Down on the Farm: Giants flexing versatility with top prospects

Down on the Farm: Giants flexing versatility with top prospects

Through 11 games this season, the Giants have used 14 different position players, including four left fielders (Jarrett Parker, Chris Marrero, Gorkys Hernandez, and Aaron Hill) and three third basemen in (Eduardo Nunez, Conor Gillaspie and Hill).

It’s clear that Bruce Bochy values versatility on defense, and the Giants are making sure their top prospects are comfortable fielding multiple positions. 

Here’s a look at how three of the Giants’ top minor league hitters are being used defensively...

Christian Arroyo, 21, Triple-A Sacramento River Cats

2017 stats: 7 G, .407/.448/.630, 11 H, 1 HR, 3 2B, 7 R, 5 RBI

Positions: SS/3B/2B

Defensive stats: SS (3 G, 29 Inn., 0 E), 2B (2 G, 16 Inn., 0 E), 3B (2 G, 14 Inn., 0 E)

The Giants’ top hitting prospect has exceeded expectations in his first week of Triple-A ball. Arroyo is on a seven-game hitting streak and he belted his first home run of the season on Thursday.

Many consider Arroyo to be the team's third baseman of the future, but by grooming him at multiple defensive positions, the team could make him a valuable piece for Bochy sooner than later.

Jae-Gyun Hwang, 29, Triple-A Sacramento 

2017 stats: 7 G, .280/.357/.400, 7 H, 1 3B, 1 2B, 4 R, 3 RBI

Positions: 3B/1B/LF

Defensive stats: 3B (3 G, 26 Inn., 0 E), 1B (2 G, 18 Inn., 1 E), LF (1 G, 8 Inn., 0 E)

Hwang made his first career professional start in left field Thursday and caught all four balls hit his way. The bat-flipping internet sensation was a power-hitting star in Korea as a third baseman before signing a minor league deal with the Giants in the offseason. He showed his pop with five home runs in 27 spring training games.

Hwang also stood out to his teammates this spring with his hard work, winning the Barney Nugent Award.

“Players love him, and the way he’s come out every day and the effort he puts in. He’s been inspiring with how hard he has gotten after it every day,” Bochy said on Hwang winning the award

Chris Shaw, 23, Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels

2017 stats: 8 G, .269/.387/.462, 7 H, 1 HR, 2 2B, 1 R, 6 RBI

Positions: 1B/LF

Defensive stats: 1B (4 G, 40 Inn., 1 E), LF (3 G, 26 Inn., 0 E)

Shaw has major-league power. His bat will be his ticket to the bigs, but his ability to play a clean left field could also be key. Shaw didn't play one game in the outfield in his first two minor league seasons, but he did play right and left field while starring at Boston College. 

It’s still early in the process, but the Giants are still in search of a franchise left fielder. They've penciled in 10 different Opening Day left fielders in the past 10 seasons.  

Around The Horn

— Veteran outfielder Drew Stubbs made his debut with the Sacramento River Cats on Thursday. He was used as the DH and went 0-for-4 with 3 strikeouts. 

— Here’s video of Arroyo's first Triple-A home run. He hit three all of last season. That number is expected to go up this year. 

— Slade Heathcott is another interesting outfielder to watch. The former 2009 first-round draft pick of the Yankees is hitting .346/.414/.423 in eight games for the Richmond Flying Squirrels. 

Giants spring training Day 41: Hwang wins award, hits game-winner

Giants spring training Day 41: Hwang wins award, hits game-winner

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jae-Gyun Hwang’s day started with an ovation from teammates who had selected Hwang as the Barney Nugent Award winner. It ended in style, too. 

Hwang’s walk-off single in the ninth gave the Giants an 8-7 win and raised his spring average to .308. Barring an injury or sudden change, Hwang will not make the team out of camp, but he’ll travel to San Francisco for the Bay Bridge Series next week and the Giants expect him back at AT&T Park soon.

“He can keep the award now,” Bochy joked after Hwang’s walk-off. “Good for him. Players love him, and the way he’s come out every day and the effort he puts in. He’s been inspiring with how hard he has gotten after it every day.”

The Barney Nugent Award is given to the player in his first big league camp “whose performance and dedication in Spring Training best exemplifies the San Francisco Giants spirit.” It is meaningful in large part because the voters are teammates, trainers and coaches. Hwang was called to the middle of the clubhouse by trainer Dave Groeschner on Saturday morning to accept the award. 

“With this being my first time coming to spring training to play baseball, I wanted to work hard and show that I belong here,” Hwang said through interpreter Mark Kim. “I think my teammates have noticed how hard I’ve worked for the team.”

The rest of the Giants have also noticed how easy Hwang has made the transition look. He said that, outside of learning a new strike zone, the adjustment hasn’t been a difficult one. He has four homers this spring, but doesn’t necessarily view that as a shining positive. Hwang said he wants to show more of an all-around game, especially on defense, and a stint in Triple-A Sacramento should provide that opportunity. 

