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.)

Source: Giants to add Korean infielder on minor league deal

Source: Giants to add Korean infielder on minor league deal

The Giants are expected to finalize a minor league deal with Korean infielder Jae-Gyun Hwang this week, CSNBayArea.com has confirmed, adding another depth option as spring training approaches.

Hwang, 29, will be a non-roster invitee with a chance to make the club as a right-handed power bat off the bench.

Hwang has played 10 seasons in the KBO and is coming off back-to-back 26-homer seasons. He posted a .330/.391/.558 slash line last season for the Lotte Giants in what is considered a hitter-friendly league. 

The Giants have Eduardo Nuñez lined up as their starter at third base with Conor Gillaspie also fighting for playing time. Hwang could potentially provide a different look for a bench that is lacking in right-handed power. If he makes the club, Hwang will have a salary of $1.5 million, plus incentives. His deal is expected to include opt-out clauses that would allow him to return to the KBO.

The deal was first reported by Naver Sports in South Korea. 

Report: Giants showing interest in Korean infielder Jae-gyun Hwang

Report: Giants showing interest in Korean infielder Jae-gyun Hwang

The Giants are yet to sign a big-name bat during this offseason, most notably bringing back Michael Morse on a minor-league deal and also signing veteran infielder Jimmy Rollins to a minor-league deal as well. 

In the latest news on the rumor mill though, San Francisco's front office has kept tabs on a big name in Korea. The Giants have reportedly showed continued interest in free agent infielder Jae-gyun Hwang, according to MLB Network's Jon Morosi.

Hwang, 29, primarily plays third base. He is an unrestricted free agent and will not require a posting fee. 

In 2016, Hwang produced a career year for the Lotte Giants of the Korean Baseball Organization, hitting .330/.391/.358 while tying a career-high 26 home runs in 118 games played. At the plate, Hwang also notched a career-best 104 RBI, and swiped 24 bases. 

A big change to Hwang's approach last season could be boosting the interest of MLB clubs. Two seasons ago, Hwang struck out 122 times and posted a .350 on-base percentage. Then, in 2016, Hwang cut his strikeouts down to only 64, his lowest since 2008, and increased his on-base percentage to the highest of his career. His strikeout rate dropped from 22.8 percent of his at-bats to 13.8 percent in just one year.

Over 10 seasons in the KBO, Hwang has hit .285/.349/.433 with 114 home runs, 585 RBI and 172 stolen bases.