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Steven Duggar just might be the starting center fielder, you know

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It would take a hot spring, but that’s what we’re getting so far

MLB: Spring Training-San Francisco Giants at Milwaukee Brewers Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Hello, and welcome to this year’s community projections, which are thinly veiled excuses to talk about a member of the 25-man roster for no specific reason. They’ve started about a week behind schedule, which means that we’ll get to Opening Day without someone important, like, oh, Johnny Cueto, which will allow us to skate by when he either wins the Cy Young or pitches his way out of the rotation. Like, oh yeah, we knew he was going to do ... that.

The community projections for this year will start with a twist, though. We’re going to take a look at Steven Duggar, who isn’t guaranteed to get even one major-league at-bat this year. He might not make the team out of spring training. He might not hit well enough at Triple-A to get added to the 40-man roster during the season. Gregor Blanco might reprise his role, just a little older and wiser, like a human Roseanne reboot. There are 40 different reasons why Duggar doesn’t have to affect the Giants a whole lot this year.

But there are a couple of reasons why it’s probably wise to err on the side of him being part of the plans. For one, he’s exactly what the Giants are looking for on paper, and he was already labeled as the potential starter before Austin Jackson. He’s left handed, a strong defender, and cheap. With an all-righty outfield right now, Gregor Blanco or Jarrett Parker would be the only hope to bust that up, and the Giants didn’t seem very eager to try Parker in center last fall, for whatever reason. Blanco or bust would be a heckuva way to plan a roster, considering the iffy 2017 season that forced him to take a minor-league deal in the first place.

What the Giants are looking for on paper, though, would have to overlook what the rest of the paper reads. Duggar’s ZiPS projections are absolutely appalling. The system has him hitting .218/.295/.333 over a full season, which is worse than the projections for Wynton Bernard, Orlando Calixte, and, uh, Justin Ruggiano. I don’t know enough about the secret sauce to speculate why this might be, but it probably has to do with a 23-year-old hitting .270 with limited power at Single-A. The numbers don’t take into account that it was essentially a rehab assignment, but it’s not like I have any idea how to adjust those numbers based on that tidbit, either. I’m terrible with tidbits.

Disillusioned? You don’t have to be. Because PECOTA, the blood rival to ZiPS, isn’t quite as sour. They’re giving him a shot at .241/.318/.365 with excellent defense in center, which is probably better than the best-case scenario for Blanco. That projects to be worth a win in their system, and he projects up to 2.5 WARP the following year. He would help the Giants this year, in other words, and his playing time would be something of an investment for 2019, too.

If you would like to ignore projection systems and focus on what really matters, we could note that Duggar is hitting for a 1.474 OPS in 17 at-bats this spring, and that’s clearly going to continue.

So what we need to figure out is a question in two parts:

  1. How much playing time will Duggar get in the majors this year
  2. How well will he hit?

Start with the first one. I think he’s going to start on the roster. He has more upside than Blanco. He’ll be cheaper. Both of those are important, as is the fact that he’ll have a bit of a buffer with Austin Jackson. This wouldn’t be the same kind of “Here, Brandon Crawford, you’re the starting shortstop” from 2012, which the Giants don’t do very often. There would be a chance to ease him in. I’d guess at least 60 plate appearances in April, for example.

After that, it’s up to him and what the Giants will find acceptable. Would that .683 OPS projected by PECOTA fly? If it came with plus outfield defense, almost certainly. The Giants know they aren’t getting A.J. Pollock. At least, not yet. They’re looking for Blanco, but maybe a little younger and springier. And cheaper. Don’t forget the cheaper, as every extra $500,000 will matter when the luxury tax reaper swings his scythe at the end of the year.

Duggar’s is just such a hard minor-league career to parse, though. On one hand, it’s deceptively simple. He’s a .292/.384/.427 career hitter in the minors, which is good for an .810 OPS. He had a .811 OPS across all levels last year. There you have it, then. He hits for a little average, knows how to take a walk, and isn’t allergic to doubles.

Except that OPS last year came with a lower batting average, and most of it was in San Jose. Was the .321 hitter in Double-A something of a fluke? Will he come closer to walking as much as he strikes out, Joe Panik-style, or will he swing and miss more as he gets closer to the majors? His .263/.367/.421 line in the Arizona Fall League came with 21 strikeouts in 90 plate appearances, which is most certainly un-Panik.

My guesses, then: He’ll get a shot. He’ll field well enough to stay on the roster. He’ll hit poorly enough to leave the job in 2019 open, but well enough to avoid being on the Capitol Corridor. It’ll look something like this:

Steven Duggar, 2018 projection
PA: 338
AVG: .249
OBP: .329
SLG: .341
HR: 5
SB: 6
rWAR: 0.9

A net positive, in other words, without looking like a future star. Which he still might be. He wouldn’t be the first non-top-100 guy the Giants have sent to the All-Star Game, but right now it’s more prudent to be cautiously optimistic.

It would have been better for the Giants to pay Lorenzo Cain millions of dollars, at least for 2018, but it’s not like we were told to expect that this offseason. If it wasn’t Duggar, it was going to be someone like Keon Broxton, and if it wasn’t him, it was going to be Gorkys II: The Next Day. Or maybe Gregor Blanco, which wouldn’t be the end of the world. It would just be really boring. And very Giants! But also boring.

Duggar wouldn’t be boring, though. He would come with that maybe-just-maybe excitement that prospects bring with them, and that’s enough for me to endorse him. Let’s see if he makes it out of spring training intact, though. There are a lot of potential off-ramps on the way to San Francisco that could make this projection look really silly in a couple of months. At which point I’ll delete the article and blame the new site manager.

I’ll be doing that a lot. Hopefully, Duggar isn’t one of the reasons why I’ll have to.