For the second time in the last eight months, Mauricio Dubon showed up to Giants camp with a noticeable physical change, although this one will have a much bigger impact on the field.
Dubon arrived in Scottsdale with 12 extra pounds packed onto his frame, and he's hopeful it leads to more power at the plate. Last year's change was aesthetic, as Dubon showed up to Spring Training 2.0 with long hair that rested on top of the gaiter he wore around his neck during games. It was the product of a summer quarantined in his Miami apartment. It was also a bit of an homage to one of his idols, former Giants center fielder Angel Pagan.
"In the beginning I had the long hair and I told my mom, 'I'm going to be playing center field, so just let me stick with it for a little bit,'" Dubon said on this week's Giants Talk Podcast.
Dubon spent his high school years in Sacramento watching the Giants, and he was drawn to the way Pagan played the game. "Everything he does in the outfield, I try to emulate," he said. Dubon liked Pagan's high-energy style and swagger, and he has tried to copy some of his go-to moves in center, like the way he caught the ball down low near his chest so often, or hopped as he finished plays.
Dubon grew up as a shortstop, but last year he got to emulate Pagan while playing Pagan's old position. After coming to the Giants as an infielder and being pegged as a super-utility option all of last spring, Dubon ended up as Gabe Kapler's go-to choice in the middle of the outfield. From August 16 through the end of the season, he never played a position other than center. Dubon ended up playing about 60 percent of the Giants' innings in center, getting better and better as the season went on.
This spring, the Giants are circling back to their original plan. Kapler views Dubon's versatility as one of his greatest strengths, and the infield glove has come back out of the locker. He has spent much of his time in early workouts on the dirt working with Brandon Crawford at short, and in Sunday's Cactus League opener he started at short.
"We think he's likely our best option behind Crawford," Kapler said. "He's a really good defender over there. We spend a lot of time evaluating Mauricio on the dirt and I think he's much improved, in part because of the muscle that he's put on. His clock at shortstop is a little bit slower right now, his throws have really improved across the diamond, they're staying very straight. And he's composed and relaxed at the position and his athleticism is taking over."
With the way their roster is set up, the Giants need Dubon to transition back to the infield part-time. They have their six infielders, and Crawford and Dubon are the only good options at short. Dubon almost certainly is their second-best right-handed-hitting defender at third, and he'll get reps there this spring. Second base will always be in his bag, although Tommy La Stella, Donovan Solano and Wilmer Flores all will play there more often.
Dubon still is likely to see most of his time in center. The Giants didn't go out and sign a free agent, but they'll take a long look at LaMonte Wade Jr. this spring and believe Mike Yastrzemski is a better option than he showed last year. Dubon is still the starter, though, and it's a position he has grown to love. He said he wasn't surprised by the fact that he morphed into the everyday center fielder last year.
"I told (outfield coach Antoan Richardson) I was going to make him look good and make him look smart," Dubon said, smiling.
No matter where he plays, Dubon is aiming to show that the development Giants coaches saw last year is for real. He got off to a slow start at the plate, but in 24 starts in September, Dubon had a .273/.360/.455 slash line. After hitting one homer in the first 42 games, Dubon had three over the final 18.
The Giants have seen more power this spring with the added weight -- Dubon hit a bomb off Silvino Bracho in live BP that he said might be the longest homer of his career -- and they're hopeful the plate discipline that carried Dubon in September carries over. If it does, he could be a daily weapon for Kapler no matter what glove he grabs.
"He made a pretty big adjustment last season and was able to improve his plate discipline. Now at the plate, he's a little bit more in his legs and looks to be in a calm position," Kapler said. "He'll be able to get to (his ceiling) if some of this power translates, if he's able to move around the diamond the way we think he can, play an above-average center field, potentially play an above-average shortstop, spell some guys at second and third and maybe become a bit of a defensive replacement on days he's not in the lineup.
"And then continue his plate discipline. If he's able to accomplish all those things, the ceiling is really high for Mauricio."