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Where the heck is Steven Duggar?

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And why isn’t he on my baseball team?

MLB: San Francisco Giants-Media Day Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Steven Duggar raked and ran all over the outfield this past Spring Training and to the tremendous credit of a Giants organization that tends to view young players as little more than trade pieces for grown adults, they spent all of this past Spring Training talking up Steven Duggar. Just six weeks ago, every single person involved with the Giants felt he was ready for a major league roster. Don’t take my word for it:

Brian Sabean:

Giants executive Brian Sabean thinks Duggar is the real deal, however, and told Murph & Mac on Thursday morning that Duggar is not only a possible five tool player, but that he is a major league caliber centerfielder right now.

...

“This kid has a chance to be a five-tool outfielder, let alone centerfielder. I think, and a lot of people in the organization think, that he right now is an above average major league centerfielder. He’s got a leg-up from the defensive standpoint, we just don’t know how the bat is going to adjust to not having as many minor league at-bats as you’d want to see.

...

“We’re keeping an open mind knowing that Jackson’s going to be on the team. At minimum he’s going to hit against left-handed pitching. It would be a nice story and it would be great for the organization if Dugger in everybody’s estimation was major league ready, because he is our next centerfielder.”

Bruce Bochy

“We really wanted him to continue his development, his progress. He didn’t get a lot of at-bats in AAA last year. And this kid really handled himself well. I mean he’s a pro. Worked his tail off. It wasn’t because of something he did. Just with the way it sets up right now we just wanna have him down there playing every day.”

“With what Duggar showed you this spring, does it give you a pretty good notion that he’ll be a factor at some point?”

“Oh, I’d say. Sure. No question. You know, with how he played, how he handled himself, he’s again a gifted athlete – but also a learner. You see him. He’s talking to the guys, he’s listening. He’s got the whole game I think. Defense. I think he’s going to be a good hitter. Bunter. Baserunner. We have, we think, a really special player in Duggar.”

John Shea

Asked whether Duggar has a good chance to make the roster, manager Bruce Bochy said, “Yeah. He’s still here.” That’s neither a yes nor a no. If Duggar opens at Triple-A Sacramento, where he has appeared in just 13 games, it might not be long before he makes his big-league debut.

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If Duggar sticks, he could platoon with Austin Jackson in center and be available to spell left fielder Hunter Pence and right fielder Andrew McCutchen. The Giants have considered keeping just one extra outfielder, and there’s plenty of competition including Gorkys Hernandez, who’s out of options, and Gregor Blanco.

and:

Duggar has a chance to win an Opening Day roster spot, perhaps in a platoon with Austin Jackson. A left-handed batter, Duggar must continue to produce offensively; he’s already considered major-league-ready defensively.

“It’s realistic,” manager Bruce Bochy said of Duggar’s chances. “You see him playing a lot. We’ll stay open-minded when deciding who the 25 guys are.”

Duggar said he gets his biggest kicks out of defense: “For me, there’s no better feeling than tracking down a ball and keeping those guys off the scoreboard.”

What about hitting a home run? “That one’s up there, too,” he said.

Duggar has received offensive advice from infielders Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik and Pablo Sandoval and defensive tips from outfielders Andrew McCutchen and Gregor Blanco.

And last year, Willie Mays.

“I talked to him about center field, pre-pitch routines, drop steps, stuff like that,” Duggar said of the Say Hey Kid. “Reiterating some things he’s done well.”

Very well, in fact.

Kerry Crowley

The organization could have pushed forward with Blanco and Duggar on the roster and designated Hernandez for assignment, but with Austin Jackson set to take the “lion’s share” of the reps in center field according to Bochy, the Giants wanted an outfielder like Hernandez who could come off the bench as a defensive replacement.

For the immediate future, Duggar will patrol center field in a crowded Triple-A outfield that includes Mac Williamson, Chris Shaw and Austin Slater, while Blanco could work his way into a platoon role with Jackson. However, once the Giants work their way into the middle of April, it’s possible Duggar could force the issue and bust onto the Major League scene.

Alex Pavlovic

Why Hernandez over Duggar??? - MANY people on Twitter.

This is actually pretty cut and dry. Duggar was not competing to be the fifth outfielder, he was competing to be the starting center fielder. Austin Jackson was signed in part because he crushed left-handed starters last season. The Giants may face six left-handed starters in the first nine games of the season, and they have two off days mixed in, too.

There you go.

So, Duggar will go down to Sacramento and play every day while Jackson will get the vast majority of the time in center over the first 11 days of the season. Hernandez seems slated for no more than five or six at-bats over that time, and that’s not what the team wanted for Duggar given how much time he missed last season.

Oh, and one last part of this: Bruce Bochy does not view Duggar as a platoon player. They believe he’ll hit lefties and be their everyday center fielder in the future, but Jackson hit .352 against left-handed starters last year and he’s going to get the first shot at Kershaw, Hill, Wood, etc.

