Jae-gyun Hwang was my favorite story of March because it was so unlike the Giants. They brought in an established international player for the first time since Kensuke Tanaka*, and he was the buzz of the Cactus League. I wanted him to make the team, and while this isn’t a real headline, it should have been:
The Giants are going to win 93 games, and Jae-gyun Hwang should be the starting utility infielder
Then the season started, and I mostly forgot about Hwang unless he did something that showed up in Minor Lines. He didn’t walk a lot. He was pretty average-dependent. The left-field experiment was a bust. While it’s not like the decision to keep Aaron Hill was inspired, it was hard to pretend like it was a big mistake to let Hwang develop in the minors.
Except there’s a wrinkle. Hwang’s contract allows him to opt out if he’s not on the majors by July 1, and he’s planning to use that leverage:
Official word from Jae-Gyun Hwang: He will opt out of his contract if not on the Giants roster by July 1.— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) June 27, 2017
And while his overall line of .290/.336/.478 isn’t that special for the Pacific Coast League, I’m pretty sure the Giants should call him up, just to make sure they aren’t giving up on someone who could be a valuable major leaguer.
One of my biggest concerns with Hwang in Triple-A is that he wasn’t walking. He had 109 plate appearances in May, and he didn’t walk a single time. Not once. He struck out 21 times, too, which mean that his plate discipline was absolutely abominable. He rapped out eight doubles, two triples, and four homers, so his power was working fine, but he was jumpier than a blindfolded Pedro Feliz.
Things are different now. In 85 at-bats this June, Hwang is hitting .324/.424/.559, which is a line that’s impressive in the PCL, EL, or any of the other Ls. The best part of this, though, is that he walked 14 times in 85 PA — nearly tripling his walk total for the season. Before you scream “sample size” at me, remember that walks actually stabilize with a small number of PA. Hwang is hot, and he’s not just hot in a .588 BABIP kind of way.
Back in November, Jeff Sullivan took a look at Hwang and noticed that he had become a much more selective hitter, and that his contact rate had dramatically improved. This would appear to indicate that he’s a hitter willing to adjust his approach. I’m not sure what got into Hwang’s hacking in May, or what was so different in June, but the results were striking. For the last month, this is the hitter the Giants hoped they were getting.
The Giants promoted Ryder Jones over the weekend, and while it’s a lot of fun to watch the new guys, I’m not entirely sure where the urgency was. They’ve been extremely aggressive with his placement for his entire career, moving him up consistently, even when it didn’t seem like he was stalling, and it paid off with a breakout season in Triple-A, but I would have loved to see him thrive at one level for a full season instead of immediately presenting him with the ultimate challenge of the majors. It’s too soon to consider Jones overmatched based on just 10 at-bats, but I’m still a fan of letting him continue his PCL dominance until a September call-up.
Hwang would get at-bats immediately with Eduardo Nuñez out (and Conor Gillaspie dealing with a sore back again), and he could be the Aaron Hill the Giants were hoping for. There probably wouldn’t be a lot of at-bats at first base, but he would give the Giants another right-handed option off the bench. While I love Kelby Tomlinson, it’s more than a little disconcerting to see him as the best right-handed pinch-hitter off the bench in a tight spot.
Hwang is going to be 30 in a month, so he’s not a huge part of the Giants’ future, don’t get me wrong. But he checks off a lot of boxes for me:
- New player!
- New player hits dingers!
- New player!
- I want to watch the new player
The Giants have three days to decide, and there’s a chance that Gillaspie could go on the DL again and make the decision easier for them. I’m hoping they get to keep Hwang, though. His last month is making a believer out of me, and I’m more than willing to attribute the first two months to rust and nerves.
* Teammates with Edwin Escobar on the Nippon Ham Fighters this year if you were wondering, which you totally were.