Mauricio Dubon

What are Giants' plans in center field after Kevin Pillar non-tender?

What are Giants' plans in center field after Kevin Pillar non-tender?

SAN FRANCISCO -- The decision to non-tender Kevin Pillar, like several others made over the past year, was not a popular one with Giants fans.

Pillar was a Willie Mac Award winner who did two things that fans could easily cheer: Hit home runs and make diving catches.

Go on Twitter and you'll find fans who say they won't attend a game next season and a weird contingent that believes Farhan Zaidi is a secret agent still working for the Dodgers. But all that anger ignores one key fact. The man who decided to move on from Pillar is the same one who acquired him a week into the season for two players who are no longer with the Blue Jays and one who had an 8.11 ERA in the minors. 

The Giants hired Zaidi to make good decisions, and there's no doubt that the trade for Pillar was a brilliant one. Zaidi believes moving on after one season is the right move, too, and time will tell if he's correct. 

What we know for now is that there's no going back, and there will be a new look in center field. In a conversation on Monday afternoon, Zaidi said the emphasis will be on adding production to the corner outfield spots. It's hard to find a good center fielder in free agency anyway, so the Giants will go young and go in-house.

Here's what that might look like in 2020:

The Favorite

Mike Yastrzemski got just 30 innings in center field last season because Pillar was an everyday player, but he generally looked comfortable out there, and he should. Yastrzemski actually has more minor league starts in center field (224) than any other position, and he has over 2,000 professional innings of experience in the middle of the outfield. 

Yastrzemski probably won't be climbing many walls or diving nearly as often as Pillar did, but he did a nice job in the corners last year and was worth seven Defensive Runs Saved in right field and eight overall. 

The Giants are fully confident that Yastrzemski can handle center field at Oracle Park -- the dimensions are shrinking a bit, too -- and if the season started today he would be their center fielder. 

The Young Guys

A year ago at this time, Steven Duggar was the Center Fielder of the Future. Duggar is still just 26 years old and is expected to be 100 percent for spring training after another season-ending shoulder injury. 

The Giants can't go into 2020 counting on much from Duggar, but they certainly are hoping for a breakthrough. If he improves his plate discipline and taps into his natural speed, Duggar could be the everyday center fielder. He's the organization's best defensive center fielder and would have been even if Pillar was brought back.

Jaylin Davis is another player the Giants want to take a long look at, although he has just 30 minor league starts in center field. Davis may see time out there in the big leagues, but he's more likely to benefit from the Pillar decision in a different way. With Yastrzemski set for lots of time in center, Davis -- a 25-year-old who hit 35 homers in the minors last year -- will have an opportunity to win at-bats in one of the corner spots. The same holds true for Austin Slater and potentially Chris Shaw. 

The Wild Card

When Zaidi traded a week of strong Drew Pomeranz relief appearances for Mauricio Dubon, he mentioned that one thing the Giants loved about Dubon was his potential as a super-utility player. On deadline day, Zaidi compared Dubon to Chris Taylor, but another Dodger could be a better fit. Kiké Hernandez mostly started at second base for the Dodgers last year but also made 43 appearances in the outfield, and Dubon is expected to shag plenty of fly balls next spring. 

Given where the roster is right now, Dubon is also the starting second baseman and a strong option to split time with Brandon Crawford at shortstop. But if he can handle center field, the Giants would have more of the flexibility they're seeking. They plan to be active in the infield market this offseason. If they add another middle infielder who hits right-handed, could you see that player at shortstop against left-handers with Donovan Solano at second and Dubon in center? 

The Future

When the Giants drafted Heliot Ramos in 2017, some scouts predicted he would move to right field. But the Giants have kept Ramos in center and there's no indication that he'll need to be moved next season. There were fears that Ramos would outgrow the position as he hit his early 20s, but he appeared slimmed down in the Arizona Fall League and the Giants will keep him in the middle of the diamond for now. 

[RELATED: Dickerson returns to Giants on one-year deal]

Now, Ramos is only 20 and doesn't even have 100 at-bats above A-ball, but the new regime wants to be aggressive with top prospects and Ramos will come to Scottsdale in February with a strong chance to earn a promotion to Triple-A. The plan is for Ramos to spend all, or most, of the season in Sacramento, but a September call-up seems likely and the Giants won't hold their No. 2 prospect back if the bat proves ready earlier than that. 

If you're looking way down the line, Hunter Bishop, last year's top pick, is also a center fielder. Bishop is likely at least a couple of years away, but he should start next season in San Jose. 

Giants' Mauricio Dubon needs jersey number after Gabe Kapler took his

Giants' Mauricio Dubon needs jersey number after Gabe Kapler took his

Gabe Kapler had his introductory press conference as the Giants' new manager, and he's chosen his uniform number as well.

The skipper has chosen No. 19 to sport this season, which means young infielder Mauricio Dubon will have to choose a new number -- and he needs your help.

He recently took to Twitter and asked what number he should wear now that he has to make the switch: 

No. 21 appeared to stand out from a Milwaukee Brewer's fan account, since Honduras became a country in 1821. Dubon was born in Honduras in 1994 (sorry to make you guys feel old).

[RELATED: Dubon gets engaged at Disneyland Paris]

Five-time All-Star second baseman Jeff Kent also sported the number with San Francisco.

We shall see ... 

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."