LaMonte Wade Jr. developed his approach at the University of Maryland and has continued to follow the same basic principles throughout his professional career. As he talked about them last week, it became clear why the outfielder was acquired by the Giants. You might as well take his plate discipline beliefs and stencil them on the wall of the batting cage, because they're exactly what this current front office seeks and this current coaching staff teaches.
"Make sure you don't throw away any at-bats and go up there and compete for every little thing that you get," Wade said over the phone recently. "Try to own the zone and know the zone. Swing at the pitches you're supposed to swing at."
That, in a nutshell, is what the Giants wanted their hitters to do last year in a season that was surprisingly productive offensively. But there's one more tenet, and mastering it could put Wade, acquired from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Shaun Anderson, on the roster and in Gabe Kapler's lineup more often than expected.
Wade, 27, has a .389 on-base percentage in five seasons in the minors but just 40 total homers. In 113 plate appearances with the Twins he homered twice. The Giants don't see that as a problem, they see it as an opportunity.
They believe strongly that if a hitter has the right idea at the plate, he can hunt for power by identifying pitches and zones where he can really let it go. Mike Yastrzemski would be the best example, having turned into a big league slugger after never hitting more than 15 homers in a minor league season. When the Giants signed Tommy La Stella, known for his eye at the plate, team officials said they felt more power could be coming.
Wade has the baseline skills to force his way into the conversation and brings versatility defensively. Tapping into his natural power -- and it's clearly there -- could be a game changer.
"There's a couple of things we know about LaMonte: The rare offensive plate discipline profile, and again, similar to Jaylin (Davis) and similar to Yaz, it's a real engine that can produce power," Kapler said. "We want to see that barrel accuracy with LaMonte and I think once we see that we're going to see more balls in the air to the pull side, some that go out of the park and some that land in gaps."
Wade already was altering his swing in the offseason before the Giants picked him up, working to find different contact points, and Kapler plans to get an early look at it. He said Wade will start one of the first two spring games in center field, a critical test for a player who already brings two things this outfield needs. Wade hits left-handed, which could make him a platoon partner for Mauricio Dubon, and he has plenty of experience in center. The Giants believe Yastrzemski and Austin Slater can handle the position if needed, but they are a little short on defensive depth behind Dubon.
Kapler said he spent a lot of time thinking about Wade even before Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris picked him up, talking to his Triple-A manager and Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, both of whom said Wade is a solid defender who can play center. Showing that this spring will be key.
"The corners are where I've been the most in the minor leagues, but I do feel comfortable in all three spots," Wade said.
With a strong start, Wade could kickstart one of the few competitions in camp. The Giants have five good options in the outfield already but it seems no accident that Kapler continually brings Wade up in interviews, including an answer about how deep the lineup can be from the left side, mentioning him in the same breath as La Stella and Yastrzemski. They are being open-minded about Wade and Davis, former minor league teammates.
Even if the power doesn't come right away, or at all, Wade has a plate discipline profile that should get a look at some point. He's making adjustments, but he won't stray too far from what's worked for him.
"I know (the power) is there and I feel like with the work that I've done in the offseason and my new setup and approach it might come out even more," he said. "But I know myself and I'm not going to get outside of myself. I don't like striking out and giving away at-bats.
"The long ball and everything is great, but if the goal is to hit the long ball every single time, the strikeouts go up, and that's not something that I'm willing to compromise on."