The Giants, who entered December with just four outfielders on their roster, should more than double that group by the time pitchers and catchers report in early February, and the incumbents won’t necessarily have a leg up.
Team officials don’t seem all that high on the current group, and when Zaidi was asked about the trio of Austin Slater, Chris Shaw and Mac Williamson, he noted how hard it can be to transition to the big leagues.
“One of the toughest things in professional baseball is for a hitter to make the jump from Triple-A to the big leagues, and then when you have to do it in AT&T Park, it doesn’t necessarily detract from the level of difficulty,” he said. “Between those three guys, obviously the major league production wasn’t there, but they’re all highly-regarded prospects and all have strong track records.
“Whether they’re kind of Opening Day guys or wind up being depth and get opportunities later in the season, there’s still confidence that they can be contributors at the major league level.”
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Zaidi has said the Giants would be in a great position if they can add enough depth that Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez start the season in Triple-A or the bullpen, and he surely feels the same about an outfield that was a mess even with Andrew McCutchen last season.
That leads to some urgency for one member of the current group; Williamson is out of options, and although he came the closest to breaking through with a big start to the 2018 season, his year was wrecked by a concussion. Williamson was cleared in September and the Giants expect him to be given a chance to win a job when they report to Scottsdale.
Slater is also strongly in that mix, although he is not a particularly good fit for Zaidi, who helped build a Dodgers lineup powered by homers. Slater hit just one in 2019, and the staff recently relayed the message to him that he’ll need to make swing changes and find a way to tap into more of his natural power.
Shaw has that natural pop, too, but he’ll need a huge spring to make an impression, especially with Zaidi so focused on adding versatile pieces.
The fourth member of the group, Steven Duggar, is in by far the strongest position. Zaidi has long had his eye on the center fielder.
“He’s a guy that I’ve — even before coming into the organization — I really liked as a prospect,” Zaidi said. “I thought he was a tremendous draft by the Giants. He was really productive coming up through the minor leagues, and unfortunately with the injury, I don’t think fans got a chance to see everything he was capable of as he was getting more comfortable and confident at the big league level.”
Duggar is said to be doing well after season-ending shoulder surgery, and team officials continue to light up when discussing his future. Long-term, the Giants view him as an everyday center fielder. Short-term, Zaidi hopes to ease Duggar in a bit and find him a platoon partner, although Duggar has shown an ability to hit lefties throughout his professional career.
“There might be some spots where he sits against tough lefties,” Zaidi said. “I just think that’s a good way to try to keep your entire roster and your bench involved. I could see that happening, but it would be more about not overly taxing one player and trying to put players in the best position to succeed, rather than saying he’s a platoon player or an everyday player.”