LaMonte Wade Jr. went back to school last winter at the University of Maryland, where he studied hitting. It’s fair to say he passed.
Wade has ascended toward the top of the Giants’ 2021 class on a roll call filled with star pupils. Veterans Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey and Brandon Belt possess the status that makes them most identifiable with the Giants’ success. Yet the ballclub might not be leading the National League West with the Major Leagues’ best record without contributions from Wade and other newcomers.
Wade is among a handful of performers who ended last season injured or in a different organization and began this year in the Minors. He and others who share his profile — a group that includes Jason Vosler, Jay Jackson, John Brebbia and Sammy Long — have taken turns contributing to winning efforts.
Until Kris Bryant’s arrival, Wade was by far the most valuable newcomer among Giants position players. Obtained from Minnesota on Feb. 4 for right-hander Shaun Anderson, he entered Thursday’s series opener against Colorado tied for fourth on the team lead with 14 home runs. Wade, 27, also ranks fifth in slugging percentage (.531) and sixth in OPS (.864). Though the left-handed-batting Wade remains vulnerable to platooning — he’s batting .087 (2-for-23) off southpaws — manager Gabe Kapler trusts him enough to assign him key roles. Wade has hit leadoff in 41 starts and has played all three outfield positions, besides first base.
“I always stay ready,” Wade said recently, “so I don’t have to get ready.”
Too often in the past, Wade might not have felt ready to hit. A ninth-round selection by the Twins in 2015, Wade recorded a lofty .389 on-base percentage during six seasons in their Minor League system. But the Powerball era had arrived, and Wade felt that he could do more.
So, he spent last offseason driving an hour each way three times a week from his home in Towson, Md., back to the college he attended for three years. There, he worked with Maryland’s hitting coach, Matthew Swope, to improve his swing.
“It’s completely worth it,” Wade said of his commute.
Wade explained that his goal was to “hit the ball more out in front instead of letting it get in on me and jam myself. Give me a better chance to drive the ball in the air.”
Wade initially endeared himself to the Giants and their fans on May 28. Replacing an injured Belt, Wade drilled a tiebreaking 10th-inning single off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. San Francisco triumphed, 8-5.
Such clutch efforts have been typical of Wade, whose 14 go-ahead RBIs rank second among the Giants to Crawford’s 18.
“LaMonte is ice-cold. There’s just no other way to put it,” left-hander Alex Wood said. “It’s been an absolute blast watching him compete every day.”
A peek into Wade’s personal background will prompt bad puns about his ability to “deliver” runs. His father, LaMont Sr., retired two years ago from his job with the U.S. Postal Service. His mother, Emily, continues to work for the Postal Service at its main office in downtown Baltimore.
The Giants’ Wade certainly inherited his parents’ professional resolve. Tuesday against Arizona, he went hitless in his first four at-bats, then singled to christen the ninth inning. That started San Francisco’s winning rally in its 8-7 decision.
“You can never really get too down on yourself because you know a big spot is coming up eventually — later in the game or even in your next at-bat,” Wade said.
Said Kapler, “LaMonte has been pretty steady with his mental toughness and his ability to make adjustments and not let the beginnings of his games spill into his later at-bats or his defense. His mind has been strong.”