Giants

Logan Webb, up-and-coming Giants prospect, finds the right mentors

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USATSI

Logan Webb, up-and-coming Giants prospect, finds the right mentors

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Giants pitching prospect Logan Webb grew up in Rocklin, a few miles from Sacramento, so he reasonably could have chosen to root for either Bay Area team. Webb leaned towards the A’s as a teenager, but as he has gotten closer and closer to the big leagues, it has become clear that he was drafted into the organization that was the best fit. 

Webb likes to pitch with what he calls a “bulldog mentality,” so earlier this spring he sought out Madison Bumgarner to discuss harnessing that emotion on the mound. A couple of years after getting drafted, he found himself learning from a rehabbing Jake Peavy. Last season, Webb had a half-dozen sit-downs with Ryan Vogelsong, now a roving instructor in the organization. 

If you want to be a bulldog on the mound, you couldn’t find a better trio of teachers, and none of those three would tell a young pitcher like Webb to try and be someone else.

“That’s something that you don’t want to change about him. It's one of the things I like about him,” Vogelsong said. “He’s not afraid to get mad at himself. You just need to learn to channel it a little bit better.”

That can take a while for a young pitcher. As a 20-year-old, Bumgarner once got so mad during a Triple-A game that he was ejected and practically pulled off the field before he turned and whipped the baseball towards the outfield wall. The Giants were not concerned. Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti watched the YouTube clip before Bumgarner was promoted and liked the fire the young pitcher had shown. Four years later, with Bumgarner dominating the postseason, Dick Tidrow smiled as he recalled the incident. 

“We thought that (showed) a lot of arm strength,” he said. 

Webb, 22, couldn't hide his grin recently as he told the story of a night last season that might have turned out similarly. He was upset with an A-ball umpire, and when manager Lipso Nava pulled him from the game, Webb thought it was because he was about to get kicked out anyway. 

“He came out and told me I was going to Double-A,” he said. “Then I started smiling.”

Webb earned that promotion with a strong run through the hitter-friendly California League. In his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, he posted a 1.82 ERA in 21 appearances — 20 starts — for San Jose, riding a mid 90s fastball that fills the zone and has late life. Baseball America named him one of the 20 prospects in the league. 

“He pitches with a chip on his shoulder,” Visalia manager Joe Mather told the publication. “He just has a knack for getting outs, quick outs, and throwing the ball in the strike zone.”

Webb had a solid six-start stretch with Double-A Richmond, which is a short flight from Vogelsong’s home in Georgia. When the Giants legend would visit, Webb would try to sit next to him in the dugout and soak up as much as he could. 

“He’s a little more intense than I am on the days I’m pitching, but the way he harnessed it and his routine and everything he did was to calm him down in that moment, and that’s something I’m trying to work on,” Webb said. 

Some of the lessons were about how to prepare in the day leading up to a start. Some were about things Webb had never given much thought to. Webb doesn’t have a lot of experience facing opposing pitchers, but he has found that it’s weird to see one in the box, and often worried about hitting his counterpart. Vogelsong encouraged him to treat the opposing pitcher like he would anyone else. “Go after him like he’s a normal hitter,” Webb was taught, “Because if you walk him or give up a hit you’re going to be pissed at yourself.”

Webb has continued to bank knowledge this spring. The Giants added him to the 40-man roster in November and believe he has a good chance to be part of their next wave of homegrown pitching, along with guys like Shaun Anderson and Garrett Williams. All of them are in camp to learn and fill in late in games, and thus far Webb has struck out three in 2 2/3 scoreless relief innings.

[RELATED: How Webb shot up Giants rankings]

Soon, Webb will head back to minor league camp to stretch out as a starter. He figures to begin the year at Double-A, working on improving his off-speed pitches -- he relied mostly on his fastball last year because of of an innings limit -- and finding the right mentality. Vogelsong believes Webb is already well on his way, but the lessons will continue. 

"He knows as well as everybody else that I was as emotional as it got," Vogelsong said. "It took me a while to figure out how to channel adrenaline and anger and be able to be mad and get over it real quick and get into making the next pitch. That's stuff that he and I have talked about, and it'll come with repetitions and experience. He'll know when to use it and when it's hurting him and he needs to back off a little bit."

