Defying decades of Giants AAA tradition, the Sacramento River Cats are actually contending late in the year, finding themselves in first place in mid-July. And right in the middle of the team’s offensive success is corner infielder Zach Green, a local kid who signed a minor league deal with the Giants over the offseason and has started to rake.
As someone who’s from Sacramento, went to high school in Sacramento, and whose family still lives in Sacramento, getting to play, and play well, for the River Cats has been very rewarding.
“I think the best part’s just knowing my parents are here to watch me a lot,” Green said on Saturday. “Because being on the East Coast, they weren’t able to get out that much, so it has been really, really cool.”
A third round pick by the Phillies in 2012 out of Sacramento’s Jesuit High, Green found immediate success in short-season ball in 2013, hitting .252/.344/.478 in 311 plate appearances for the Williamsport Crosscutters. But poor health derailed his career, with wrist, hip, and elbow injuries taking him off the field and keeping him from producing when he was on it.
“It’s weird being in your early 20s and going through a bunch of injuries and not being able to do that much,” Green said. “It’s something you can’t control, so that’s definitely the most frustrating part about it.”
Green had a breakout 2018 for the Reading Fightin’ Phils, hitting .296/.375/.578 in 312 PAs, and he attributes it all to finally being healthy. “It’s about the work that you put in before the game,” he said. “It builds on itself day to day, getting better ... I think when you’re hurt, you spend all day trying to get on the field, but when you’re healthy and on the field, you spend all day getting better.”
But despite the year he had in AA, and his decent-if-not-spectacular .248/.312/.432 line to finish the year in AAA, the Phillies declined to put Green on their 40-man roster after the season, making him a free agent. He was diplomatic about it, pointing out that a team that made a lot of offseason upgrades was in win-now mode (“Not that I’m not putting any value on myself,” he added), and wasn’t going to use a valuable 40-man spot on an unproven young guy.
The Giants were eager to swoop. And while Green grew up a Giants fan — he fondly remembers the ‘02 team in particular, and its offensive stars: Bonds, Aurilia, Kent, Snow — that was only a small piece of why he signed with San Francisco. The main thing was that they wanted him, and weren’t shy about letting him know.
“The Giants wanted me pretty early. I thought that was good news,” Green said. “It’s always nice to know that you’re wanted and they look forward to seeing you play, so yeah. It happened pretty early. Maybe 10 days after the World Series.”
“They were aggressive,” he added later. “Obviously, [growing up a Giants fan] made the decision easier, but I just wanted to go somewhere where I could play every day, show that I could play the game.”
And that’s exactly what he’s doing. Green is hitting .311/.414/.717 with 22 homers in 241 plate appearances. He’s already set a career high in homers for a full season, and he’s on track to set personal bests in walk rate (currently at 13.9%) and ISO (.416), as well as every part of his slash line.
There were mechanical adjustments over the offseason. Specifically, he worked on swing sequencing, getting his body working in harmony to get the bat head out in front of him easier, which had helped him with pitch selection.
“That, I think, is the biggest knock on me is swing and miss and chase rate,” Green said. “A lot of people have that issue, but I think if I have more time in the box, and I can trust that my bat head will get there, I think that will help me make better decisions.”
It’s hard to find fault with the decisions he’s made in the box in 2019. While the mechanical adjustments are one reason for his success this year, they’re not the only thing. There are a lot of very hitter-friendly parks in the PCL, but also, he just feels that he’s not missing pitches. And as long as you’re not missing pitches, well, “Everything else takes care of itself when that’s happening,” he said.
For now, Green is anchoring the lineup for his hometown team. But if the Giants manage to open up a spot at third or first base in the majors, it’s hard to see how they could justify not giving Zach Green a shot. And like any player in AAA, he would welcome it.
“It’s one of those things where you dream about it, but you never actually think about what it would actually mean to you,” Green said. “It would just show you that hard work does pay off.”