AT&T PARK — When Austin Slater left Sacramento at 3 p.m. to drive to San Francisco last Thursday, he didn’t have any street clothes with him.
Coming straight from Raley Field, Slater wasn’t sure if the San Francisco Giants would need him due to Alen Hanson fouling a ball off his knee. He wasn’t sure if he’d be activated, if he’d stay with the club long-term, or if he would just serve on the taxi squad.
Now a member of the 25-man roster for the near future, Slater — who played six games and started three for the Giants early this season — will get his first start since being called up for a second time this season. The Giants’ No. 5 prospect looks at it as an audition.
“I think it’s always an audition,” Slater said. “I don’t think that it matters if you have 10 years or less than a year of service time or it’s your debut; you’re always auditioning. You always have to prove yourself.”
Last season, Slater hit .282 for the Giants in 34 games, hitting three homers and driving in 16, proving that he could hit big league pitching even in short bursts, as opposed to extended at-bats.
“I realized last year was a very short sample size,” Slater said. “For me, it’s just gaining that comfort, and knowing that I can play up here, from my little sample last year, but also, just trying to maintain my swing from down there. Got me in a groove and a rhythm, and now, I’ve got to keep it going.”
Slater, in 53 games at Triple-A this season, hit .344 with five home runs, 24 doubles, 32 RBIs and a .981 OPS. With big-name offseason acquisitions Andrew McCutchen and Austin Jackson underperforming and Hunter Pence struggling with injury and age, when Mac Williamson was sent down to iron out his swing after struggling to come back after a concussion, San Francisco promoted Slater.
“You try to keep the same routine, and keep the same game plan and same approach” Slater said. “I think a lot of times, you can psych yourself out by thinking it’s a bigger stage. As long as you treat the games in Triple-A the same as you would up here, there shouldn’t be a change.”
Last week’s near-call-up — he got to AT&T Park at 5:45, hung around the locker room for two hours and then drove back so he could play the next day for the Triple-A River Cats — was a false start, but the quick sojourn worked out well.
“It’s a blessing and a curse, because you’re making that drive all the time,” Slater said. “It’s better than having to jump on a plane to go there, though.”
After arriving at 5:45, he left in the middle of the Giants game at 8 p.m. to avoid traffic, because he wanted to play for the River Cats that Friday. He was able to pack properly once he returned to Sacramento, and, two days later, returned to the City as a member of the roster.
A Stanford product, Slater has moved at least once every season since he was drafted in 2014, all to come right back to the Bay. Still, though, he’s living out of a suitcase, with a few suits and some dress shirts he was able to snag from the closet. He’s become an expert at that.
“Earlier in my career in the minors, I used to look ahead and be like, ‘Why isn’t this happening?'” Slater said. “I realized it doesn’t do any good for you, so I’ve always thought, if I put my head down and work, and put up numbers, that eventually, I’ll be where I want to be.”