Jae-gyun Hwang’s spring home run would have been an out at AT&T Park, I’m sure of it. On a cold night, the ball would have died, and one Hairston or another would have settled under it.
That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t easy opposite-field power, the kind that could make Shawn Estes remark "Wow" while Jon Miller was still making the call. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t an impressive home run, or that it was Scottsdale-aided. It’s just a reminder that what’s impressive in the Cactus League might not be noticeable at AT&T Park, and that we probably shouldn’t get too excited.
On the other hand, look at the ball jump off the bat:
Just because there have approximately eight or nine opposite-field homers at AT&T Park in the last 16 seasons doesn’t mean that isn’t an impressive swing. That was what stood out about Hwang in the myriad YouTube clips. The power is real, and it’s to all fields.
Before we get irresponsible and pretend that we’re brilliant scouts who can determine how a swing against Collin Balester will translate to an at-bat against Clayton Kershaw, let’s explore what Hwang represents to the Giants. He’s a raffle ticket of power, and he was just about the only one the team had a potential spot for.
There were other raffle tickets of power this offseason. Chris Carter literally led his league in home runs, and he was lucky to get a major league deal. Mark Trumbo is strong man, very strong, and he crush puny baseballs, but he was always going to be too expensive for the Giants, even at the discounted rate. The problem with those two is that they need to play first base, and the Giants are already set there, even if they want to give Brandon Belt the day off against left-handers.
That left the outfield or third base. Colby Rasmus was affordable because of a legendary slump, and he looks like FoodMaxx-brand Jarrett Parker, but he was all the same risks and rewards as what the Giants already had on hand, just a lot more expensive. Todd Frazier was available, but the White Sox wanted better prospects than the Giants were willing to offer. That’s if they were willing to offer anything at all, considering Eduardo Nuñez still exists.
No, the Giants wanted power, but they didn’t want to put someone out of position to do it. They wanted a power hitter who was ...
- not a DH or defensive liability
And that’s just about impossible to find on the open market. Even if you ditched the stated desire for cheap, it’s still not easy to find.
It was Hwang or nothing, really.
Pretend for a moment that Hwang makes the roster. It doesn’t matter if it’s because of a hot spring or because that’s what the Giants were planning all along. He’s on the roster, and he’s at Bochy’s disposal. Where and when does he play?
He would play at third against a bunch of left-handers, with Eduardo Nuñez sliding over to second. While I’m not ready to platoon Joe Panik after one flukish season of poor splits, it’s worth getting him out of the lineup against Rich Hill and Clayton Kershaw, just as a way to time his regular rest days. And the Giants will face Hill and Kershaw about 48 times this year.
Hwang would be a big right-handed pinch-hitter off the bench, the first line of defense against left-handed relievers. He would be the prototypical down-by-one, one-runner-on hitter in the ninth, assuming Mac Williamson isn’t also on the roster.
He probably wouldn’t get much time at short, but he could also play third with Nuñez at short on the rare Brandon Crawford off-day (though this also applies to Conor Gillaspie).
There is, of course, the chance that Hwang hits his way into a job by May, not unlike what Matt Duffy did in 2015, but without the Casey McGehee-like crumbling of the guy in front of him.
All of these are possible. Here’s another thing that’s possible: Hwang doesn’t make the team and decides he doesn’t want to hang out in Sacramento for a couple months. He has an opt-out clause in his contract if he doesn’t make the roster, and while he has indicated he’s willing to go to Triple-A, I wouldn’t blame him for changing his mind, especially if his guaranteed offer from the Chiba Lotte Marines is still on the table.
So it’s at this point, four spring games in, when it’s most absurd to make predictions about Jae-gyun Hwang. Which is why we have no choice. It’s no fun to do this if he’s named the starter, and it’s certainly no fun to do it when it becomes clear he’s not making the team. Now, right now, is when we get to make the projections that will look silliest in a year.
Imagine if we got to do this with Matt Duffy before 2015, in other words. There would have been projections with zero at-bats, and there would have been projections where he hit close to .300 and finished with Rookie of the Year votes.
I’ll start. The wrong will marinate for a few months, and it’ll flavor everything by the middle of the year.
Jae-gyun Hwang (2017 projected)
I don’t think he’ll start. I don’t think he’ll make the team, considering this newfound fascination with veterans like Aaron Hill and Gordon Beckham, but he’ll find his way back, and he’ll do just fine. Maybe not enough to give him an extension or carve a starting job out for him, but just fine.
Deep in my heart, I’m hoping for the annual surprise that Giants fans are spoiled to get every year, and there’s a not-insignificant chance that it could happen. But I’m not going to get giddy about him just yet, even if I want to.
Really, really want to.