If the rosters play out as expected, Hwang should see most of the time at third base in Triple-A. He can also play first, and he’s eager to show that he’s viable in left field. 

“I want to show I’m a versatile player,” he said. 

GAME RECAP: Chris Stratton was having a good spring, but he got knocked around by the Padres early … Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford both hit deep homers in their second game back from the WBC … Mark Melancon still has not allowed a run this spring … Hunter Pence's March slump got a bit deeper with an 0-for-3 ... Bryan Reynolds, last year’s top pick, entered as a pinch-runner and flew home from first on a Gorkys Hernandez double off the wall. 

BULLPEN BATTLES: In the front office’s perfect world, Josh Osich would be the one to take over for Will Smith, giving the team a hard-throwing lefty capable of neutralizing lefties and righties. It’s been an up-and-down spring for Osich, but he was filthy Saturday, striking out a pair in his lone inning. 

George Kontos looked even better in his inning, striking out the side. Kontos has allowed just five hits in 10 innings this spring, with 15 strikeouts. He seems forever stuck in that sixth-seventh range, but given his splits have been just about even over the years, maybe it’s time the Giants see what he can do in a more high-profile role. 

Cory Gearrin followed the previous two with a perfect eighth. Neil Ramirez struck out one and allowed one hit in the ninth. In 9 1/3 innings this spring, Ramirez has struck out 16 and allowed just five hits and two runs. He has a real shot to take someone’s job in the bullpen next week. 

ICYMI: The big news from this morning: Michael Morse will stick with the team and try to rehab/play his way back to the big leagues. And from the early afternoon, Johnny Cueto had a ton of fun with a 19-year-old he faced in a minor league game. 

NOTABLE: Bochy said that all of the players left in camp are slated to head home on the team flight Tuesday, but some guys have opt-outs on March 30, so moves are coming. This would seem a great sign for Aaron Hill, who is due a $100,000 retention bonus on Tuesday. Hill has slumped late in camp, but he’s still in position to make the team. Also noteworthy: Tyler Beede is scheduled to start Saturday’s game in Oakland. The Giants surely want to knock some MLB-stadium-nerves off before Beede heads down to Triple-A to wait for a call-up.

 

Giants spring training Day 23: Right-handed bats make noise vs Dodgers

Giants spring training Day 23: Right-handed bats make noise vs Dodgers

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Tuesday’s lineup appeared to be an open challenge from Bruce Bochy to all the right-handed hitters in camp trying to win an opening day job. You’re facing Clayton Kershaw. Go make your case. 

Kershaw threw three innings against the non-roster-invitee-heavy lineup and … allowed zero hits. So, there is still no correct answer to that quiz, but the spring competition heated up considerably once the world’s best pitcher departed. 

Jae-gyun Hwang hit a solo homer in the fifth after earlier saving two runs for Matt Moore with a diving stop down the line. Moore was appreciative, and he said a former teammate who is currently playing in South Korea said he’s grateful that he no longer has to face Hwang. 

“He’s opened up some eyes," Bochy said. "You get somebody from Korea, you can look at video or the scouting report, but until you see them firsthand, you don’t get to appreciate the player.”

Mac Williamson hit his second opposite-field homer in two games. Chris Marrero got into the action an inning later, clearing the home bullpen with his third homer of the spring.

“Mac has really turned it up a notch,” Bochy said. “And Marrero, he’s had a great spring. It’s not going to be easy (to make roster decisions).”

Another right-handed hitter made sure he would be front and center in Bochy’s mind on the long ride back to Scottsdale. Trevor Brown made his Giants debut at second base, playing four innings after Joe Panik’s departure. Brown, who was drafted as an infielder, is trying to add some versatility in case the Giants decide to keep three catchers.

His day as a utility man started innocently, with a grounder up the middle in the seventh that was flipped to Christian Arroyo for an inning-ending force. With two outs in the ninth, Jose Miguel Fernandez hit a smash toward right that Brown knocked down with a diving stop. He threw Fernandez out to end the game. 

“How ‘bout that play,” Bochy said, smiling. “That’s a heck of a play by Brownie. He’s been getting ground balls there. We’re going to take a look at it. He looks comfortable out there.”

The franchise has never lost a game when Brown gets time at second base. 

GAME RECAP: The Giants have won two straight. Break up the Giants. Bochy was pleased with a pitching staff that’s really starting to come around, and on Tuesday it was led by Moore. You can read about him here. Tyler Beede pitched two more shutout innings, keeping his spring ERA at a tidy 0.00. 

STOCK RISING: Jose Dominguez, the former Dodger, pounded the bottom of the strike zone in a perfect ninth. In 3 1/3 spring innings, he has given up just one hit. 

“I really like the way he’s throwing the ball,” Bochy said. “He’s getting a lot of called strikes. The ball is jumping that well out of his hand right now.”

ICYMI: I wrote a feature about Conor Gillaspie’s defense and also sat down with him for an interview that ran on our Giants podcast. You can stream that here or download it on iTunes here.