Giants

Why Austin Slater took grounders at shortstop during Giants' workout

Why Austin Slater took grounders at shortstop during Giants' workout

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Brandon Crawford took his turn, showing off his usual defensive skills while taking a set of grounders at shortstop on a back field at Scottsdale Stadium. Then came Maurico Dubon, and then Kean Wong and Austin Slater. 

Wait, Austin Slater? 

This is Camp Versatility, but even by that standard, it was a bit surprising to see Slater getting work in as a shortstop Friday morning. He then moved on to work at second base, and manager Gabe Kapler said Slater wasn't just having fun. He'll get reps at all four infield spots this spring, along with his usual work in the outfield. 

Slater, getting ready for his fourth big league season, is into it. But what exactly is his position right now?

"I'm a Right Handed Batter's Box," he said, laughing. 

The Giants, as you might have heard a time or two, are going all-in on platoons, and Slater could be a big part of that. He had a .838 OPS against left-handed pitchers last season and could be a nice counter to Alex Dickerson and Mike Yastrzemski in the outfield and Brandon Belt at first base. 

But platoon life isn't just about the other day's starting pitcher. The Giants know they have a talent deficit. They hope to gain an edge by literally exploiting every platoon advantage they can over nine innings.

There could be times when Slater pinch-hits for Belt, or for Crawford, with a more natural shortstop like Mauricio Dubon sliding over to short and Slater getting a few innings at second base. 

"The mentality is let us over-prepare right now and see how the roster stacks up," Slater said. "I enjoy doing it."

Slater has 23 big league starts at first base but just a handful of innings at second and third. But he has nearly 900 minor league innings at second base and last year the Giants had him try third 11 times in Triple-A. He has always done extra infield work during batting practice, so this is just a natural extension for the 27-year-old. It could also be his best way onto the roster. 

It'll be an interesting spring for Slater defensively, but the real work will be done in the cages. He has more raw power than most on the roster but just nine homers in 544 plate appearances. 

[RELATED: Giants ship Smith to A's in Bay rivals’ first trade in 16 years]

Slater made swing changes last offseason to try to increase his launch angle and is continuing to work on that this spring. He lit up when talking about the three new hitting coaches, saying they already have a good understanding of what he's trying to do.

The Giants can do all they want with defensive positioning to get Slater on the field more often, but they do need to see that pay off with more power production for the lineup. 

"I think we want to create the best possible path for Austin, so when he drives the ball he drives it in the air," Kapler said. "He definitely has raw power, dating back to his time at Stanford. We know about the pedigree and we just want to see that come out frequently in games."

What impressed Giants GM Scott Harris most this year in spring training

What impressed Giants GM Scott Harris most this year in spring training

Right when the Giants had hit their groove, baseball came to a crashing halt. San Francisco went 6-4 in its 10 spring training games before the coronavirus pandemic changed everything. 

Prior to the cancelation of spring training and MLB's Opening Day being postponed, Giants general manager Scott Harris couldn't have been more happy with his squad. There were plenty of questions coming into spring with Gabe Kapler replacing the retired Bruce Bochy, but all signs pointed to a promising start. 

"Going into spring training, we weren't really sure what we were gonna get because we had a bunch of new coaches, a bunch of new front office members, some new players and we were wondering how everyone was going to come together," Harris said Thursday on KNBR's "Murph & Mac" show. "From the first week of spring training, it was clear that everyone was determined to find a way to get better each and every day.

"I was so impressed by Gabe and the staff's ability to create a fun, efficient and competitive camp, and we were really impressed by the way the players responded."

From the players, to the front office and even the broadcasters, Kapler has received rave reviews for his first spring as Giants manager. This was a much different camp than one ran by Bochy, and everyone seems to be embracing it.

Harris could feel the momentum leading up to Opening Day. He felt better and better about this team with each passing day. And while he wishes the Giants could have carried that into the regular season without pressing pause, he believes they can easily regain their mojo. 

"At least it gives us a template for when we get to ramp up again, hopefully soon, to try to re-create that spirit from camp and continue to build momentum towards spring training," Harris said. 

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The one area of the Giants that stood out to Harris might surprise some fans. But it shouldn't if you listened to Kapler and the front office throughout camp.

"We were really impressed by the way our rotation responded," Harris said. "We expect our rotation to be one of the strongest elements to our team, and players like Drew Smyly and Kevin Gausman were exceptionally sharp during spring training.

