If you ever have any doubts about whether the Giants are headed in the right direction, just take a look at the outfield.
Giants outfielders were a top-five offensive unit last season, and the guys who saw the most playing time were all brought in with creative moves by the new regime. Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson were acquired in minor trades and Mauricio Dubon was the prize at the 2019 deadline -- as an infielder. Darin Ruf played in South Korea for the previous three seasons.
The Giants have those four back, along with Austin Slater, who made huge strides at the plate last year. Yesterday we looked at how the infield competition is stacking up. Today, an outfield that could be similarly set:
On the 40-man roster
Mike Yastrzemski, Alex Dickerson, Mauricio Dubon, Darin Ruf, Austin Slater, Jaylin Davis, Steven Duggar, LaMonte Wade Jr., Alexander Canario
For all the smoke, the Joc Pederson rumors and the Jackie Bradley Jr. dreams, the Giants ended up adding just Wade Jr., a versatile OBP machine from the Twins. They never chased the biggest name on the market -- George Springer -- and while they would have loved to bring Pederson home, he wanted to play every day, not just against righties.
The Giants are still doing just fine, though. Yastrzemski could be an All-Star this summer and Dickerson goes on hot streaks that are just about unmatched. They could hit leadoff and third on Opening Day.
Slater might be the wild card here. He had an absurd .347/.458/.653 slash line going before his elbow flared up again, limiting him to DH duty the rest of the way. The Giants have said he'll be healthy for camp, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see the 28-year-old grab a meatier role.
Dubon is technically listed as an infielder on the roster, but not for long. He never used his infield glove after August 15, making 35 consecutive appearances in center, and he's getting pretty good out there defensively. Dubon has bulked up this offseason and if he starts to hit righties (he had a .664 OPS against them last year) he could be an everyday player. The Giants don't have another good option in center.
Ruf had an .887 OPS in his return to MLB and hit five homers in 87 at-bats, causing the Giants to re-sign him in December. He would surely feel a lot more comfortable over the next six weeks if the universal DH was brought back, but he was playable when the Giants threw him in left and currently looks like a top bench bat and potential platoon partner with Dickerson.
Wade Jr. was picked up last week, with the Giants sending Shaun Anderson the other way. He can play all three outfield spots but needs to tap into his power to really make an impact. The Giants wanted more outfielders with minor league options, and Wade Jr. qualifies, along with Duggar and Davis. None of the three look headed for the Opening Day roster, although Duggar's defense would be a nice fit for the bench if the Giants had a spot open up.
The Giants haven't announced any non-roster outfielders yet, and this is a year when they probably don't need many since some top prospects will be around to soak up reps. Heliot Ramos already has been confirmed as a camp participant and Hunter Bishop, the first-round pick in 2019, is also expected to be in camp for the first time.
The Giants outrighted Joey Rickard to Triple-A Sacramento's roster in November but it would make sense to have him back in camp. He's a versatile piece and has looked like he can provide helpful depth in his big league cameos.
Player to Watch This Spring: Jaylin Davis
The Giants hoped Davis, acquired at the deadline in 2019, could be their Yastrzemski of 2020, but he was sent down to the alternate site after just 12 plate appearances and never returned. That stood out late in the year, as the Giants turned to Duggar and Luis Alexander Basabe when they needed help.
Asked late in the year about Davis' disappearance, manager Gabe Kapler was candid.
"There's still quite a bit of swing-and-miss in the strike zone at the alternate site," he said. "That continues to give us pause and it's an adjustment that Jaylin needs to make if he's going to be a successful major league hitter."
As Kapler often says, Davis' "engine" is as good as anyone's. He hit 35 minor league homers in 2019, was in the 97th percentile in sprint speed during his September call-up, and his work ethic never has been in question. But Davis struck out six times in those 12 early plate appearances last year and apparently wasn't making much contact in Sacramento.
The Giants have a ton of outfield talent on the way and are running low on easily opened 40-man spots. This is a make-or-break season for the 26-year-old.
Prospects to Watch
Canario had shoulder surgery early in the offseason and is expected to miss the start of the 2021 season, which means that early in camp he'll go on the 60-day IL to open up a 40-man spot for someone (Jake McGee?) else.
Ramos is the organization's third-best prospect and is a top-100 prospect in all of the minors, and this should be the year he debuts. Ramos still is just 21 and almost certainly will start the year in Double-A, but if the improved plate discipline he showed in 2019 was for real, it won't be long before he's knocking on the door.
Bishop was hurt as much by the odd 2020 year as anyone. He has just 105 professional at-bats and missed a chance to play everyday last summer in A-ball. On top of that, he got COVID-19 in June and missed summer camp at Oracle Park. Bishop did make it to the alternate site and tore up the instructional league in the fall, and reaching Double-A early this summer could set the 22-year-old up for a 2022 debut.
Luis Matos is the other name to know here long-term, but he just turned 19 and has very little professional experience.
Number to Know: 30
You have to go back to Barry Bonds in 2004 to find the last Giant to have a 30-homer season, and it's been eight years since a Giant even hit 25. But ... in 161 career games and 563 at-bats, Yastrzemski has 31 homers.
Yastrzemski will continue to see increased attention from opposing pitchers and he could lose a few bombs if the ball is, as reported by The Athletic, going be deadened a bit. On the other hand, Yaz gets better and better, plays everyday because he can hit lefties, and is right in his prime. If he stays healthy, he'll have a legitimate shot to finally give the Giants another 30-homer player.
Opening Day Projection
Right now, it's pretty easy. Dickerson, Dubon and Yastrzemski will be the main starters from left to right, with Ruf and Slater seeing time in the corners and off the bench.
But Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris have spent so much time looking for upgrades this offseason that it wouldn't be a shock if they swing a deal for another piece before Opening Day. Slater does have an option remaining, although a return to Triple-A would be cruel, and Ruf's contract is not fully guaranteed. Dickerson has dealt with injuries his whole career and Slater has twice had serious scares with his elbow.
Let's just say we wouldn't feel totally comfortable betting our nachos on those five breaking camp as the Giants' outfielders.