Like many before him, Mauricio Dubon showed up at Giants camp in The Best Shape of His Life, having added 12 pounds to his slender frame over the offseason. But it's Dubon's brain, not his brawn, that has his manager and teammates seeing a breakout season coming.
Dubon quietly increased his production over the course of last season, and that approach has carried over to the Cactus League, where the 26-year-old has reached base in 17 of 36 plate appearances and walked twice as often as he has struck out. Asked last week if someone was standing out this camp, Gabe Kapler quickly mentioned Dubon.
"Dubon really stands out as a player that's made significant adjustments to his approach," Kapler said. " Last year he improved his walk rate relative to his career norms and I think that you want to see it again, you want to see that continue, and he's demonstrated that he can stay more balanced now than he was able to stay last year, stay in his legs more, have a more calm approach at the plate.
"Last year, as we got to the bottom part of the lineup, sometimes the at-bats were quick, sometimes there was not the matching of the guys at the top of the lineup in terms of their patience level and their aggressiveness on pitches they could drive. I think Mauricio has made pretty big improvements in that regard."
With Tommy La Stella and Mike Yastrzemski poised to hit at the top of the lineup, Dubon looks to once again be down near the bottom, likely just ahead of the pitcher, but the Giants see him stretching out their entire lineup this season with his new approach. Dubon said it's simple: He has fully bought in to this coaching staff's emphasis on looking for pitches you can drive and laying off ones you can't. His goal right now is to "do damage" at the plate and limit wasted at-bats.
"If I can't hit it out, I'm not swinging," he said.
The change in mindset actually locked in late last season, when Dubon became the Giants' everyday center fielder over the second half. Over the first 30 games of the season, Dubon had a .311 on-base percentage and slugged .324 with one homer. Over the final 30 games, he reached base at a .356 clip, slugged .438 and hit three homers.
"We all kind of go through this as major leaguers. When he got up in 2019 he looked really good, and there tends to be an adjustment to you where you feel you take a step back," left fielder Alex Dickerson said. "We were seeing improvement from him in the 60-game season and I don't think you got to see him capitalize on it as much as he was going to. He's just kind of continued off of that.
"He's just in a good spot with his swing and how he's really driving the ball and seeing pitches this year. That's just kind of an adjustment with reps more than anything."
Dubon looks poised to get plenty of them this season, especially with the way the opening day roster is shaping up. None of the other center field options have jumped up and grabbed a job, so Dubon should once again start there against all lefties and a lot of righties. After tucking his infield glove away last September, Dubon has spent much of this spring doing drills with Brandon Crawford, and he's easily Kapler's best backup option at short.
Dubon could end up in the lineup as much as any Giant outside of Mike Yastrzemski, and he's ready for it. This is where the brawn comes in. Dubon added muscle to tap into more power, but he's also more physically ready to handle a 162-game season full of long at-bats, sprints in center, and throws from different positions.
"He's made physical improvements that we've talked about and that continue to be noticeable," Kapler said. "He's driving the baseball more. I think his legs are more underneath him with his throws across the diamond and with his athleticism in center field. He has just taken a lot of feedback over the course of the last calendar year and applied it really well."