Former Giant Hunter Pence finding success in Texas with rebuilt swing

Former Giant Hunter Pence finding success in Texas with rebuilt swing

OAKLAND – Hunter Pence spent seven seasons as a fan favorite in San Francisco, helping the Giants to World Series championships in 2012 and 2014. This week, he's back in the Bay Area as a member of the Texas Rangers.

"It always brings me good joy to be here," Pence said Monday. "I have a house in the city, so I got to sleep in that house and that was cool. It's always fun to be here."

Pence and the Rangers are in Oakland for a three-game series against the A's. The Fort Worth native signed a minor-league contract with his hometown team this offseason and made the big-league roster out of spring training. After a disappointing 2018 season with the Giants where Pence slashed just .226/.258/.332, the 36-year-old decided to completely revamp his swing. So far, it's paying off. In 11 games, Pence is slashing .281/.314/.469 with two home runs and six RBI.

"I feel somewhat like a rookie every day because, with a complete swing change, I'm learning and getting a little bit better each and every day," he said. "I'm trying to tweak and make it more consistent. But it's a lot of fun because it's new, so everything is fresh. I'm just really enjoying that process."

Pence actually played winter ball in the Dominican Republic for the first time this offseason to work on the swing changes. He admits it hasn't been an easy process, but he remains fully committed.

"I had to make a change," he said. "I had to get better and I had to trust the process. I made the decision. If you're going to play in this league, you have to contribute and you have to be able to help. I wouldn't want to be here unless I was able to contribute. I truly felt that this was the best opportunity to do that, to continue to do what I love."

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To Pence, the decision to rebuild his swing represented what might be his last chance to contribute at the major league level.

"I just completely bought in," Pence said. "If it wasn't meant to be, then I gave it everything I had, and whatever. But right now, it brings me a lot of joy, a lot of passion to come and play the game that I love. It's really exciting with something new. It's a fun new way to approach baseball and it feels like it helps you a lot. It works, so I feel good about it."

Pence looks back fondly on his time in the Bay Area but he's equally excited for this current opportunity to play for his hometown team.

"It's a lot of fun," he said. "It's a lot of in both places. I'm very fortunate everywhere I've gotten to play, I've loved every city. I think every city has different uniqueness and different things to enjoy and appreciate. Both have been great opportunities. ... (San Francisco) feels like a second home for me, for sure."

Pence and the Rangers are off to a surprising 12-8 start this season. While he will always cherish the great memories he created in San Francisco, he is completely focused on the present.

"I'm super happy with all that and in love with all that," Pence said of his achievements with the Giants. "But right now, I'm fully into playing with the Rangers and giving it everything I've got. We have a really exciting young team. I'm embracing this moment right now. I may reflect when I'm done, but right now I'm in the fire."

Will Smith breaks Giants record, could be key to MLB trade deadline

Will Smith breaks Giants record, could be key to MLB trade deadline

It might have felt like Mac Williamson stole the strikeout spotlight with his Platinum Sombrero Thursday in the Giants' 5-4 loss to the Braves in 13 innings, but really, Will Smith was the King of Ks in a far better way.

Smith set a Giants record with his strikeout of Braves utility man Charlie Culberson in the ninth inning. 

The record came to an end with two straight groundouts to complete the top of the ninth. 

Smith has been one of the Giants' best trade acquisitions in recent years. The Giants received the left-handed reliever from the Brewers in August 2016 for former top prospects Phil Bickford and Andrew Susac. Since arriving in San Francisco, Smith has a 2.67 ERA in exactly 100 appearances out of the bullpen. 

The other side of the trade has seen Bickford, a right-handed pitcher the Giants selected with the No. 18 pick in 2015 MLB Draft, fall off the map. Since the trade, Bickford has been suspended for multiple failed drug tests, converted to a reliever, and mysteriously hasn't pitched once this season.

Susac was designated for assignment by the Brewers and traded from the Orioles to the Royals. The catcher is currently hitting .243 in Triple-A. 

But now, Smith has pitched his way into one of the Giants' most valuable trade assets before the July 31 trade deadline. San Francisco (21-28) is in the cellar of the NL West and are sure to be sellers this summer. While Madison Bumgarner rumors create the most headlines, Smith could be just as valuable to a contender. 

[RELATED: What Giants can learn from Braves' young, rebuilt roster]

Smith becomes a free agent after this offseason. He is 1-0 with a 2.75 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings. Despite the Giants' record, Smith's 12 saves are tied for the fifth-most in baseball. 

Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi should be selling Smith with a high price tag right now. The Giants just saw firsthand how to pull off a great rebuild like the Braves. Adding high-upside prospects via trades will be a big step in the right direction.

What Giants can learn from Braves' rebuild of young, exciting talent

What Giants can learn from Braves' rebuild of young, exciting talent

SAN FRANCISCO -- You don't generally hear players talk too much about other teams, but as they lost three of four to the Braves this week, the Giants threw plenty of admiration Atlanta's way. 

Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija noted how deep their lineup is. Mac Williamson joked about getting hitting tips from rookie Austin Riley. Bruce Bochy, before the finale, complimented Atlanta's lineup and pipeline of prospects, which isn't anywhere near done getting stars to the big leagues. 

"They're good," Bochy said. "They're a team that's going to be up there for years battling for the postseason."

That's where the Giants were for most of this decade. That's where they hope to be sooner than later. So as the Braves leave town, let's take a look at this emerging power, and see how Farhan Zaidi and Co. might be able to follow some of Atlanta's path back to contention. 

Here's how the Braves were built:

First-round picks: Austin Riley, Mike Soroka

These two, taken in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft, might have been the most impressive players on the field this week. Riley hit three homers in four games and had the game-winning hit in extra innings Thursday. Soroka took a perfect game into the sixth on Monday. 

Riley, a 22-year-old who plays third base and left field, may be the player the Giants can most closely duplicate over the next year. They already have a big right-handed masher in their farm system, although Joey Bart, also 22, is a catcher. A lot of Bart's power is to the opposite field, but Riley feasted on the left-center gap at Oracle Park, and the Giants are hopeful Bart can eventually give them that kind of threat. 

Heliot Ramos is only 19 and has shown power in A-ball, and the 2017 first-rounder could make it up at a younger age than Riley, who wasn't a top 50 prospect until he had been in the minors for four years. 

The Giants don't have anything close to Soroka, a 21-year-old who already looks like a Cy Young contender, or fellow first-rounders Kyle Wright and Ian Anderson, who are in Baseball America's top 40. After years of developing their own Sorokas, their pitching well has gone dry, but they do have the 10th pick this year and will have another high selection next June. 

Trades: Max Fried, Dansby Swanson, Kevin Gausman, Touki Toussaint, Luke Jackson, Sean Newcomb 

This is where the Giants can really make some moves this summer. A lot of the young depth came over as the Braves tore it down, as the Giants likely will do this July. Swanson joined the organization in the Shelby Miller trade and Toussaint was thrown in so the Diamondbacks could dump Bronson Arroyo's salary in another deal. 

Fried, a lefty who is 7-2 with a 2.88 ERA, was part of the Justin Upton trade. Newcomb, a lefty who had 30 strong starts last year but now is in the bullpen, was the prize in the Andrelton Simmons deal. 

Jackson, the current closer, is the type of hard-throwing flyer the Giants should stockpile as they open up bullpen spots with trades. They already have hit on a similar type with Trevor Gott. 

With Madison Bumgarner, Will Smith, Tony Watson and others, the Giants have enough to be serious players in July. It goes without saying that they need to strike gold with the young talent they might get back. 

International market: Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Julio Teheran

These two hurt, because even the previous front office should have been all over players like this. 

Acuña Jr. is from Venezuela, a country that has supplied large chunks of the Giants' roster over the past decade. Albies is from Curacao and has gotten to know Giants bench coach and Curacao native Hensley Meulens.

Yes, the Braves got in trouble for their international dealings, but these two are stars and their current top prospect, outfielder Christian Pache, was also an international signee. 

The Giants seriously, seriously dropped the ball on the international market in recent years -- even trading their biggest acquisition, Lucius Fox --  and only just now are starting to make amends.

Marco Luciano, signed out of the Dominican Republic, is one of their top prospects. The organization has a new facility in the Dominican and Zaidi has talked of being aggressive internationally, but he came to an organization that was far behind others. 

Homegrown veteran: Freddie Freeman 

The first baseman has been around forever, but he's still just 29 and is now enjoying the other side of a rebuild. Who will play that part in San Francisco?

When you adjust for the ballpark, Brandon Belt (124 career OPS+) hasn't been far from Freeman (138) at the plate, but Belt is two years older and has been the subject of trade rumors for years. 

The best bet here is Buster Posey. He likely will move off catcher in the next year or two with Bart's emergence, but he's a potential Giant For Life, and a move to first may allow him to find some of his old production and still be a valued part of the lineup when the next generation settles in. 

Free agents: Josh Donaldson, Nick Markakis 

Donaldson signed a one-year, $23 million deal in the offseason and Markakis returned for one year and $6 million. 

They are veterans who can surround all the youth and this is one department where the Giants already are ready for the other side of a rebuild. They print money, even with the attendance drop, and if the Giants can hit on enough draft picks and trades in the next couple of years, they'll have no problem supplementing a young roster with guys like Donaldson and Markakis.

[RELATED: Zaidi's thoughts on WAR, what makes Posey so valuable]

Hell, they had $300 million lying around for Bryce Harper in February. 

The free agent contracts are the easy part. It's hard to build the rest as successfully as the Braves have, but that's what's ahead of the Giants.