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Duggar looking to break through after swing, mindset changes

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Steven Duggar turned 27 in the offseason, and a few weeks later watched the Giants part ways with Chris Shaw and Aramis Garcia, who were coming through the system at the same time as he was. In early February, just before the start of what Duggar hopes will be his fourth big league season for the Giants, the front office went out and dealt for LaMonte Wade Jr., a left-handed hitter who can play center field, the role Duggar is supposed to fill in this outfield. 

There are reasons for Duggar to be concerned about where he fits in and whether he'll get another extended look at Oracle Park, but if he looks around the current outfield, there are also plenty of reasons for faith. Mike Yastrzemski became a star at 28.

Alex Dickerson has had his two best seasons after joining the Giants as a 29-year-old. Austin Slater, another member of that aforementioned prospect class, finally grabbed a firm role last season at 27. 

"Sometimes it just takes a little longer for different guys to kind of break through and get an opportunity and run with it," Duggar said on a Zoom call Wednesday morning. "After last year, going home and just kind of replaying everything, I think the biggest focus is just to leave it all out there. Having conversations with (outfield coach Antoan Richardson and manager Gabe Kapler), it's just, go be me, man. 

 

"Go be myself, go be aggressive, and ultimately at the end of the day I feel like if I do those things then the rest of it will work itself out. It's a day-by-day approach. I'm trying to get it rolling."

After a slow start to the spring, Duggar is starting to do just that. He struck out six times in his first eight at-bats, but then homered Sunday against the Reds. On Tuesday, Duggar showed off every aspect of his game. He took a fastball the opposite way in his first at-bat for a second homer, and then walked in the fourth and easily stole second off left-hander Eric Lauer. Duggar cruised into third on a fly ball to right and scored on a wild pitch. He walked two more times in the final five innings. 

Afterward, Kapler called it a "tale of two camps for Duggar." 

"On one hand, more recently he's been having fantastic at-bats," Kapler said. "Obviously he's gone deep a couple of times. We also see opportunities for him to be more aggressive on the bases, we see opportunities for him to be more aggressive getting bunts down, and those are things we're talking to him about. He's had some really strong at-bats of late. He's a great all-around athlete, has elite speed, and is an incredible person. He's a great teammate. We can see him taking a step forward in a couple of areas that we're working on with him."

Duggar has taken that message to heart. He said Wednesday that he has always viewed himself as an aggressive player, and he's focusing on dropping more bunts down the third-base line if the defense is back, stealing more often, and just generally pushing the envelope. Duggar is the fastest player on the roster, but he stole just one base in 21 appearances last season.

"I'm an aggressive player and it doesn't always show up in a game, and that's on me," he said. "It's a mentality thing."

If the Giants can get Duggar on track, he could be a valuable piece. He's their best defensive outfielder, a valuable skill given some of the limitations of the current projected group. On a team without much speed in the starting lineup -- or from the main pinch-hitters -- he also should be a valuable pinch-runner late in games. His left-handed bat would fit nicely alongside Mauricio Dubon's right-handed one in center. 

But the Giants will need to see more from Duggar at the plate to keep him on the roster or add him at some point. He was just 6-for-34 last year, striking out 11 times and drawing one walk. To get back to his old self, Duggar is going back to his old swing. He was more upright last season, looking Cody Bellinger-ish in his setup, but he is back in a slight crouch this spring with a more open stance.

Duggar said he was in contact with hitting coaches Donnie Ecker, Justin Viele and Dustin Lind all offseason, with the goal of getting quieter in the box and finding more consistency. 

 

"I think last year we tried a few things to just try to work through some path changes. It's just trying to get back to myself a little bit (this spring)," he said. "There's a reason I got to the big leagues in the first place and obviously developing in the big leagues is another challenge, as well. I got to camp a few weeks early and the dialogue with J.V. and Eck and those guys throughout the offseason to try and prepare for this year was incredible. I tried to come in and hit the ground running."

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Duggar has been slowed by shoulder injuries in the past, but said he feels great physically and is working to add a few more pounds to his frame. This is perhaps the most important camp of his career, with so many 40-man roster spots likely to be needed for pitchers before opening day and early in the season, and it didn't start well. But Duggar feels he's starting to hit his stride, and he's hoping to keep pushing the rest of the month.

"It's all eyes on the baseball," he said. "Let's go get it." 

 

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