Drew Ferguson

Giants acquire Connor Joe, who has shot at making Opening Day roster

Giants acquire Connor Joe, who has shot at making Opening Day roster

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants swapped out a Rule 5 pick who wasn't going to make the team for one who now very well might. 

Drew Ferguson, an outfielder picked up from the Houston Astros in the Rule 5 Draft, was designated for assignment Thursday to clear a roster spot for Connor Joe, a utility man who was acquired from the Cincinnati Reds. Joe is under the same restrictions, and given that the Giants picked him up one week from Opening Day, there seems a good chance that Farhan Zaidi will try to tuck the former Dodgers prospect onto the roster. 

Joe, 26, has moved all over throughout his minor league career, primarily playing first base, third and the outfield. As a right-handed bat with a .363 career OBP in the minors, he fits a lot of what the Giants are looking for on their bench. That also could lead to some interesting decisions next week. 

The Giants already were trying to decide how to squeeze Yangervis Solarte, Alen Hanson and Pablo Sandoval on the roster, with the latter two looking like tough calls. They also could try to put Joe in the outfield mix, perhaps at the expense of a player like Mac Williamson or Cameron Maybin. 

Joe had a .935 OPS with 17 homers in Double-A and Triple-A for the Dodgers organization last season. He was the sixth player selected in the Rule 5 Draft at the Winter Meetings, and hit .275 this spring for the Reds. 

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The Giants had hoped Ferguson would fill these holes, but he had a poor spring and was not in position to make the club. The Giants would have had to offer him back to the Astros next week, with very little hope of keeping him in their system. 

To acquire Joe, the Giants traded minor league right-hander Jordan Johnson and cash considerations to the Reds. Johnson had a 4.37 ERA in 86 minor league appearances for the Giants. 

Drew Ferguson focused on skill Farhan Zaidi coveted to make Giants roster

Drew Ferguson focused on skill Farhan Zaidi coveted to make Giants roster

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- For young players in camp, every inning in a Cactus League game is an opportunity to add to the resume and pad a stat line that hopefully will put you on the roster when decisions are made.

Perhaps you'll be the position player who hit .392 or slugged six homers and can't be sent to the minors. Or the pitcher who compiled a 1.50 ERA.

That's what has made Drew Ferguson stand out to the staff this spring. With the pressure on, he has been his usual, patient self, working counts and trying to have good plate appearances in situations where others might be swinging for the fences. That's exactly what Farhan Zaidi, the man who ultimately will decide Ferguson's fate, wants to see. 

"It's tough in this kind of setting with this kind of sample size to expect a certain stat line," Zaidi said. "I don't think he has a lot to show for a lot of those quality at-bats. But we're not going to evaluate him based on the batting average. We're looking for overall at-bat quality."

That's a good sign for Ferguson, who was in a tough spot to begin with. As a Rule 5 pick, he must make the Opening Day roster or else he'll almost certainly end up back with the Houston Astros. The Giants don't want Ferguson to feel that pressure. They want him to be himself, and he certainly has shown that.

While getting the opportunity to lead off on Saturday, Ferguson took a close 2-2 pitch from Cole Hamels and then drew a walk ahead of Buster Posey. The high was followed by a low -- Ferguson got picked off. 

Overall, the 26-year-old is hitting just .143 this spring, but he has a more respectable .333 on-base percentage thanks to five walks in 27 plate appearances. 

There will be growing pains, but Zaidi said he feels Ferguson has run the bases well and played good defense in center field. The coaching staff views him as one of the fastest players in camp. And, "he has had really good at-bats," Zaidi said.

That's something that has always been the key for Ferguson, who doesn't have prototypical size or a big school background. He's listed at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, and was a 19th-round pick out of Belmont University, but throughout his minor league career with the Astros, Ferguson showed an innate ability to get to first base. 

Ferguson has a .393 on-base percentage in the minors and posted a .432 OBP in 316 plate appearances across two levels last season. In 65 Triple-A games, the center fielder had a .305 average and .436 OBP. 

"I kind of realized when I was younger that it was important," he said. "I followed advanced stats in high school and already knew about sabermetrics and analytics, whatever you want to call it. I kind of just saw that it's really important to get on base. I think I just prioritized that over the years and developed the skill, and the Astros, they valued that skill as well, and helped me develop it further."

The Giants could use more of it. Much more. 

They finished 28th in the majors last year with a .300 on-base percentage, their lowest team mark in 33 years and the eighth-lowest in franchise history. All 10 postseason teams finished in the upper half of the majors in on-base percentage, and in an era when launch angle is all the rage and players are changing their swings to get loft, Ferguson remains focused on the stat that was at the heart of the previous revolution.

"Here's the thing," he said, "People talk about the game changing or how it's going in a different direction. But it's always been valuable to not get out."

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Zaidi made that an emphasis as soon as he came on, adding hitters at all levels who do a better job of simply reaching base. He is looking for right-handed help in the outfield and views Ferguson as a potential boost, regardless of what the batting average has been this spring. 

"Drew factors in there," Zaidi said of the outfield race. "The Rule 5 guys, it's find a spot for him or lose him, so that definitely factors in."