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 rally undone by Cardinals' explosive eighth inning in loss

Giants rally undone by Cardinals' explosive eighth inning in loss

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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.