Giants

Giants spring training Day 4: Hwang hopes power translates

Giants spring training Day 4: Hwang hopes power translates

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Jae-gyun Hwang started preparing for his first big league camp a year before he signed with the Giants. Hwang is YouTube-famous for his spectacular bat flips, but after hearing that American pitchers don't react well to showmanship, he quit cold turkey.

"I told him you have to stop," his agent, Han Lee, said Thursday. "He initially didn't think it was possible."

Hwang smiled as the story was told. 

"All 27 homers I hit last season, I didn't do a single bat flip," he said through interpreter Mark Kim.

The Giants would be just fine with a bat flip or two if it meant Hwang was doing what is anticipated. They brought him here to be a power threat, either at third base or off the bench, and it turns out this is a marriage that's been telegraphed for quite some time.

Hwang chose the Giants in part because of how much interest they have shown over the years. Multiple Giants scouts watched him last season in Korea and five front office employees -- including John Barr -- attended a showcase event in Florida. Hwang signed a minor league deal in January that will guarantee him $1.5 million plus incentives if he’s on the big league roster. 

"I wanted the opportunity to compete at the highest level," Hwang said. "Ever since I was little that was the dream, to be able to play in the major leagues. When the opportunity came I had to seize it."

Giants officials had been receiving positive reports on Hwang for years, and their belief in him was bolstered by the success of other Korean players who came over to MLB, particularly Pittsburgh’s Jung Ho Kang and Baltimore’s Hyun Soo Kim. 

“I’ve seen video and he’s got a great swing,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “You see with your eyes that he’s got a great swing and that swing will work.”

The push for a roster spot will be about more than just the transition to facing MLB pitching. Hwang has primarily been a third baseman in his career but he said he has worked out at other positions to prepare for a camp competition. He brought three gloves to Scottsdale, one for third, one for first base, and one for the outfield.

“We’d like to create some versatility with him,” Bochy said. 

If Hwang doesn't make the team out of camp, he said he will go to Triple-A. His contract includes an opt-out at the end of March.

"A lot of people assume that if he doesn't make (the opening day roster) he's going to run back to Korea," Lee said. "That's not his mentality."

Hwang said he talked to former Giant Ryan Sadowkski -- now a scout for the Lotte Giants -- about the Giants and the big leagues. He mentioned being eager to meet Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, and said he's excited about playing defense behind Madison Bumgarner. More than anything, he's ready to see how his game translates.

"What I'm most curious and excited about is to face the best of major league pitching and see and feel their pitches firsthand," he said.

ICYMI: The other big story from Day 4 was the arrival of Mike Morse. Here's my feature about Morse and the entertaining way he found his way back to the Giants. I will say, the Giants have to be more optimistic about Morse's chances than they were when the deal was first offered. He's really in great shape, and it's not hard to picture him smashing a couple out of Scottsdale Stadium this spring and reminding Bochy what it's like to have a right-handed threat off the bench. 

ICYMI PART II: From yesterday, a podcast with Tyler Beede. You can stream it here or download it on iTunes here.

HELPING HAND: I wrote yesterday about Trevor Brown playing second base this spring. He was surprised by the Nick Hundley signing, but he at least found the right place to go after being told to add versatility. Brown got an infield glove from two-time Gold Glove winner Brandon Crawford. 

FAMILIAR FACE: I'm simply the messenger, but if you can handle it, here's Sergio Romo in Dodger blue.  At some point, we're going to see Romo at AT&T Park in that jersey. Luckily for Giants fans, it never happened with Morse. He spent a few hours as a Dodger in 2015 during a flurry of trades, but he never suited up for Los Angeles. Morse did however find quite a bit of humor in the situation, so he ordered a Dodgers "Morse" jersey. "I had to," he said laughing. "I framed it."

QUOTABLE: "I would be curious how good his knuckleball is. I haven't seen it, but he used to mess around with it," Bochy on Brian Wilson. (That's one comeback you shouldn't expect.)

Giants' new catcher Erik Kratz leaves a presence everywhere he goes

erikkratzusatsi.jpg
USATSI

Giants' new catcher Erik Kratz leaves a presence everywhere he goes

Death, taxes, and Giants transactions.

