Giants

Mauricio Dubon soaked up plenty of knowledge during month with Giants

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USATSI

Mauricio Dubon soaked up plenty of knowledge during month with Giants

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants never called 2019 a rebuilding year, instead preferring to view it as more of a transition. A defining image of that plan might have come during batting practice a few days before the final out of the season, with no fans in the stands and few paying attention.

Brandon Crawford and Mauricio Dubon stood at shortstop and took turns fielding grounders deep in the hole. Crawford showed Dubon how he positioned himself for a backhand snag and twisted his body to make a strong throw to first. It's a play Crawford has made look easy in his nine seasons in the big leagues. It's one Dubon wants in his arsenal. 

"I saw that play while watching him growing up," said Dubon, a Giants fan since he moved to northern California as a teenager. "That's the first thing I asked him when I met him: 'How do you make that play?'"

The two spent a few minutes alternating throws as a couple of veteran coaches looked on and smiled. One of these years, it may be the 25-year-old Dubon making that play for the Giants rather than the 32-year-old Crawford. More likely, they'll team up together next year to form a strong defensive duo in the middle of the infield. 

Of all the finds this year, Dubon, acquired at the deadline from the Brewers, might have been the most exciting. He is young enough that there's still plenty of untapped potential, but savvy enough about the game that he's ready to play every day right now. Dubon is as likely as any current Giant to be part of the next true contender at Oracle Park, and on Opening Day next year, he may find himself once again sharing an infield with Crawford, Brandon Belt and Buster Posey as the core looks to recover from a disappointing 2019. 

"We're going to continue to challenge Mauricio," president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said. "He's going to have to come to spring training and earn that spot and there are still things in his game that he has to work on and refine like any young player, like any player coming up to the big leagues for the first time, but there's a lot to be excited about in terms of just his ability to put the bat to the ball, to limit strikeouts, to put the ball in play, hit with power. He showed some exciting stuff in the field, as well. 

"We're going to continue to challenge him, and as we did this year and as I imagine we'll do a lot next year, we're going to create competition at these spots and guys are going to have to earn their roles and their playing time. He's no different but I'm really excited about the job he did this year."

Dubon hit .279 in a 28-game audition, with an OPS+ of 99, four homers, and five doubles. Defensively, he looks ready for either middle infield spot, and the staff was thrilled with the way he battled through at-bats and showed a strong two-strike approach. The Giants would like him to get stronger and felt the bat was knocked out of his hands at times, but that should come with age and more time with the big league training staff. 

The competitiveness is something that can't be taught, and Crawford and Ron Wotus, who coached the infield, both spoke about how eager Dubon was to learn. Wotus was supposed to do infield drills with Dubon on the Wednesday of the final week, but the Giants ended up playing 16 innings the night before. When Wotus showed up the next day he decided to give the rookie a break, but Dubon was there, asking for additional ground balls.

Earlier in September, cameras caught Dubon and Posey having a long conversation in the dugout. Dubon said Posey taught him a lot about "how to be a professional and how to go about your business."

[RELATED: Dubon gets engaged at Disneyland Paris]

The education will continue all spring, with Dubon coming in as the favorite to earn a starting job at second base. As he sat at his locker late last month and thought about how far he had come, Dubon smiled and shook his head. He's ready for what's ahead of him.

"Oh yeah, oh yeah -- I'm excited for next year," he said. "I keep messing with the guys in here, I'm like, 'Damn, I wish we had one more month to play.' It's going to be fun next year. You know what to expect and I'll work hard to stay here."

Giants roster breakdown: Six catchers in camp, two fighting for job

Giants roster breakdown: Six catchers in camp, two fighting for job

On March 11, the Giants left Scottsdale Stadium and headed west, driving about an hour for an exhibition with the Texas Rangers on the other side of the valley. They won 6-4. Before heading for a scheduled day off, manager Gabe Kapler announced that Johnny Cueto would be his Opening Day starter at Dodger Stadium.

Sixteen weeks and two days later, the Giants will get back together. Camp restarts Friday at Oracle Park, with players coming through in waves and practicing social distancing. 

It's been well over 100 days since the last official workout, but the Giants will try to pick up where they left off. This week we'll take a look at their position groups, giving a reminder of which players were in camp, which ones are joining, and which ones are fighting for jobs. Up first, the catchers:

Buster Posey

A full year-and-a-half removed from hip surgery, Posye looked strong this spring, and Giants people were excited about the possibility of some of his old production returning. It's hard to know what 60 games will mean for him, though. 

Kapler can give Posey plenty of DH days to try and keep him fresh, but with the Giants viewing themselves as being in contention, they're going to want Posey behind the plate as much as possible, guiding a pitching staff that won't have a true rotation. 

Posey turned 33 during the hiatus, but perhaps he'll be energized by a 60-game sprint. Years ago he got used to catching every pitch of the postseason, knowing he could rest in November. He should be able to push himself this year without having to worry about catching 110-115 games. 

If the Giants truly are going to stay in the race, they really could use a bounceback. Last year Posey had an OPS of just .688 and he has just 12 homers the past two seasons. 

Rob Brantly

Brantly played just one game last year for Kapler's Phillies. He followed Kapler to San Francisco and will compete with the next player on this list to be Posey's backup. Brantly has experience in that role, having played 126 MLB games since 2012. 

