop Brandon Crawford, playing where a second baseman usually would, also did not cover. 

After a 9-2 loss, Samardzija called it a "freak thing," "unfortunate" and something the Giants hadn't really worked on. 

"I turned around and really just saw center field," Samardzija said. "I tried to lead one of them to the bag and obviously at that point it was too late. There are a lot of great things about the shift, but sometimes it does get guys out of position."

The Braves ended up with two on and one out, and Dansby Swanson blasted a flat cutter into the left-field seats for a three-run homer a few batters later. Freddie Freeman made it 6-0 two pitches after that with a solo shot to right-center. Samardzija mixed a costly wild pitch into the rally, too. 

Manager Bruce Bochy said the miscommunication in the shift was something the staff and players would discuss. 

"They're not set up like that very often, but it's all about communication and knowing who has got it," Bochy said. 

[RELATED: Bochy mixes up pregame routine looking for better starts]

In Cincinnati or Denver, perhaps the Giants would have rallied. But this being Oracle Park, the rest of the night was a slow crawl to loss No. 27.

All six runs on Samardzija's line went down as unearned. He said he was happy with the way he battled after the early mistakes. But that second inning was all it took. 

"You've got to be on your game the whole time and can't give them extra chances, and if you do, you've got to shut the door," Samardzija said.