Giants

Giants prospect Jones finds power at perfect time in Arizona Fall League

Giants prospect Jones finds power at perfect time in Arizona Fall League

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With two on and the scored tied at one run apiece in the fourth inning, Giants infield prospect Ryder Jones found the perfect time to unleash his power stroke for the Scottsdale Scorpions Monday in the Arizona Fall League. 

Facing the Peoria Javelinas, Jones smacked his first home run of the AFL, a three-run shot to give the Scorpions a 4-1 lead. Scottsdale went on to win the game, 5-4. 

"I faced the same guy a week ago and he struck me out on sliders," Jones said to MLB.com on his home run and facing Padres prospect Brad Wieck. "I was just trying to see a fastball early. If I didn't get one for a strike, I was sitting on a slider.

"He kind of hides it pretty well. I just sat on a slider, he threw one middle in and I was able to backspin it."

Jones, picked up by the Giants in the second round of the 2013 MLB Draft, improved his slash line to .300/.333/.425 this fall in 11 games played. After starting off slow, Jones believes his mental side of the game has improved as reflected in his stats. 

"I'm just trying to see the ball up. First week, I was chasing a lot. You just have to be patient, see the ball up and try to drive the ball," said Jones. "I've hit the wall a couple of times, so I knew a couple of home runs would come. I wasn't too worried about it, but it's nice to have one instead of zero."

And the home runs are exactly what came for him last season. Jones, 22, improved from six long balls in 2015 at Advanced Single-A for the San Jose Giants to 15 last season for the Richmond Flying Squirrels in Double-A. 

[RELATED: Giants pitching prospect Stratton to start Fall Stars Game]

"I was pretty disappointed to have hit just six home runs in the California League," Jones said. "You come over there and you expect to hit 20 home runs. But I swung at bad pitches. The average was OK, but I didn't drive enough balls."

What changes did Jones make to improve his power? For the Seattle product it's all about his eye at the plate and picking out the right pitches to attack. 

"This year I worked a lot on seeing good pitches, getting my strikeouts down. It's just a product of… I don't know if I've gotten bigger and stronger, maybe a little bit, but it's more of a product of swinging at better pitches and knowing what pitchers are going to do to you," Jones explained after the win. 

Jones drastically improved his game in the second half of last season. After posting a .233/.262/.374 slash line before the All-Star Game, Jones put together a .277/.347/.455 slash in the second half of the season. He also walked 13 times after the All-Star break, the same total as the first half, in 40 less games.

Not only did Jones' home run help his own numbers, he also helped his fellow Giants prospect and Scorpions starting pitcher, Chris Stratton.

Stratton, who was named the starting pitcher for the Fall Stars Game on Monday, earned the win after striking out five in four innings and only allowed one earned run. The 26-year-old right-hander is 2-1 with a 3.94 ERA in the AFL.

Giants Review: After similar second season, will Hundley be back?

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USATSI

Giants Review: After similar second season, will Hundley be back?

SAN FRANCISCO — It was a bit of a surprise when Nick Hundley ended up with more than 300 plate appearances in 2017. That wasn’t the plan coming in, but Brandon Belt got hurt in August and Buster Posey played a lot of first base down the stretch, opening time for his backup. 

A year later, Posey’s injury led to another season of heavy action for Hundley, who basically repeated his first year with the Giants. 

2017: .244 average, .691 OPS, 9 HR, 35 RBI, 303 plate appearances
2018: .241 average, .706 OPS, 10 HR, 31 RBI, 305 plate appearances

Hundley gave the Giants what they expected as their backup catcher, and again, he was a valuable member of the clubhouse, providing leadership and backbone, and doing enough behind the scenes to get plenty of Willie Mac Award votes a season after winning it. Here are the highs and the lows from Year 2:

What Went Right: Hundley matched the power numbers of many of the league’s starting catchers and doubled the home run output of Posey, who dealt with a hip injury. He was particularly lethal against lefties, slugging .508 with an OPS+ of 127. Only Evan Longoria had more homers against lefties (8) than Hundley (7). 

Managers don’t like to burn their backup catcher, but Bruce Bochy often sent Hundley up late in games because he was one of the lineup’s best options. Hundley was 5-for-14 (.357) as a pinch-hitter and had a walk-off single on April 30. 

What Went Wrong: The flip side of the success against lefties was Hundley’s issues with right-handed pitchers. He had a .213/.283/.335 slash line against righties and struck out in 32 percent of his at-bats. 

The bigger problem going forward may be defense. Pitchers like throwing to Hundley, and Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez gave him a lot of credit, but the opposition sure liked running on him, too. Hundley allowed 48 stolen bases in 58 attempts, ranking near the bottom of the NL. 

A lot of Giants fans might put the incident with Yasiel Puig in the "what went right" category, but that wasn’t a good moment for the Giants and it put Rodriguez on the DL with a hamstring injury. 

Contract Status: After making $2 million in 2017, Hundley re-signed with the Giants last December for $2.5 million. He is once again a free agent. 

The Future: A few minutes after the final game of the season, Hundley said he would like to be back for a third year. “If we’re healthy, this team is capable of winning a World Series,” he said. “If I’m able to add to that, I would definitely take the opportunity.”

Hundley is one of the most popular players in the clubhouse and some in the organization think he’ll one day be a strong candidate to manage the Giants, so up until September, it was just about a lock that he would return. Aramis Garcia’s strong debut changed some minds, though, and the Giants believe the rookie is potentially ready to be Posey’s backup for a quarter of the price. Posey’s hip surgery could ultimately lead to another reunion with Hundley.

The Giants hope their franchise catcher is 100 percent by Opening Day, but there are no guarantees, and the safe plan would be to have Hundley ready as the backup, with Garcia set to play every day in Triple-A, or serve as Hundley's backup early in the season. Long term, the Giants have Garcia ready and Joey Bart looking like he might be up as soon as next September, but for 2019, it seems a pretty good bet that Hundley is back on another one-year deal. 

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.