His best season was his first, when he hit .290 with three homers and eight doubles in 100 at-bats. A left-handed hitter, Brantly had a .404 OPB last season in Triple-A for the Phillies. 

The Giants plan to carry two catchers on their initial 30-man roster, with the possibility that a third could travel as part of a three-player taxi squad (one of the three players has to be a catcher). It seems likely that Brantly and Tyler Heineman will take those two spots in some order. 

Tyler Heineman

Like Brantly, Heineman is a non-roster invitee who could provide balance behind the plate. The 29-year-old is a switch-hitter and made his debut last season, going 3-for-11 for the Miami Marlins. 

Heineman spent most of last year at Triple-A for the Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks, and he put up strong numbers. In 73 games he hit .336 with a .400 OBP and 13 homers, which tied his career-high. 

Like Brantly, Heineman didn't get very many at-bats (16) before spring training shut down. This is one of those where you figure Farhan Zaidi, Scott Harris and Kapler have a pretty good idea of who the front-runner is to back up Posey, but Heineman and Brantly will have another three weeks to state their case. 

Joey Bart

The most dangerous catcher at the plate this spring was the 23-year-old who was taken second overall in 2018. Bart had seven hits in 16 Cactus League at-bats, including two homers and a double. He was sent to minor league camp just before the coronavirus shut things down, and the plan was for him to spend the start of the year in Triple-A. 

Bart was a near-lock to debut at some point this season, and while the Giants don't have him in their Opening Day plans, he still could find his way onto the roster in a couple of ways. There are going to be injuries and -- unfortunately -- players who test positive for COVID-19, and Bart should be the next man up after Posey, Brantly and Heineman. If the Giants get off to a rough start, it's also possible they decide to give Bart a cameo in September in preparation for 2021. 

In the meantime, here's a video of what Bart in the big leagues might look like: 

Chadwick Tromp

A non-roster invitee this spring, Tromp was not on the initial player pool list the Giants released, but nobody leaves Aruba just for fun: 

Tromp is 25 and it's rare that catchers reach minor league free agency that young, so the Giants were happy to add him as organizational depth in the offseason. He dealt with some injuries as a Cincinnati Reds prospect but had a .286/.389/.610 slash line in 26 Triple-A games last season. 

Tromp was going to provide depth in the upper levels of the minors this season. Now he figures to spend most of the next three months in Sacramento, where the Giants will play intrasquad games and three young catchers will be counted on to help keep veteran pitchers sharp. 

[RELATED: Allocating innings key to Giants contending in short season]

Patrick Bailey

The Giants announced Wednesday afternoon that they have signed their first-round pick out of North Carolina State. Earlier in the day, MLB.com reported that Bailey would be part of the player pool.

There's been no official word from the Giants, but it makes a ton of sense for Bailey, now one of the organization's top five prospects, to work out all summer with big leaguers. In an odd way, Bailey might be in a better spot than normal top draftees. 

Bart got 181 at-bats for Salem-Keizer in 2018 and Hunter Bishop got 85 last year. Bailey will miss out on those reps, but he'll also get to spend some time at Oracle Park with the big league club and then two months in Sacramento, where he can potentially get intrasquad at-bats against established big league pitchers instead of 19-year-olds. The Giants also can immediately begin work on his swing and his receiving. 

This should set Bailey up to begin next year with High-A San Jose and try to follow Bart's path of reaching Double-A in his first full season. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Giants sign first-round pick Patrick Bailey, who's expected in camp

Giants sign first-round pick Patrick Bailey, who's expected in camp

It looks like one of the most exciting parts of this season for Giants fans will be the intrasquad games at the alternate training site in Sacramento. 

First-round pick Patrick Bailey has signed his contract with the Giants, the team announced Wednesday.

MLB.com's Jim Callis reported that it's an under-slot deal, and that Bailey will be added to the 60-man player pool. He'll join fellow catching prospect Joey Bart and other top minor leaguers who otherwise have no way of getting reps in Sacramento.  

With Bailey and Chad Tromp joining the pool, the Giants have six catchers set to be in summer camp. Either Tyler Heineman or Rob Brantly will win the job to back up Buster Posey and the other one seems a good bet to travel on the taxi squad, so Bart, Tromp and Bailey could be the ones spending two months catching bullpens and working on their skills in Sacramento. Intrasquad games are allowed up there, meaning Bart and Bailey could find themselves on opposite sides quite often as the Giants work to get competitive reps in.

The Giants ultimately hope they're in the big leagues together, stabilizing the catcher position for the next decade. Bailey was taken with the 13th overall pick in last month's draft. He reportedly signed well under the slot value of that pick, although the Giants reportedly have signed third-round pick Kyle Harrison for to a deal well over slot. 

[RELATED: How Giants plan to 'allocate innings' this year]

Earlier this week, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said the Giants would add additional prospects to their player pool. Assuming Hunter Bishop is included once he recovers from the coronavirus, the Giants would have five of their top prospects in camp: Bart, Bailey, Bishop, Heliot Ramos and Marco Luciano.

"Particularly on the prospect front, there's some guys that we've obviously named already," Zaidi said. "Other guys are under consideration, and we may just wind up adding certain guys once Sacramento is up and running and potentially send guys straight there."

With Bailey, Tromp and Bishop, the Giants would be at 54 players in their pool of 60.

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]