Questions in the outfield: Giants look to continue homegrown success

A couple of hours before the San Francisco Giants beat up the Milwaukee Brewers 10-1 on Wednesday afternoon, George Kontos was relaxing in the clubhouse as MLB Network played in the background.

The topic of conversation — whether the Giants will trade for Ryan Braun — demanded the attention of the quick-witted reliever.

“There are two reasons why the deal won’t happen,” Kontos blurted out — as he sat up in his chair. “A.) It’s way too early. B.) They’re going to have to give up way too much.”

Kontos’ impromptu breakdown drew laughter from nearby reporters, but the reality of the situation is that everyone from the players to general manager Bobby Evans knows the Hunter Pence-less Giants need help in the outfield.

With the right fielder slated to be out until early August as he recovers from a torn right hamstring, Evans hopes that help comes from a player already in the organization.

Jarrett Parker is the leading in-house candidate with Mac Williamson slightly trailing. The team recently optioned Williamson back to Triple-A Sacramento, but the outfielder has already had three stints with the big-league club.

“There’s nothing I would enjoy more than having one of them emerge as a guy we could count on on an everyday basis,” Evans said. “And they’re getting opportunities, but it is in the heat of battle.”

While the Giants are famous for developing homegrown talent, trade pickups and free-agent acquisitions have consistently populated the outfield during the club’s three World Series runs since 2010.

The homegrown guys have popped up on the mound and in the infield.

“Outfielders are a little easier to acquire,” Evans explained, “and middle infielders are a lot harder to acquire, you tend to want to grow your middle infielders within and trade for your outfielders.”

It’s not just in the middle of the diamond where the Giants have aced the draft, but all around the infield. The front office landed Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford in 2008, snagged Brandon Belt in 2009, selected Joe Panik in 2011 and added Matt Duffy in 2012.

With the exception of Duffy (an 18th-round steal), the Giants found all of those players in the opening five rounds. Parker (a second-round pick in 2010) and Williamson (third-round in 2012) stand out as two examples of exceptional early picks on corner outfielders.

Evans knows it’s not fair to expect the developing sluggers to slot into the big league batting order as seamlessly as high-average infielders like Panik and Duffy.

“It’s one thing to add what Panik and Duffy have done — coming up and immediately fitting into the everyday lineup,” Evans said. “But they’re not dependent upon power — as often a corner outfield spot is dependent more on power. We’re really dependent on them just getting on base and driving in some runs and keeping the quote end-quote lineup moving along.”

If Evans wants to summon an outfielder in the Panik/Duffy mold, his best bet is 2014 eighth-round pick Austin Slater. The former Stanford standout has hit his way to Triple-A in his second full season as a professional.

“In a perfect world, you really don’t want to have a guy come up that quickly,” Evans said, before adding: “Unless it’s necessitated.”

Having slashed .301/.359/.409 in his time in the minors, Slater is the type of high-average hitter the team has enjoyed success in developing. Parker and Williamson — both true-two-outcome (homerun or strikeout) types — are the kind that have proven far more elusive.

“We know they have big power — both of them,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “That’s their strength. That’s all we want from them. Just go up there and get your swings off. It’s not an easy job that they have — coming up and not playing everyday. But as long as they’re doing something to help contribute, it makes it easier for us to stick with what we have.”

When determining how long to go with the in-house options, the braintrust also has to figure out where the right-field vacuum ranks on the team’s summer shopping list.

“If you fill the void for these eight weeks with a trade — albeit very hard to do in June — but say you did, what if something else emerges in July?” Evans asked rhetorically. “Now you’ve put yourself in a tougher position. You have less flexibility to make yet another move.”

The Giants have serious long-term needs in the outfield too.

The oft-injured Angel Pagan has already spent time on the disabled list with a hamstring injury and he becomes a free agent at season’s end. As for Pence, 2016 marks the second year in a row that the 33-year-old will miss a significant chunk of the season on the shelf.

Evans has started preparing for life after Pagan and Pence. In this month’s draft, the Giants selected outfielders with their top two picks.

“It takes drafting a certain quantity of outfielders high to find guys that are going to stick,”
Evans said of playing the draft-day numbers game. “You know, there’s never a guarantee on any of these guys.”

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