"And they were also very open-minded to adding new pitches, attacking hitters in new ways and we were really encouraged by the path that they were on."

[RELATED: Five Giants takeaways in week of MLB simulation]

Everyone on this team will have to be open-minded, including the veterans. This is a new era of Giants baseball, and Harris sounds ready to unveil it -- hopefully sooner than later.

Giants mailbag: What future holds for young pitchers, top prospect

Giants mailbag: What future holds for young pitchers, top prospect

Today would have been an off day. By this point, the Giants already would have faced Madison Bumgarner for the first time, along with Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler. They would have spent today at Target and Best Buy, loading up their new apartments and rental homes. 

It's a weird time right now, and that gets exacerbated if you look up an MLB schedule. It's a strange alternate reality that so many people had been preparing for over the course of months, but it no longer exists. 

At some point, we'll hopefully get the game back, but there are far more important things to worry about right now. So stay home everybody, and stay safe. We'll keep trying to bring you fun Giants content in the meantime, so here's a mailbag with some actual baseball questions and some interesting ones about covering the team ...  

"How will the pandemic affect operations at Oracle Park if, and when, fans are allowed to attend?" -- rioscristian15

There's unfortunately not really an answer for this. One thing I've tried to remind people is that it's not as simple as getting 52 players on a field and telling them to be careful. With fans, you have 2,600 or so game-day employees who take care of security, food, etc. It's a massive group that you're getting together for any sporting event, and it feels like a situation where you're all-in or all-out. You can't have a game at Oracle Park and ask people to sit six feet away from each other.

Even without fans, it's complicated. You have players, umpires, coaches, trainers, bat boys and more. You obviously want to broadcast those games, which means cameramen and a broadcast truck of producers, and then you would need security around the ballpark. This is all unprecedented and complicated and I don't think anyone can accurately tell you what a game will look like when it returns. 

"Do you see Webb as a solid piece in this year's rotation?" -- its_ya_boi_jime

The last interview I did before the shutdown was with Logan Webb, and we talked about the proposed innings limit. When the game returns, the Giants won't need to worry about Webb's innings, and I don't think they'll have to think as much about building the trade value of others, so I see no reason why Webb wouldn't be in the rotation for the entirety of a shortened season. 

"Do you have a Brian Wilson story?" -- jacksonirwin_

I have plenty! One that comes to mind is my first visit to spring training in 2011 when I was filling in for Andrew Baggarly for a week. Wilson was a full-on character by that point (remember the Taco Bell commercial?).

I was standing in a hallway near the clubhouse with Peter Gammons, and Wilson walked through and the two struck up a conversation about New England. Wilson grew up in New Hampshire. I just remember them talking for 20-30 minutes, and I remember Wilson being a completely different person, soft-spoken and inquisitive, the person I imagine he is when cameras aren't around. 

That one always stood out to me, because when the lights went on, he would immediately put on a show. To this day he still does that. 

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"Your favorite Giants moment ever?" -- kitkat_kitty

You mean, aside from every relief pitcher at-bat? 

This is a really tough question, but I'll give you three that immediately stuck out. 

It was incredible being on the field right after Travis Ishikawa's homer and interviewing Jake Peavy like 10 minutes after he had tried to stop Ishikawa at third. I think that's my favorite interview, because Peavy could barely even recall doing it and everyone was still just so stunned about the way the game had ended. 

The entirety of Game 7 in Kansas City is probably my favorite day on the beat. I've never seen a press box as chaotic as when Gregor Blanco bobbled the ball in the ninth inning, and I'll never forget how tired -- truly exhausted -- guys were in the clubhouse that night. Buster Posey told me he would sleep for three weeks and Madison Bumgarner finally admitted he was out of gas. I spent so long talking to trainer Dave Groeschner that I nearly missed a deadline, and I remember him nursing a beer and talking about how Bumgarner must be half man, half horse. 

One other one that sticks out is Game 1 of the 2010 World Series. I wasn't on the beat at the time but the Mercury News sent me to the park to run our live chat. When it started raining, everyone left the auxiliary press box -- the seats at the top of the third deck in left field -- but I couldn't unplug because the chat would have stopped. Two ushers came over and held umbrellas over me and another one stood there and kept wiping down the table and my laptop. There was just a really cool sense of community that night, and I'll never forget how happy all of the employees and fans in that section were that they were watching their Giants in the World Series. 