That appears to be the theme of the week.

A few transactions were made on Saturday and on Sunday morning, the Giants acquired veteran Erik Kratz in a trade for minor league infielder, C.J. Hinojosa.

But this isn't an article about moves being made, or trades being implemented. This is about the 38-year-old catcher who leaves a presence behind with anyone he meets -- and he's met a lot of people.

Kratz coming to the Giants means this will be the eighth big-league team he will roster for and, in total, 11 organizations -- er, 12 now. 

Last season, during his time with the Brewers, he became the oldest position player to make his first postseason start since Lave Cross did in 1905.  

And how did he do during that debut? Well:

During Game 2 of the National League Division Series, he hit a two-run, eighth-inning single that gave the Brewers a 2-0 advantage in the eventual 4-0 win over the Rockies. And he was beyond thankful for the opportunity as he told MLB.com's Adam McCalvy last year.

"If you told me 16 years ago that I'd be here today I wouldn't have changed the path that I took," Kratz said. "I never gave up. I've been blessed every day to be in this situation."

His friends had surprised him during the postseason -- and each one of them sported one of his jerseys from each of the teams he played on. And when he was asked about what they would think about seeing him on the big stage, they would probably ask about his "nasty facial hair" and say he "looks fat on TV."

I spoke to Robert Murray who is the Brewers' beat writer for The Athletic. Through the phone, you could hear his excitement at the opportunity to talk all things Kratz.

"This is right up my alley," he told NBC Sports Bay Area. "I love Kratz."

Then Murray told me a story about him. One that made Murray a little sad Kratz would no longer sport a Milwaukee uniform.

"I had asked Josh Fields if he knew anyone in the Brewers' clubhouse besides Yasmani Grandal when I heard Kratz say in the background, 'Robert, that's a stupid question." After the interview, I asked him what made the question stupid when he replied, 'You should know by now that basically everybody in baseball has played baseball with Erik Kratz." Even in the toughest of situations, knowing on Feb. 1, that he wouldn't make the Brewers, he was a true professional and kept a strong sense of humor."

Murray said that is what he will remember about Kratz.

Don't worry, I didn't rub it in his face too much the Giants had gained a great human, but I will say it got me excited to see what he can add to that team, to that clubhouse, to that organization.

For those of you who say, "I don't care, give me his stats." This isn't one of those articles.

You know where to find his numbers. 

Giants acquire veteran catcher Erik Kratz in trade with Brewers

kratzusatsi.jpg
USATSI

Giants acquire veteran catcher Erik Kratz in trade with Brewers

SAN FRANCISCO -- A day after they made a seemingly endless series of transactions, the Giants got going with an early morning trade. 

Catcher Erik Kratz was acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers, with minor league infielder C.J. Hinojosa headed the other way. The deal was made a day after the Giants released Rene Rivera, a similar veteran who appeared in line for an Opening Day job. 

When Rivera was let go, Aramis Garcia looked to be in line for the backup job. But Kratz is a right-handed-hitting veteran who is out of options, so the Giants may keep him instead. Kratz, 38, will be playing for his eighth big league team. He hit .236 for the Brewers last year with six homers and six doubles in 203 at-bats. 

Kratz was a surprise contributor in the postseason, hitting .292 in 26 plate appearances. He is known for doing good work defensively and is a strong clubhouse presence. 

It's unclear why the Giants elected to go with Kratz over Rivera, who worked with their pitchers all camp. Or why they may be shying away from sticking with Garcia, who had a good spring and also knows the pitching staff well. Those questions will be answered in the next four days, and the Giants figure to make many more moves before the dust settles. 

[RELATED: Giants trade Matt Joyce after three days with team]

Hinojosa was once viewed as a future utility man at the big league level, but he was suspended 50 games last season for a positive test for a drug of abuse. When he returned, he posted a .689 OPS. 

To clear a 40-man spot for Kratz, the Giants DFA'd pitcher Jose Lopez, acquired at the start of the spring from the Reds.