Revisionist history hijacking discussion about Reds slugger
It’s the first inning of the San Francisco Giants’ 14-2 loss on Saturday night, and Adam Duvall — the club’s one-time unheralded farmhand turned 2016 National League All-Star — has just provided the Orange and Black with a 111-mph reminder of the power they could so desperately use.
The Reds are battering the Giants for the second time in as many nights and Duvall has just sent a Ty Black two seamer sailing into the seats beyond the left-field wall at Great American Ball Park.
These days, the Cincinnati Reds’ 28-year-old slugger is remembered around Third and King as the one who got away.
Last season, the right-handed hitter slammed 33 home runs — tied for sixth-most in the NL — nearly twice as many as Brandon Belt’s team-leading 17.
This year, Duvall has already connected on nine — more than double Belt’s four, again the most hit by anyone on the team. Collectively, the Giants have left the park 19 times — last in baseball.
The 2011 10th-round pick has also proven to be more than a mere creation of his hitter-friendly home digs at Great American Ball Park. During his All-Star season, Duvall tallied 16 long balls at home and 17 on the road, while also posting a higher slugging percentage away from the Reds’ stadium.
In the opening five weeks of 2017, left field has been a revolving door for the Giants. Brandon Belt, Gorkys Hernandez, Aaron Hill, Chris Marrero, Eduardo Núñez, Jarrett Parker and Justin Ruggiano have all started at the spot. General Manager Bobby Evans admitted on KNBR that the team “miscalculate[d]” the situation in the offseason and is “actively looking to upgrade” it in the present.
Even against that backdrop, to impugn Evan’s decision to trade Duval 21 months ago is to play the role of the revisionist historian.
On the eve of the 2015 trade deadline, the Giants — half a game behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West — landed Mike Leake to bump a scuffling Tim Hudson from the rotation.
The cost for Leake, who had allowed two earned runs in his past four starts, was steep. The Giants had to part with Keury Mella, then 21-year-old High-A right-hander, who MLB.com tabbed as the top prospect in the club’s system.
Duvall, who had been signed out of the University of Louisville for $2,500, was ranked No. 25 on the same list. As Evans later put it, the future All-Star was included to “finish” the deal.
Duvall’s minor-league résúme hinted at a ceiling as a power bat off the bench — not as a legitimate middle-of-the-order threat.
Back in 2012, Duvall cracked 30 home runs for the San Jose Giants, but that was within the confines of the California League — one of the most notoriously hitter-friendly circuits in the minors. Two years later, he went deep 27 times for the Sacramento River Cats but that was in the Pacific Coast League — another environment where runs are scored in abundance.
Duvall’s major-league debut in 2014 — when he hit .192 with three home runs in 28 games — hardly suggested he was the left fielder of the future at AT&T Park. Drafted and developed as an infielder, Duvall didn’t even play that position until winter ball, after the 2014 season.
Following the trade, Duvall underwhelmed at both stops with his new employer. Closing in on his 27th birthday, the infielder-turned-left fielder hit .189 with four home runs in Triple-A before producing a .219 average with five home runs in a 27-game September call-up.
While Duvall went on to take his quantum leap the next spring, Mella — the supposed prize of the deals — continues his plodding rise through the Reds’ farm. Still just 23, Mella spent 2016 repeating High-A and has a 4.76 ERA in six Double-A starts this season.
Meanwhile, the trade topper retains a fan in Evans, the executive who sent him to Cincinnati and inadvertently launched his career. At last year’s Midsummer Classic, Evans even organized a photo op with Duvall, Belt, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey — four “homegrown” All-Stars.
“I probably shouldn’t feel so happy for him,” Evans said when Duvall returned to AT&T — as a Red — a couple weeks after. “But I do.”