Wilmer Flores looks to add more power to Giants' lineup this season

Wilmer Flores looks to add more power to Giants' lineup this season

Wilmer Flores made history this offseason. He became the first player Farhan Zaidi signed to a multiyear contract with the Giants, when the veteran infielder inked his two-year deal earlier this month. 

Now that he's with the Giants in spring training, Flores is trying to add something to San Francisco that the team badly lacked last season: Power. It's not like that's what the 28-year-old is known for, though. 

Flores hit nine homers in 89 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, but his .848 OPS was a career-high and his .487 slugging percentage was one point off the best of his career. 

"I've always been a guy who puts the ball in play," Flores said Friday on KNBR's "Murph & Mac Show." "I'm trying this year to hit the ball a lot more in the air. That's what I'm trying to do a lot more this year. Ground balls are not hits anymore. You gotta hit the ball in the air." 

From 2015-2018, however, he averaged 15 long balls per season and clearly has bought into baseball's power movement with more launch angle. 

Flores should have an interesting role on the Giants this season. The keyword around Gabe Kapler's spring training is "versatility." Mauricio Dubon already has embraced it, and Flores believes he can thrive anywhere around the infield. 

"In the infield, I can play anywhere if you want me to," Flores said.

But he clearly prefers a certain spot.

"If you ask me, I'll stay at second base," Flores said. 

[RELATED: Sanchez brings revamped swing, fun celebration to Giants]

That position is full of competition for the Giants this season. Along with Flores and Dubon, Yolmer Sanchez -- who won an AL Gold Glove last season -- and Donovan Solano are vying for time as well. Flores played 64 games at second base and 16 at third last year. He also has plenty of time at shortstop and first base under his belt as well. 

Whether it's more defensive versatility or adding more power, Flores figures to be a key player for the Giants this season.

Giants GM Scott Harris explains signing Hunter Pence over Kevin Pillar

Giants GM Scott Harris explains signing Hunter Pence over Kevin Pillar

Madison Bumgarner wearing a jersey other than one for the Giants still remains a shock to some. The front office made a bit of another controversial decision as well when moving on from last season's home-run leader. 

Kevin Pillar quickly became a fan favorite in San Francisco for his diving catching in center field and ability to actually his the ball out of Oracle Park. And then, the Giants let the Willie Mac Award winner walk this past offseason. 

The Giants non-tendered Pillar in December, making him a free agent. The veteran outfielder was expected to make around $10 million in arbitration. Instead of bringing him back, the Giants essentially opted to replace him with a Hunter Pence reunion, costing the front office only $3 million.

Pillar wound up signing a one-year, $4.25 million contract with the Boston Red Sox earlier this month.

General manager Scott Harris further explained what went into those decisions. 

“Hunter fills an important hole for us on our team," Harris said on KNBR's "Murph & Mac Show" on Friday. "He helps us run out a very formidable lineup against left-handed pitching. He’s also familiar with our ballpark and brings leadership skills we think are going to complement our young core.

“In Kevin’s case, he was an excellent player for us last year, he had one more year of team control so he was going to be a free agent at the end of next year anyways.

"We wanted to create opportunities for our young players and invest in our young players. That doesn’t mean money, it means investing at-bats, it means investing innings in center field, it means investing in the opportunity to grind through a major league season and really prove yourself at this level.”

The Giants still seem to have question marks in center field. Middle infielder Mauricio Dubon will get innings there this spring, and has embraced being a versatile player for manager Gabe Kapler. Mike Yastrzemski is expected to start the season in center, and he can play all three outfield positions. Steven Duggar, Jaylin Davis and the speedy Billy Hamilton all are expected to fight for innings as well. 

Pence, however, will not play any center field. He is expected to mostly play left field while also helping in right as well. 

As Kapler and the Giants hope to be versatile all over the field, it's likely their outfielders will have to play multiple positions. 

[RELATED: How MadBum pitched for D-backs in his first spring outing]

Harris is right, though. While Pillar hit .278 with nine homers and an .823 OPS against lefties last season, Pence was even better. In his comeback season with the Texas Rangers, Pence batted .327 with a 1.015 OPS and knocked out eight homers against southpaws. 

Whether Harris wants to admit it or not, money did play a factor here. But Pence does bring mentorship to a young roster, and fans already are clamoring about having him back in San Francisco.