"If the season started today, who is one guy you see closing games outside of Watson?" -- meleh555

Tony Watson's shoulder should be fully cleared whenever this season starts, but behind him, I think Trevor Gott is probably first in line. He was a closer at Kentucky and in the minors. I would also be curious to see how far the staff would push Tyler Rogers. From what I saw, he was throwing as well as anyone in Scottsdale. 

The real answer, of course, is that if the season started today the Giants would likely have a committee. Wandy Peralta and Jarlin Garcia are two more who also had outstanding springs. 

"When will Heliot Ramos make his Major League debut?" -- williamclementi63

This, to me, gets at one of the most fascinating questions this season. I was betting on Ramos making a September cameo, but that won't exist anymore, and it's hard to know if minor league baseball will. I'm on the pessimistic side in terms of a start date, but at some point, big league teams may have the clearance and resources to safely hold games. Will towns like Richmond and Sacramento be able to have gatherings of 10,000, though? 

I have no idea what a minor league season will look like and I don't think the Giants do, either. It's wait-and-see, but it's not hard to imagine a situation in which most or all of the minor league year is wiped out. Does the Arizona Fall League then become bigger? Do guys like Ramos and Joey Bart play a full season of Winter Ball? Will teams more aggressively push top prospects next spring because they're a year older, even if they don't have that year of experience? This is just one of a million things that'll have to be decided when baseball resumes. 

"Are we gonna see Mauricio Dubon in center this season?" -- haileyllanez

Yep, Gabe Kapler made that clear before camp shut down. I was asked to make an Opening Day lineup for a simulation we're running and I actually put Dubon in center for the opener because Kershaw was on the mound. 

If you missed it, Dubon was on The Giants Insider Podcast last week and told the story of how he started playing center field. 

"Who do you think will be the next superstar the Giants sign?" -- haroldstuart

I'll just say this, Mookie Betts offers just about everything that made Bryce Harper appealing last February. He doesn't have quite the star power, but he is a better player, and he'll be just 28 when he hits free agency this offseason, which he'll do regardless of how many games are played. 

There will be a lot of competition -- starting with the Dodgers, obviously -- but I expect the Giants to be in on Betts and I think they'll be better positioned than just about anyone when baseball returns. They're rich enough to survive a lost season, and the work continues on Mission Rock even as most of the rest of the city shuts down (it was deemed "essential" because it includes affordable housing).

The Giants might come out of this year looking at a farm system that's top five or 10 and a roster that's just one season from purging most of the big deals. If they want to accelerate the rebuild this winter, they can. 

"Where do you see Seth Corry in five years?" -- rjkerr28

At or near the top of the rotation. I have no idea why Corry doesn't get more love from national publications that rank prospects. As a 20-year-old left-hander, he had a 1.76 ERA in Low-A and struck out 178 in 122 2/3 innings. Give me all of that stock. 

"What is the craziest Giants moment you've ever been a part of?" -- blakewaldrop67

There are the obvious answers like Ishikawa and the Wild Card games and Bumgarner in Game 7, but I think one that stands out for "craziness" is Game 2 in Washington D.C. That is, literally, the coldest I have been in my life, and I know others feel the same. It was really nice and kind of humid during the day so nobody was prepared for what it would feel like when that game went six hours and 23 minutes. 

The press box at Nationals Park is at the very top of the stadium and the head of PR went down to the heated clubhouse in the ninth inning and refused to let his employees close the press box windows as the game went 18 innings. I don't have kind words for him. Baggs turned on a hot dog roller in the dining room and that's where we would go between innings to warm up our hands, with about 20 other journalists gathering in the bathrooms because they were heated. It was a weird scene, and that game had all kinds of craziness too. Yusmeiro Petit's relief performance is one of the most underrated in MLB history, in my opinion.

[RELATED: What impressed Giants GM in spring training]

"Over the years, which Giants player has had your favorite walk-up song?" -- timarcuscousins

Can I go with a reliever warm-up song instead? Javier Lopez never got the credit he deserved for using "Coastin'" by Zion I when he jogged in from the bullpen. That was such a unique choice and fit him perfectly, and I thought it always brought a different vibe to the ballpark. You just knew Lopez was going to strut up to the mound and calmly get out of the jam. 

And then ... Lopez switched it up and went with "The Humpty Dance" for a while. What a legend.