Rebuilt outfield Giants’ greatest improvement over 2017
In the 40 June amateur drafts between 1978 and 2017, the Giants failed to draft and develop a single All-Star outfielder.
The franchise of Willie Mays remains mired in an unprecedented drought of homegrown star outfielders.
That’s not to say the Giants haven’t employed star outfielders since drafting Chili Davis in 1977. Jeffrey Leonard and Kevin Mitchell remain fan favorites. Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco, Andres Torres and Cody Ross were all integral parts of championship teams over the last eight seasons. Oh, and that Bonds fellow who’s getting his number retired in August.
There might be hope on the horizon, as well. Twenty-four-year-old Chris Shaw gets rave reviews for his power and general hitting ability and has a chance to debut with the big club some time in 2018. Top prospect Heliot Ramos, 18, has the tools and potential to be a star but is likely four or five years away from the majors. Austin Slater and Steven Duggar both have a chance to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster. The system isn’t completely bereft of outfield talent the way it has been in the past.
In the meantime, the Giants overhauled the outfield during the offseason. Of the Jarrett Parker–Denard Span-Pence trio that started on Opening Day last season, only Pence is projected to play a significant role in 2018.
The crown jewel of the revamped outfield is Andrew McCutchen, scheduled to play right field.
The Giants acquired McCutchen from the Pittsburgh Pirates in January for reliever Kyle Crick and minor league outfielder Bryan Reynolds. The trade, made about a month after the team acquired third baseman Evan Longoria from Tampa Bay, left manager Bruce Bochy euphoric for the upcoming season:
“You get a player like this after getting Evan (Longoria), we were all some pumped about that happening. Now on top of that we get Andrew. He’s one of the best all-around players in the game. An impact player. I’m sure like everyone else on the club it sent a sense of excitement through everybody.”
McCutchen, 31, likely isn’t the same player that finished among the top five in National League MVP voting for four straight seasons from 2012 to 2015, including a win in 2013, but he’s still a valuable and energetic player. McCutchen will be a free agent after the 2018 season, and while it’s anyone’s guess whether the Giants will try to re-sign him nine months from now, he’s likely to make his mark on both the Giants and the team’s fans.
The Giants dealt Span in the package for Longoria after the 33-year-old endured the worst defensive season of any center fielder in 2017. His .272/.329/.427 triple slash was fine enough, but the Giants needed to shed his $11 million salary to duck under the $197 million luxury tax threshold in 2018.
In his place is likely to be Austin Jackson, who inked a two-year, $6 million contract with the Giants on Jan. 22.
Jackson hasn’t been an everyday starter since 2015 and the Giants don’t necessarily view him as one, but he is likely to start against lefties at least. Jackson was a Detroit Tiger during the 2012 World Series and mentioned the Giants’ “unreal” fan support as one reason why he wanted to join the team:
“Coming to a team with a rich pedigree, you’re pumped up because you want to be a part of that. You know what this team has been capable of in the past five, ten years. I got a chance first-hand to see what this team is capable of so I just really wanted to be a part of that.”
Should the Giants decide to platoon Jackson, Blanco and Duggar appear to be the two players most likely to fit that bill. The Giants brought Blanco back on a minor-league deal before Spring Training began and while Bochy wouldn’t handicap his odds of making the Opening Day roster, he praised Blanco’s value on the field and in the clubhouse:
“He’s so loved by his teammates. He has a great attitude. He’s fun to be around. He gives us options, some versatility out in the outfield, he can play all three outfield positions. With his experience and our knowledge of him, I’d say he’s got a good chance to make the club.”
It is worth noting that the Giants would need to add Shaw to the 40-man roster should he make the team out of Spring Training. Though the front office likely wants to give him a few more defensive reps in Sacramento but he should be part of the team’s plans in 2019 and beyond.
Duggar likely would’ve made his major-league debut in 2017 if injuries hadn’t limited him to only 44 games between high-A San Jose and triple-A Sacramento. Duggar has slashed .292/.384/.427 in 232 minor-league games since the Giants drafted him in 2015. That includes only 13 games above double-A, though, and Duggar’s real selling point is his glove, consistently praised by prospect mavens and the Giants’ brass for being major-league ready.
The Giants have Pence penciled in to start in left field, a position he hasn’t played since 2006 when he was in the Houston Astros farm system.
Pence’s 2017 was his worst since coming to San Francisco with an on-base plus slugging percentage of .701 in 134 games. Pence turns 35 in April but the hope is that AT&T Park’s left field will mask the degradation of his defense more than right field did last season. Maybe most importantly, the additions of Longoria and McCutchen to the lineup take a weight off Pence to help carry the offense.
A handful of other bench candidates should battle with Duggar and Blanco to be the team’s two back-up outfielders. Parker is out of minor-league options, so he might have a leg up on the rest of the lot. Slater impressed in about 30 games before suffering a hip injury that ended his 2017.
Mac WIlliamson isn’t likely to see major-league playing time unless there are injuries to players ahead of him on the depth chart. Gorkys Hernandez is also in the mix to be the back-up center fielder but underwhelmed offensively for most of 2017.
Improving the outfield was far and away the Giants’ biggest need entering the offseason. Adding McCutchen and Jackson to a stable of guys who could surprise as one of the best outcomes the Giants could have hoped for short of signing free agent outfielder J.D. Martinez to a long-term deal. With players like Shaw and Duggar, who should be major-league contributors in the future if not 2018, this season could be a turning point for production from the Giants’ outfield — and the development of its future.