AT&T PARK — The San Francisco Giants have shaken up their roster ahead of the All-Star break, trading bullpen arm Cory Gearrin, offseason acquisition Austin Jackson and minor league right-hander Justin Bahr to the Texas Rangers for a player to be named later or cash considerations.
With the move, San Francisco also called up top outfield prospect Steven Duggar, the No. 3 prospect in the Giants organization, and right-handed pitcher Ray Black, the Giants’ No. 28 prospect, as ranked by MLB.com.
The move signals a willingness by the Giants to move in a younger direction with their outfield, a move started by bringing up No. 4 prospect Austin Slater earlier this month. The Giants have now brought up an exciting young core in Slater, Duggar, Black and starting pitchers Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez.
Duggar will lead off and play center field for the Giants on Sunday behind Madison Bumgarner against the St. Louis Cardinals.
“Does that mean he’s always going to be leading off? No; I’ll look at the pitching and how things are going,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “If I think I need to back him off a little bit, I will. Today, I’ll lead him off, and that’s kind of been his comfort zone all year.”
The moves, Bochy said, were made so the Giants could get an extended look at two of their top prospects, not because San Francisco has scored eight runs in the last six games, hitting .168 over that span.
This offseason, San Francisco signed Jackson, 31, to a two-year, $6 million deal with an eye towards him in center, with 35-year old Hunter Pence potentially in left and 31-year old Andrew McCutchen in right. Pence has been reduced to a pinch-hitting role, and career backup Gorkys Hernandez has taken hold of center with his career year at the plate. Jackson has hit .242 and hasn’t started since June 29, with just five plate appearances in the interim.
Duggar, 24, is hitting .272 at Triple-A Sacramento this season, with 27 doubles, four triples, four home runs and 21 RBIs in 78 games. He’s also struck out 103 times — well on his way to a career high (117 in 130 games in 2016). From May 14 to the end of June, though, Duggar hit .307 with an .869 OPS. The left-handed hitting Duggar would be in a near-platoon with right-handed hitting Hernandez, Bochy said.
Duggar would play center against right-handed pitching, while Hernandez would play left. When a lefty pitches, Hernandez would likely play center, and Slater or Pence would likely play left. Slater will reps in left and at second base — where he was drafted — or first, to spell Brandon Belt.
Black, who nearly quit the game this offseason to work on his family vegetable farm until he hit 98 while fooling around on the mound during a youth camp, has overcome a litany of injuries to get his first big league call up at age 28. He had Tommy John surgery his senior year of high school in 2008, had a hand and knee surgery during his time pitching for Pitt, and then had labrum surgery in 2011. In 2015, he missed time with a strained lat, and in 2017, he had a bone spur removed from his elbow.
Black had trouble with control early in his career (a career 6.23 BB/9), but has walked less than three per nine innings since being moved up to Sacramento earlier this season, where he’s 2-0 with a 2.91 ERA in 21 2/3 innings of work. He features a blazing, high-90s, low-100s fastball (he’s topped out at 102 this year), a slider (88-89) and a show-me curve to left-handers (low-80s).
Duggar said he peeks at the radar gun when he’s in center, just to see how hard Black is throwing.
Gearrin, who had spent four years with the Giants, pitched in 35 games this season with a 4.20 ERA, but had appeared in just nine games since the start of June.
“I can’t say enough about [Jackson], and Cory, what great teammates they were,” Bochy said. “Even though they weren’t getting the playing time they were probably hoping, they were great. They were pulling for the guys, they were awesome in the clubhouse. That’s two class guys that we’re going to miss.”