It’s Nov. 1, 2010, and Brian Wilson is about to strike out Nelson Cruz, securing the San Francisco Giants’ first World Series title since 1954. From left to right, Cody Ross, Aaron Rowand and Andres Torres are stationed across the outfield grass at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Of the trio, none are homegrown — Ross and Torres are trade pick-ups, Rowand a free-agent signing. The imported outfield is part of a larger trend that started long before 2010 and now haunts the current iteration of the club.
Travis Ishikawa — a 21st-round selection in 2002 — was the only draft pick to start a World Series-clinching game from 2010 to 2014. Marvin Bernard — a 50th-round pick way back in 1992 — was the last Giants draftee to hold down a starting job for more than a season.
It’s a trend that helps explain how San Francisco’s left fielders rank No. 29 in baseball in OPS, how the center fielders are No. 28 and how the right fielders clock in at No. 26.
It’s also a trend that general manager Bobby Evans and Co. are intent on ending.
Including Double-A first baseman and sometime left fielder Chris Shaw, five of the Giants’ top seven prospects are outfielders, according to MLB.com.
“It’s an area we’ve been focusing on, trying to build some strength — especially with young infielders [already in place],” Evans said, when asked about the transformation of the historic blind spot. “And we’re obviously always focused on adding extra pitching, but last year’s draft, we picked two and three both young, promising outfielders.”
Bryan Reynolds — selected in the second round — and third-rounder Heath Quinn are moving quickly, as the pair shares the outfield for the High-A San Jose Giants.
The young Giant with the most immediate chance to break the dry spell is too old to qualify as a prospect. Mac Williamson, summoned from the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats on May 15 when a hamstring strain sent Hunter Pence to the 10-day disabled list, is beginning his third partial season in Orange and Black.
“It’s a short-term opening,” Evans said of the 26-year-old’s situation. “But it is an opportunity.”
Austin Slater — Williamson’s former teammate with the River Cats — is next closest in the organizational pecking order. Since the Giants drafted him out of Stanford in the eighth round of the 2014 draft, Slater has done nothing but hit, slashing .306/.369/.437 in his minor league career.
Where the 24-year-old best profiles in the field remains a work-in-progress.
“From an outfield standpoint, he plays all three positions fine,” Evans said. “I think he’s probably looked at more as a corner guy, but he’s also able to cover center field as well.”
Like Slater, Shaw — the 31st overall pick in 2015 — is a Giants minor leaguer whose bat will carry him to AT&T Park. While splitting 2016 between High-A and Double-A, Shaw boomed 38 doubles and 21 home runs. This year, the 24-year-old owns an .877 OPS for the Richmond Flying Squirrels.
Evans wasn’t ready to pass any judgments on Shaw’s early work in left field, a position he’s played 14 times.
“It’s a learning curve,” Evans said. “There’s a pretty large outfield out here [in San Francisco] to get used to. So, one step at a time. He’s in Double-A right now and he’s swinging the bat extremely well. So, this was a new position for him, but it’s something that we think long term may be in his best interest.”
Fifth on MLB.com’s top prospects list, Shaw’s not even the most-highly touted outfielder on Richmond’s roster.
That distinction belongs to Steven Duggar (No. 4), a center fielder who Evans lauded for his athleticism but who has been stranded on Richmond’s DL with a flexor strain since opening day.
At 19, Sandro Fabian is not just the youngest member of the emerging contingent, but also possesses the most upside.
Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $500,000 in July of 2014, Fabian has the potential to hit for the “best combination of average and power among Giants farmhands,” according to his MLB.com profile.
From Low-A Augusta — where Fabiano is spending his summer — to Triple-A Sacramento, the Giants have assembled an impressive cache of outfield talent. The openings for those players at Third and King will be arriving sooner than later.
De facto left fielder Eduardo Núñez is a free agent at season’s end, Pence is under contract through 2018 and so too is Denard Span, who has a $12-million mutual option for 2019.
Evans hopes that Span, who at 33 has already endured a stay on the shelf and that the DL’d Pence, who missed 166 games over the past two seasons, will remain in the conversation throughout the life of their deals.
The GM also recognizes the transition to the new guard is looming.
“I think these young guys have a chance to come in and cut their teeth with veterans like that,” Evans said. “That’d be great for them, and then at some point maybe establish themselves as the outfield of the future.”MLB