Giants spring training Day 4: Hwang hopes power translates

Giants spring training Day 4: Hwang hopes power translates

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Jae-gyun Hwang started preparing for his first big league camp a year before he signed with the Giants. Hwang is YouTube-famous for his spectacular bat flips, but after hearing that American pitchers don't react well to showmanship, he quit cold turkey.

"I told him you have to stop," his agent, Han Lee, said Thursday. "He initially didn't think it was possible."

Hwang smiled as the story was told. 

"All 27 homers I hit last season, I didn't do a single bat flip," he said through interpreter Mark Kim.

The Giants would be just fine with a bat flip or two if it meant Hwang was doing what is anticipated. They brought him here to be a power threat, either at third base or off the bench, and it turns out this is a marriage that's been telegraphed for quite some time.

Hwang chose the Giants in part because of how much interest they have shown over the years. Multiple Giants scouts watched him last season in Korea and five front office employees -- including John Barr -- attended a showcase event in Florida. Hwang signed a minor league deal in January that will guarantee him $1.5 million plus incentives if he’s on the big league roster. 

"I wanted the opportunity to compete at the highest level," Hwang said. "Ever since I was little that was the dream, to be able to play in the major leagues. When the opportunity came I had to seize it."

Giants officials had been receiving positive reports on Hwang for years, and their belief in him was bolstered by the success of other Korean players who came over to MLB, particularly Pittsburgh’s Jung Ho Kang and Baltimore’s Hyun Soo Kim. 

“I’ve seen video and he’s got a great swing,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “You see with your eyes that he’s got a great swing and that swing will work.”

The push for a roster spot will be about more than just the transition to facing MLB pitching. Hwang has primarily been a third baseman in his career but he said he has worked out at other positions to prepare for a camp competition. He brought three gloves to Scottsdale, one for third, one for first base, and one for the outfield.

“We’d like to create some versatility with him,” Bochy said. 

If Hwang doesn't make the team out of camp, he said he will go to Triple-A. His contract includes an opt-out at the end of March.

"A lot of people assume that if he doesn't make (the opening day roster) he's going to run back to Korea," Lee said. "That's not his mentality."

Hwang said he talked to former Giant Ryan Sadowkski -- now a scout for the Lotte Giants -- about the Giants and the big leagues. He mentioned being eager to meet Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, and said he's excited about playing defense behind Madison Bumgarner. More than anything, he's ready to see how his game translates.

"What I'm most curious and excited about is to face the best of major league pitching and see and feel their pitches firsthand," he said.

ICYMI: The other big story from Day 4 was the arrival of Mike Morse. Here's my feature about Morse and the entertaining way he found his way back to the Giants. I will say, the Giants have to be more optimistic about Morse's chances than they were when the deal was first offered. He's really in great shape, and it's not hard to picture him smashing a couple out of Scottsdale Stadium this spring and reminding Bochy what it's like to have a right-handed threat off the bench. 

ICYMI PART II: From yesterday, a podcast with Tyler Beede. You can stream it here or download it on iTunes here.

HELPING HAND: I wrote yesterday about Trevor Brown playing second base this spring. He was surprised by the Nick Hundley signing, but he at least found the right place to go after being told to add versatility. Brown got an infield glove from two-time Gold Glove winner Brandon Crawford. 

FAMILIAR FACE: I'm simply the messenger, but if you can handle it, here's Sergio Romo in Dodger blue.  At some point, we're going to see Romo at AT&T Park in that jersey. Luckily for Giants fans, it never happened with Morse. He spent a few hours as a Dodger in 2015 during a flurry of trades, but he never suited up for Los Angeles. Morse did however find quite a bit of humor in the situation, so he ordered a Dodgers "Morse" jersey. "I had to," he said laughing. "I framed it."

QUOTABLE: "I would be curious how good his knuckleball is. I haven't seen it, but he used to mess around with it," Bochy on Brian Wilson. (That's one comeback you shouldn't expect.)

Giants spring training Day 13: Cain goes two; Melancon has perfect debut

Giants spring training Day 13: Cain goes two; Melancon has perfect debut

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Bruce Bochy planned to give most of his pitchers one-inning stints during the first weekend of spring ball, but Matt Cain stretched it out to 40 pitches on Saturday. 

“I’ve had enough days off the past couple of years,” Cain said, smiling.

In his first start of a crucial spring, Cain threw two innings. He was charged with three hits and two runs, just one of them earned. 