I still believe Duggar will lead this team in center field starts this season.

Andrew Baggarly

My takeaway from this is that the Giants were just trying to get through the glut of lefties and expected Duggar to keep raking so they’d be forced to call him up. Sort of what happened with Mac Williamson. Thing is, Duggar’s not blowing it out in AAA and the Giants were 19-15 on Monday morning, so they probably were thinking they didn’t have to consider making a move.

But what will it take?

[I don’t have video of the ball popping out of Gorkys’ glove in Atlanta, so, just imagine it.]

(and being really unfair here)

... but also...

Austin Jackson (-5 DRS), Gregor Blanco (-1 DRS), and Gorkys Hernandez (-1 DRS) are all below average outfielders so far. Jackson’s the worst defender on the roster, in fact. This same trio (Hernandez: 87 wRC+, Blanco: 84 wRC+, Jackson: 56 wRC+) is better only than Kelby Tomlinson (86 wRC+), Brandon Crawford (75 wRC+), and Hunter Pence (0 wRC+) at the plate.

Austin Slater and Steven Duggar are already better options than Austin Jackson and Gorkys Hernandez. The Giants had a better option than Hunter Pence in Mac Williamson and made the move. Might the Giants not view Austin Slater as a better option than Austin Jackson because they don’t view Austin Jackson’s situation as being the same as Hunter Pence’s? And is that the bar for how bad it has to get before they make a move? Should it be?

Admittedly, Slater is probably the victim of Johnny Cueto’s sudden departure and Will Smith’s activation and Mac Williamson’s uncertain future and all the moves in and around them. He was sent back to AAA on May 2nd and will probably be back next week. Unless Mac Williamson is deemed eligible to return. But then again, Williamson has been down for so long that he’ll probably need to rehab before returning, so, a return next week is highly improbable. So we probably should expect Slater’s return. But will that be enough?

Again, it’s only May 10th. But also, it’s only May 10th.

Hank Schulman again:

PHILADELPHIA — A Giants team that lost 98 games last season had a nice three-week run, and after three fun-filled days in Atlanta, they were reminded what being a winning team feels like.

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In Thursday’s 6-3 loss the Giants struck out 15 times, 12 at the hands of starter Vince Velasquez, giving them 55 for the series. That obliterated the franchise record for a four-gamer, at least since 1913, when baseball started to keep accurate records.

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When the Giants slumped early this season they were chasing a lot of offspeed pitchers. In this series, the Phils fired fastballs at them that screamed, “Here you go. Hit it.”

Velocity is the name of the game now, and a Giants lineup full of older hitters who might not have the bat speed of the young studs in the game must find a way to adjust.

Grant Brisbee:

According to Andrew Baggarly’s sources, the Giants are looking at Jackson to be something of a super-fourth outfielder. From the Athletic:

Those in the know tell me that the Giants signed Jackson to serve as a depth piece at all three outfield spots, reprising the successful role he held with the Cleveland Indians last year.

My guess, though, is that Dugger is going to get a lot more at-bats than we’re expecting. It’s either that, or the Giants get someone like Peter Bourjos, who would make the major league minimum. Someone like, say, Gorkys Hernandez, if he’s available.

There’s still some work to do, though. Apparently Austin Jackson isn’t automatically the starting center fielder. That seems like an important update.

The 40-man roster crunch is quite the conundrum. Slater would seem to answer a lot of their questions and not create havoc, of course, but he’s not here. The Giants are in dire straits when it comes to their pitching, so it’s understandable that they’d go with adding more pitching depth. They need players who can get outs. Here’s the thing: the Giants don’t have anybody who can get outs. So, give it up. Chase runs.

What happened? Did one winning month blast the entire organization back to the bad old days of just last year? Oh, his AAA numbers aren’t great? He’s 24 and the organization views him as a 5-tool player. His defense is already better than what’s on the roster.

Relying on veterans to turn it around is exactly what got them in this mess in the first place. And relying on veterans to fill in until the regulars return is an “okay” strategy when you don’t have younger, cheaper players who can just as capably fill the role(s).

Gorkys Hernandez’s ceiling right now isn’t higher than Steven Duggar’s, and the sooner he gets the chance to struggle through a season, the sooner he can contribute. Gorkys’ minimalist contribution to the Giants’ group project isn’t sustainable. Austin Jackson was never supposed to be a full-time player. Blanco is doing exactly what’s been asked of him. Once Bumgarner and Samardzija went down, the expectations for the pitching went out the window. That shouldn’t change now that Cueto’s gone.

It probably makes no sense for the Giants to stick a rookie on a plane to fly him out to Pittsburgh to start tomorrow. But come Monday, when the Giants are back home, there won’t be any good reason for the Giants to change their plans.