Giants

Giants Review: Austin Slater's future comes down to how healthy he is

slaterap.jpg
AP

Giants Review: Austin Slater's future comes down to how healthy he is

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants drafted Austin Slater in 2014, watched him hit his way through the minors, and had him in their big-league lineup more than 100 times the past two seasons. They still don’t quite know what he is as a major leaguer, though. 

Slater, at his best, has a strong arm in the outfield, an opposite-fields approach that can put him on base a lot, and enough tools to be a solid contributor. But there’s no doubt that he needs a serious launch-angle adjustment, and he had some odd moments defensively in 2018. 

As they summarized the season, Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy didn’t exactly light up when asked about Slater. 

“Slater, we’ve got some work to do there,” Bochy said.

“I think Slater needs to make some swing adjustments,” Sabean added, “But he’s certainly shown that he can be an extra player.”

The Giants have more time to try and figure out how Slater fits. In 2018, he showed positives and negatives … 

What Went Right

Slater had four separate runs in the big leagues, and through his first 36 games, he was batting .308 with a .429 on-base percentage. He showed off some impressive raw physical tools. His only homer of the year went 425 feet, and he threw a runner out at the plate with a 99.6 mph throw. Slater had two of the 28 hardest throws from the outfield in MLB in 2018 and six throws that registered at 95 mph or above; Alen Hanson, with one throw at 95.6, was the only other Giants outfielder to clear that barrier. Slater is also sneaky on the bases; he was successful on all seven stolen base attempts. 

Slater hit .274 with runners in scoring position and .370 with runners in scoring position and two outs. That simple swing can come in handy sometimes. 

What Went Wrong

In the era of Launch Angle, Slater is doing it his own way. His 63.1 groundball rate was the highest in the Majors and his 16.2 percent flyball rate was the lowest. This added up to just one homer, one triple and six doubles. There were 177 NL hitters who got at least 200 plate appearances and Slater ranked 164th in slugging percentage (.307). The lack of pop dragged his OPS down to .640 and was a source of a lot of discussion for the staff. They want to see him catch the ball out front and use some of his natural power, but that hasn’t shown in two seasons. As Sabean said, the Giants want to see swing adjustments. 

That could be hard to do if Slater’s elbow proves to be an issue. He came out of a game the final weekend with elbow pain and an MRI showed a mild sprain. The Giants are hopeful that Slater is ready for spring training, but there are no guarantees with the elbow. Serious injuries there aren't just limited to pitchers. 

Contract Status

Slater still has not accrued much service time. He has two minor-league options remaining. 

The Future

First of all, Slater’s immediate future will come down to how healthy he is. There was some concern about his elbow as the Giants packed up for the season, and if he eventually needs some sort of procedure that obviously would be a big blow.

The good news for Slater is that he certainly has shown enough of a hit tool and enough promise defensively that he should, at the very least, be a strong bench option. He was better than expected at first base, and as a fourth outfielder/backup first baseman/pinch-hitter, he should be on the Opening Day roster. Team officials want to see more — specifically, more power — before putting him in an outfield corner on an everyday basis, but if the Giants are unable to sign veterans, Slater very well could start in left or right on Opening Day. 

Giants' Evan Longoria expresses displeasure with slow MLB free agency

longoriamannyus.jpg
USATSI

Giants' Evan Longoria expresses displeasure with slow MLB free agency

Despite playing 11 years of Major League Baseball, Giants third baseman Evan Longoria has never gone through free agency. He signed a six-year contract with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, and then a 10-year extension with the club in 2012.

What he's witnessing this offseason, it's safe to say he isn't looking forward to the day he has to partake in the process.

Longoria took to Instagram to share his displeasure, writing the following: 

We are less then a month from the start of spring and once again some of our games biggest starts remain unsigned. Such a shame. It’s seems every day now someone is making up a new analytical tool to devalue players, especially free agents. As fans, why should “value” for your team even be a consideration? It’s not your money, it’s money that players have worked their whole lives to get to that level and be deserving of. Bottom line, fans should want the best players and product on the field for their team. And as players we need to stand strong for what we believe we are worth and continue to fight for the rights we have fought for time and time again.

What Longoria is arguing is a lot of common sense that baseball fans need to understand. Let's look at the following point: "As fans, why should “value” for your team even be a consideration? It’s not your money, it’s money that players have worked their whole lives to get to that level and be deserving of. Bottom line, fans should want the best players and product on the field for their team." 

He's not wrong. 

The money either goes to players, making them millionaires, or owners, making them billionaires. Who are we watching on the field? It's quite simple. 

Sure, it might be fun to play armchair GM, but fans should want the best and most entertaining product on the field. We can understand why teams rebuild, but that doesn't mean we have to get to this point. Every team can afford a Bryce Harper or a Manny Machado.

The best game is the most competitive game, and that's what players want. Fans should be nodding their head in agreement. 

What's most interesting from Longoria is the fact that he's calling out the system and calling for players to fight back. The Collective Bargaining Agreement ends at the end of the 2021 season. If anger increases from players, negotiations could get quite awkward. 

Joey Bart named Giants' best defensive prospect by MLB Pipeline

Joey Bart named Giants' best defensive prospect by MLB Pipeline

Giants top prospect Joey Bart is known for his bat. The No. 2 pick in the 2018 MLB Draft hit 13 home runs in his first 51 minor league games, which is only three behind Evan Longoria's team lead on the big-league club. 

Don't forget about his defense though. Bart, the top catching prospect in baseball, has also been named the Giants' top defensive prospect by MLB Pipeline of MLB.com.

He has improved markedly since high school, when scouts wondered if he could stay at catcher, enhancing his agility and receiving and improving the accuracy of his strong arm.

The fact that scouts once questioned Bart's future at the position and now his defense is being praised, as it pertains to the Giants' farm system, says a lot. On the 20/80 scouting scale, MLB Pipeline rates Bart's defense as a 55 and his arm as a 60. 

At Georgia Tech, Bart was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2018. He also called pitches, a task that manager Danny Hall didn't even let two-time Gold Glove winner Matt Wieters do when he was a Yellow Jacket. 

In his final college season, Bart had a .992 fielding percentage and threw out 12 of 21 stolen base attempts. After joining the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (Short-Season Class A), Bart's fielding percentage dropped to .983 after allowing six passed balls and five errors. He did, however, gun down 15 of the 21 runners trying to swipe a bag on him.

Bart's bat will most likely always be ahead of his glove. The fact that he's seen as such a well-rounded prospect, though, is an added bonus to the player the Giants hope can lead them back to the top in the near future.