SAN FRANCISCO — Three springs ago, Jarrett Parker opened eyes with a Cactus League grand slam that cleared the batter’s eye at Scottsdale Stadium. Last July, Mac Williamson scorched one off the scoreboard at Chase Field, a few miles from the Giants’ spring home.
The two sluggers have always looked comfortable in the desert, but the intensity will be stepped up when position players report to camp later this month. Parker and Williamson have been Plan A in left field throughout the offseason, but it turns out there’s a twist. This isn't a Parker and Williamson situation. It's likely Parker or Williamson on the Opening Day roster. On a conference call with beat writers recently, general manager Bobby Evans said the Giants aren’t looking at a timeshare.
“In a perfect world, one guy would win the job,” Evans said. “You’re not necessarily looking for a platoon. You’re looking for one guy to win the job.”
The job, held by Angel Pagan a year ago, is one of few available for the Giants. They need to sort out the bullpen pecking order, decide on a bench, and see if Ty Blach can unseat Matt Cain, but no competition is as intriguing as the one in the outfield. Parker and Williamson are similar players, power-packed corner outfielders who have shown flashes but have also spent plenty of time on the shuttle from Triple-A to the Majors.
Parker, 28, is a left-handed hitter with a .267/.371/.494 slash line and 11 homers in 205 big league at-bats. He had a memorable stretch in 2015, hitting six homers over nine games, including three in one game against the A’s. The 26-year-old Williamson has the better minor league numbers, but he has batted just .222 in 144 scattered big league at-bats. His resume also includes an intriguing stretch; in the five weeks before the trade deadline last year, Williamson posted a .407 on-base percentage in 27 appearances (20 starts), hit five homers, and made several diving catches in the outfield.
The Giants see plenty of talent in both, which is why Evans held firm in his belief that his 2017 left fielder was already on the roster when the offseason kicked off. The Giants have not added an outfielder on a big league contract, instead focusing on non-roster invitees. That leaves Parker and Williamson as the frontrunners for the job alongside Hunter Pence and Denard Span, and both players hold an edge that could matter when rosters are cut down two months from now.
Parker is out of options, so the Giants would have to subject him to waivers if Williamson (who can still be optioned to Triple-A) wins the job. Williamson should benefit from the simple fact that he bats right-handed and the rest of the lineup leans to the left in a division where the reigning-champion Dodgers are heavy on southpaw starters.
The competition will be decided over 40 days in Scottsdale. For now, here’s a look at the rest of the outfielders who will gather at Scottsdale Stadium to battle for one open starting spot and two bench jobs …
ON THE 40-MAN ROSTER:
Gorkys Hernandez: He’s the only outfielder on the roster other than the four already mentioned, and he’s likely the heir apparent to Gregor Blanco, who is now a Diamondback. Hernandez can provide the same defense/speed profile, albeit from the right side (which is helpful given the rest of the lineup). It would be a surprise if Hernandez is not the fourth outfielder.
Michael Morse: The Giants listed him as an outfielder on their non-roster release, but Morse has played just 35 innings in left since leaving in free agency after the 2014 season. To be a fit for the opening day roster, the 34-year-old will need to show he can still handle a start in left, because there aren’t many at-bats to be had at first after Brandon Belt’s All-Star campaign. If he can, it’s clear what else he brings: A big bat off the bench and a bigger personality, one the clubhouse could use after several years of losing energetic players to free agency and retirement.
Justin Ruggiano: The veteran has three homers off Madison Bumgarner and he’s a career .275/.338/.527 hitter against lefties. Again, that's a skill that would fill a huge need given the makeup of the NL West. The Dodgers starting staff will have at least three left-handers (Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Julio Urias) and also could include Hyun-jin Ryu and Alex Wood at some point.
Chris Marrero: The former first-rounder hasn’t played in the big leagues since 2013, but after hitting 23 homers in the minors last season, the right-handed-hitting outfielder/first baseman will get a long look this spring. He’s exactly the type of waiting-for-his-breakout player that has succeeded in Giants camp in the past, and Evans made a strong push to sign him early in the offseason.
Austin Slater: Players and coaches who were called up from Sacramento last September raved about Slater’s bat, and he’s an intriguing dark horse now that the Giants have decided to go young in left field. An eighth-round pick in 2014, Slater has a .305/.369/.439 slash line in three big league seasons. He hit 13 homers in 68 games after a promotion to Triple-A last season.
Steven Duggar: Giants executives rave about him, and he’s a regular on lists of the organization’s top 10 prospects. He’s a plus-plus runner and hits from the left side, giving him a much different profile than most recent Giants outfield prospects. Duggar played 70 games in High-A and 60 in Double-A last season, batting .302 with a .388 on-base percentage, 10 homers, 28 doubles and eight triples. He's not ready for the big leagues, but spring training will give him a chance to make a lasting impression on Bruce Bochy and his staff.
Wynton Bernard: The 26-year-old is coming off three seasons in Detroit’s system after two with San Diego. He plays all three outfield spots and has plenty of experience in center, which would give him a leg up on others if there’s an injury to Span or Hernandez. In 104 games at Double-A and Triple-A last season, Bernard hit .279 and stole 23 bases in 28 opportunities.
A WILD CARD OPTION?
At some point, you can bet that Bochy will be asked about playing Belt in left field, but it’s a plan the Giants have shown no interest in now that Belt is an All-Star and Gold Glove candidate at first. Evans is a big believer in a strong defense, and he has said repeatedly that the best option on a nightly basis is to have Buster Posey behind the plate and Belt at first.
There still is an infielder to keep an eye on, though. Ryder Jones, a former second-round pick, started to take fly balls last year and he’s certainly athletic enough to make a switch. It’ll be interesting to see if Jones, still just 22 years old, gets any meaningful time in left this spring.