“He’s in a good place right now with his arm strength,” Bochy said. “His delivery is consistent. I’m glad he got a lot of work today, to be honest. It’s something he needs as much as anybody on this staff, is work. He’s going to get it.”

Ty Blach, Cain’s biggest competition for the fifth starter spot, gave up four hits and one earned in his two innings. Neither pitcher was hit particularly hard, and both suffered a bit from iffy defense in the early innings of an 8-6 win over the Cubs. 

The inning separating Cain and Blach was notable for other reasons. Mark Melancon made his Giants debut, getting two groundouts and a fly to right in a quick inning. Melancon received a nice ovation, and he noted the opponent — a Cubs team that helped guarantee the Giants would spend big on a closer — but he didn’t put any added importance on the outing. 

“It doesn’t matter what I do out there right now,” he said. 

Melancon’s new teammates might disagree. Spring or not, the Giants certainly enjoyed watching a closer breeze through his inning. Especially against the Cubs. 

“He’s a pro,” Bochy said. “He’s going to be out there working on stuff, his command and pitches. It was good for Buster (Posey) to catch him. It was a good day for him.”

NOTABLE: On his first swing of the spring, Posey threw his bat up against the visiting dugout. It can only go uphill from there … Bryan Morris had a scoreless debut, striking out one … Josh Osich ran into some trouble in the eighth and gave up a pair of runs, but Bochy appreciated the way he fought his way out of the frame … Former Giants prospect Chris Dominguez started for the Cubs at first base. He had a couple of hits ... If you're headed to Goodyear for tomorrow's game, Joe Panik, Brandon Belt, Conor Gillaspie, Jimmy Rollins, Mac Williamson, Jarrett Parker, Gorkys Hernandez and Trevor Brown will start behind Matt Moore. Also, if you're headed to Goodyear, I'm sorry. 

TRAINER’S ROOM: Eduardo Nuñez is limited to DH duty for now because of a sore throwing shoulder. Nuñez said the tightness popped up after some work in the weight room, but he’s not concerned at all. He said he would have played third base if Saturday’s game was a regular season contest. The Giants expect him in the field sometime next week. 

Nuñez also said it took five weeks after the season ended for his hamstring to get back to 100 percent, so apparently that injury was much worse than it first looked. Nuñez was out on the field before every NLDS game, trying to get clearance to return. He never quite got there. 

Will Smith (elbow) is just a day or two from throwing off flat ground, Bochy said. 

CUETO UPDATE: The Giants had hoped to have Johnny Cueto in camp this weekend, but he remains in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. Cueto is waiting for a visa for his ill father, Domingo, who will travel to Scottsdale with Johnny. 

LIGHTER SIDE: Brandon Crawford spent a couple of minutes learning some of Jeff Samardzija’s mound moves. The impersonation is pretty solid. 

Giants rookie Hwang goes opposite field for first spring homer

Giants rookie Hwang goes opposite field for first spring homer

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jae-gyun Hwang spent his final season in Korea focusing on not flipping his bat. The excitement of his first home run in a Giants uniform nearly scuttled that plan.

“If I would have known it was going to go over the wall, I maybe would have thought about (flipping the bat),” Hwang joked. 

Hwang instead busted it nearly all the way to third on a ball that cleared the wall a few feet from the right-field poll. He said he was aiming for a triple off the bat, but the ball had enough backspin to hit the berm. The opposite-field homer came on a two-strike count. 

“I’m sure it's a relief for him to get his first hit, and of course, a homer,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “The ball carries here and he’s strong. Once it got up in the air there I thought it would go out. He did a good job of going the other way. You get a couple of strikes, you want to think the other way there.”

Bochy has liked what he’s seen from right-handed hitters the first two games, both victories. The Giants are intent on adding some thunder to their bench and on back-to-back days they have gotten late homers from non-roster invitees. A day after Chris Marrero’s three-run walk-off, Hwang hit a three-run shot. Justin Ruggiano, another right-handed bat, scorched a double in Saturday’s 8-6 win over the Cubs.

“We’ve got some good candidates and good players,” Bochy said. “They have pop. We’ll keep throwing them out there. You hope they make it hard on you, and I’m sure they will.”

Hwang had a rough debut, striking out twice in Friday’s Cactus League opener. He said he was over-swinging. 

“Typically I don’t really get nervous before games, but I got a little nervous and jittery yesterday,” he said through interpreter Mark Kim. “I had unnecessary power in my swings.”

Hwang said coaches approached him after Friday’s game and told him to relax. The easy power that so intrigued the Giants showed up on Saturday.